The Cheap Retreat Guide – More Writing, Less Money, Too Much Ice Cream By Catharine Bramkamp

The Cheap RetreatLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us about “The Cheap Retreat Guide – More Writing, Less Money, Too Much Ice Cream.”


I save flyers and emails touting not only the benefits but the transformative magic of this writing workshop or that retreat.

Many workshops and retreats seem to take place in exotic locations either so you have an excuse to go, or because the workshop leader has always wanted to travel there, be it Taos or Paris. And who doesn’t want to travel to Taos and Paris?

Except when you can’t. 

Finances aside, consider the time it takes to study the brochure. The time spent planning, strategizing and making lists of what to wear. Packing. Shoes. The effort to create a bio or the right fiction pieces to submit in order to qualify for the free critique session. The anguish of flying, the anxiety of roommates. All that time could be spent writing. All that money could buy groceries including seven pints of premium ice cream and a gallon of liquor.

Armed with no more than that, the vague idea that saving money was desirable and that writing was important, I created my own DIY retreat. Since every transformative retreat needs a brochure but DIY didn’t look good on the cover, I called it the Cheap Retreat.

I’m happy to report that the Cheap Retreat was completely successful. I was appropriately dressed. Lunch was included. There were no lines. I encountered no transportation challenges. I was never late to writing sessions. The critique went well. I did it, and I share here how you can do it as well.

Create your own Writing Retreat, on the Cheap

Clear the house, now known as the “Retreat Center.” A clean house is a distraction-free house.

Clear the house of family members. This is not about them. (Easier said than done, but critical for this whole effort to help your writing.)

Turn off the phone and disable the wifi on the laptop. Many retreat centers are located either up, up, up in the mountains or down, down, down in a sketchy South American jungle – no Internet.

Plan the Meals. The best meal plan is to plan your meals. I have heard of writers who take this opportunity to cleanse and eat healthy, but none of them are friends. Some writers prefer simple meals easily microwaved. Some retreat participants prefer take-out, some order in. Me, I prefer Ben & Jerry’s.

Discover your perfect writing spot. Do you even have a room of your own?  If not, why not?  Write in any or all the rooms of your house. What feels best? What room offers the best light? Where do you feel creative and comfortable? Have you fantasized about working in the dining room so you can spread out all your creative, inspirational equipment? Would you like to take over the kitchen table for the same reason? Are you drawn to a corner of the master bedroom?  Why does your husband find the garage so attractive?

Create the brochure. We know the saying, we read it, so it must be true. A full-color brochure anoints this effort with gravitas. A brochure proves this event is real. You can create a web site that needs to be visited on a daily basis for retreat updates. Create a map to the retreat center. Get excited because photos of the view from the quaint porch are so lovely. If you like, you can write yourself a check for $1,400, not including meals.

Consider a retreat goal. It’s your retreat and your weekend. Lower the bar as close to the living room carpet as you can get. Need 5,000 words? Make the goal 2,000 and reach it early for a win. Eat another pint of Chunky Monkey. Start the next phase, which is another 2,000 words.

Be positive, not punishing.

Please fill out the attached evaluation form.

  • Did you really write all day?
  • What was your favorite writing space?
  • How long were you able to stay in your creative zone?
  • What did you accomplish?
  • Would you attend this retreat again?
  • What ideas can you take with you when you return to real life?

In two days, five pints of Ben & Jerry’s and two take and bake pizzas, I started a new novel. I’m 8,000 words in. I celebrated by consuming a brand new pint of Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. I learned that all retreat spaces should include freezers. Yes, I would return next year. I hope you do too.


Editor’s Note: If you want more on how to create your own cheap writing retreat, then check out Catharine’s book on the topic here.



Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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  • Beth Barany says:

    Yay! I’m creating my own writer’s retreat this year.

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