5 Elements to Make a Great Writer’s & Artist’s Retreat

NOT ALL RETREATS, PERSONAL OR GROUP, ARE EQUAL.  I’ve taken countless retreats for my writing and business projects, and I’ve led numerous retreats in Taos, Woodstock, Greece, Nova Scotia for authors & writers, artists, designers, consultants, thought leaders.

What factors make for an ideal retreat when these people converge? Here’s what I’ve discerned. And please add to the conversation. 

1 – Time & space to create deep in solo & together

Creatives of all stripes hunger for time to immerse into their own projects, unfettered by the day’s distractions and obligations. We know the desire, but committing to shaping our own time at home or even in our own studios sometimes eludes the best of us.

A healthy group retreat creates flexible structure and safe space for creatives to experiment together yet alone. People who meditate often meditate in groups for a reason. The presence of other people in silent meditation helps others stay on the seat even when the going gets excruciatingly tough. Creative immersion is not that different. It can be exhilarating work for about, oh, 8 minutes at a time, but along the way are countless potentials for impasses and flat-out blocks and distractions. Flexibly designed time and safe space give creatives’ minds permission to explore, take creative risks, and simply “collect data” when things don’t work out.

It’s amazing what someone creates in 90 supported minutes versus 3 unsupported hours.

2 – Workable, flexible, repeatable processes & tools

Sometimes, when I return from a retreat, I feel a little cheated when I come home to face the mountain of obligations calling me and my vagrant mind trying to slip out the back door.

When I go to group creative or writer retreats, I like to learn some tips and processes I can test out at home.

Otherwise, a retreat feels a little too much like an escape from reality instead of a rejuvenating sanctuary that lets me re-enter daily reality.

3 – Inner knowledge & awareness (a hallmark of gratified creatives)

The gift of attending a retreat is witnessing your own creative mind at work. You can get reacquainted with your own wild and precious mind. You can renew your vows to your muse.

When you discover again how just your one creative mind works, then maybe, maybe you can be a better partner once you go home and back to work.

4 – Sharpen your saw

When I go on retreat, I still like to study parts of my craft and field – whether that’s writing, consulting, or building a brand.

I don’t over-dose on workshopping and critiquing. That’s another format, another intention. But getting intentional, clear feedback from fellow creatives gives me perspective.

5 – Permission to do nothing – and to do it well.

Even when on group retreat, most creatives need to retreat from the group and retreat from active art-making.

When on retreat, you give yourself permission to lay on your back in the afternoon, daydream, read, saunter, wander on a path or in your mind.

This, above all else, is often what we hunger for.

Create and captivate

And I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that these five factors guide how I design retreats for others.

In March, a select group of creatives and creative professionals gathers in Taos, New Mexico, each committed to nurturing their own authentic creativity and their creative work. Writers, artists, therapists, teachers, entrepreneurs, consultants, doctors, and others. They have books and stories to write, designs to shape and explore, a spiritual journey to create into, a midlife launch to develop, a start-up idea to immerse in. And they’re committed to affecting the world through their creative work and creative life.

They have other obligations in life – families, businesses, jobs – but they come because of their commitment and because we provide these 5 elements.

Many people have returned 5, 6, 7 years in a row. Many come wide-eyed for the first time with little more intention than to see what will happen.


What was the best retreat experience you’ve ever had? What made it so? What do you most seek from a retreat experience?

See you in the woods (and on the arroyo),


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  1. Hi, I have a cabin in the Southern California mountains that has an art studio. I’m thinking about creating art retreat for one or two people at a time (two friends). What does somebody expect from an art retreat in that scenario? I’m thinking oil painting, water coloring, pastels. I have a library of art books, a well-lit studio, and a beautiful mountain environment for playing air painting or just sitting out on the deck feeding squirrels. The town has plenty of restaurants and art galleries in my kitchen is fully stocked with pots and pans etc. Currently I do not rent my cabin out, and I do not want to rent it out to the broader vacation going populace. So my question is this: if you signed up for a week at my cabin for a Personal art retreat, what would you expect?

  2. Dear Tanya,
    Being an experienced artist, I would expect a minimal of supplies as I would bring a lot if my own supplies, but if I were a beginner, it would be great to have a bunch of different (middle end quality) paints, brushes, canvases etc…
    My preference would be a place to sleep (my art studio has a small loft above with a single bed mattress) – bathroom and shower and small Kitchenette in basement not far from the art studio. I personally prefer to sleep very close to the art studio so I have more concentrated time…. but everyone has their own preferences. It depends what you want to create. What YOUR vision is! Follow that!
    Love ???? from a fellow Artist

  3. Great points Jeffrey! Each artist has their own needs: social, emotional, or professional. A retreat for me would have a simple place to sit, sleep, wander, ponder, create, and take in nature as inspiration. As a visual artist, area museums and galleries are nice, but not always a must. To me, a retreat is the ability to shut out the outside stresses and worldly interferences–I love that you mention offering a place to feel free to explore, make mistakes and “reacquaint with your own wild and precious mind.”

  4. Next summer, I’m hosting retreats. For 30 years I’ve worked on acquiring and restoring contiguous properties in Nova Scotia. We have 3 houses ready for next summer with a one room schoolhouse at the center. Are you interested in taking part in growing this idea?