MacDowell. Yaddo. LaMuse. These are not the names of hobbits in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel or Ewoks in George Lucas’ latest Space Opera. In fact, they are some of the most prestigious writer’s retreats on the globe. These organizations offer serene places where scribes can jumpstart their muses and focus on their work, uninterrupted and largely undistracted.
Picture hours spent composing your masterwork in a quaint and cozy room and then, to recharge your battery, taking a leisurely stroll alongside a babbling brook and, in the evening, attending a reading after a pleasant supper with other creative literary types. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? But it’s not necessary to put your name on long waiting lists, pay prohibitive travel expenses, or pray you’ll win the lottery for an opportunity to get away for awhile and write.
There’s an alternative approach to undistracted writing that is free or ridiculously cheap and the only supplies you need are a journal and pen or laptop, if you prefer. Even a Smartphone will do in a pinch.
I give you The Poor Man’s Writing Retreat:
The Free Version.
Take your journal to the public library and pull up a table. The environment is quiet, full of literary inspiration, and populated by people who share your love of language and desire for tranquility. If there is a babbling brook in your library, however, someone has taken a wrong turn. During pleasant weather, another great option for uninterrupted writing is to go to a local park and find a nice bench or picnic table. The scenery is likely to be inspiring and, although there might be kids and families around, they will be playing and enjoying themselves and the sounds will not only be positive, but possibly uplifting. Museums are also an ideal place for penning a poem or capturing an idea and, again, you will be surrounded not only with quiet, but with plenty of creative sustenance for your muse.
The Value Menu
I’m not much of a traveller, so my favorite option for The Poor Man’s Writer’s Retreat is my local fast food joint. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. I don’t know the chains on America’s East Coast, but here in the West my options include Jack-in-the-Box, Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s (The Golden Arches recently got free Wi-Fi, which is both good and bad), Taco Bell, Burger King, and Del Taco. Some places also have Hardee’s and Sonic. I’m sure there are others. The secret to writing success, in my opinion, is the all-you-can-drink beverage bar. I grab a soda and, if I’m in a mood to splurge, a bag of fries.The downside is that, unlike MacDowell and Yaddo, these fast food establishments often frown on you staying the night. The total cost is bout $3, plus gas. I stay for hours. If you want to get the value combo meal, I won’t stop you, but remember it’s your bank account, Mr. MoneyBags.
The La-Di-Da Approach
For those with deeper pockets, an interesting approach is always to carve out the time to spend a day or so in a local hotel room. While rates vary, you can find a hotel not populated by criminals, drug addicts, and by-the-hour residents (if you get my drift), for about a hundred dollars. This is the closest you will get to the true writer’s retreat experience, short of filling out an application for The Yaddo Colony. You can bank nearly 24 hours of uninterrupted, quality writing time. I’ve only done it once or twice, but it’s a beautiful thing and the fact that I am able to do it so infrequently is what keeps it so special.
My point is that there are definitely ways to get away for some quiet writing time that won’t break the bank. And the icing on the cake is that, unlike at Yaddo, you won’t be forced to listen to that Adjunct Professor from Harvard give the excruciatingly detailed synopsis of his historical novel while sitting elbow-to-elbow at a rubber chicken dinner.
Although that’s clearly my jealousy speaking.