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How To Organize A Writer’s Retreat

December 2, 2015
Reverse Resolution 2015

Re-posting this oldie but goodie in honor of the quickie writer’s retreat I’m on with my friend Melissa. The featured photo is the ACE HOTEL + SWIM CLUB in Palm Springs, which is where we’re retreating. Hey, if you’re going to write for 6 hours straight you may as well do it in paradise. Other than the venue change from our earlier retreat to Big Bear, all details remain the same. 


I spent this past weekend in the woods of Big Bear, California with three fellow writers and six bottles of wine thanks to the incredible idea of my friend Melissa Hunter. A few weeks ago Melissa reached out to me with an e-mail.

Subject line: Proposition.
Body of Text: What would you say to getting out of the
city for a weekend of writing without distraction? A little writer’s retreat?

Three days and one full feature outline later, I’m here to spread the good word about this getting-away-to-focus-on-writing. Here is exactly how it’s done:

Select The Proper Retreatants

You’ll need approximately 4-6 girls ranging in age from 25-29 (ED NOTE: or 30-35…..). Some of them should know each other well, but none of them should be attached at the hip. Guys are fine too, if that’s your thing. They should each have experience writing but not be so successful sos to intimidate and/or annoy the rest of the retreatants. I recommend including at least one person who knows how to slash enjoys cooking and at least two people who will want to go in the hot tub at midnight only to get too hot after 10 minutes. People who shower quickly are also a real plus, for the weekend but also in general.

Select The Perfect Location

You want to pick a place that’s far enough from your permanent location that you won’t be inundated with the usual people you find at your local coffee/writing shop, but not so far that you waste tons of time in transit. If you live in Los Angeles the answer is Big Bear (or Ojai, or Temecula, or Santa Barbara, or Lake Arrow Head, OR PALM SPRINGS but I liked Big Bear…UNTIL I CAME TO PALM SPRINGS!!!). Three hours, tops. Wildly inspiring scenery. Affordable cabins. And four beef jerky stores within the first mile of the town boarder. Those are dedicated beef jerky stores, not stores that happen to sell beef jerky.

Accommodations Are Key

In real estate it’s location, location, location but in housing for a successful writer’s retreat it’s character, character, ample comfortable seating options in good light. Our humble, Swiss-style ski house, aka John and Janet’s Place!, was filled to the brim with bear-themed mountain paraphernalia and decorated entirely for Christmas. Nothing fills you with as passion to push through that second act quite like the spirit of Christmas, it turns out.  I would visit this kitch castle in the hills every time I have a script to write, if not for a listing I saw for a log cabin in the shape of a dome. That’s like writing from inside the Epcot ball!

Stock The Fridge 

The whole point of this retreat is to shut yourselves in and write, so you can’t be breaking every three hours for three square meals. Here are the essential items you’ll want to pick up at the Von’s on your way into town: wine (3 Red, 3 White), hummus (roasted red pepper and traditional variety), things to dip in hummus (pita, carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes), brie and goat cheeses, one giant french baguette, eggs, bacon, Kettle Chips (Honey Dijon variety), Pop Chips (all varieties available), something to eat for dinner one night, something to eat for dinner the second night, Lollipops and or other candy to quell oral fixation. You’ll also want to stop at the CVS to get ten packets of index cards and those folding cardboard presentation boards. Visual outlining makes you seem very, very cool.

Make A Schedule

Writing is serious business, so you’ll need a serious schedule written on a piece of torn out notebook paper. It should include 3-4 hour writing session broken up by “check-ins” during which you will drink wine, eat things dipped in hummus, and talk about your projects. Put that schedule to a vote then slap it on the fridge with a three-bears-under-the-Christmas-tree magnet and stick to it. Mutual respect for writing time is really key to the weekend, so is telling your boyfriend, “we had a schedule and everything!”


Write Like The Dickens

This is your own, completely uninterrupted, extremely special time to work your fanny off on whatever project is next on deck. Do not waste it! Indulge in it! Make yourself a cozy writing nook in the upstairs bedroom of the cabin. Pour yourself a hot cup of coffee to enjoy while you type. Make the best god damned Pandora playlist you’ve ever made (the answer is a Paul Simon based mixed with Broken Bells, Etta James, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.) You will not believe how much work you can get done in under 48 hours if you commit to a task (X pages of dialogue, a beat sheet, a narrative outline), and don’t stop. This will, of course, make you question your entire existence as anything but a person who lives in a Christmas-themed cabin in the woods and writes inspired screenplays, but that’s an issue for another day.   

Instagram The Crap Out Of It All

If a writer’s retreat happens in the remote woods of Big Bear Mountain and nobody “likes” it, did it even really happen? I have no idea, but I can tell you that it’s going to take someone other than three pun-loving iPhone users from L.A. to figure it out.

Note: late that evening Melissa turned to me and said, “*%&! It should have been, Act Three? More like Act Tree.” I agreed. That is better. I guess we’ll just have to go back.


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