Tips for Hosting a Virtual Writing Retreat

In my two previous blog posts, I recommended a bunch of queer speculative fiction for you to peruse. While I love doing that (it is a Queer Speculative Renaissance out there), I also want to talk about the writing life.

I am not interested in discussing plot structure or technique or really how you write the story you are crafting. That journey is yours to take.

No, I want to talk about the habits around writing. How do you stay creative, especially when a global pandemic has brought your country to a halt and you’re too stressed to do anything other than sit and play puzzle games on your phone? Not like I am speaking from experience or anything. How do you form a habit that was hard to form before civil unrest and an incompetent government (all opinions are mine and do not reflect the opinions of Luna Station Quarterly)?

There are authors out there who know how to do this much better than I do. My own creative coping mechanism is to host a virtual writing retreat on the regular.

A sketchook, a palette of paints, and some paint brushes on a wooden table.

To be fair, I am open to other artists participating in my virtual retreat—they just happen to all be writers because those are the people I know.

My Virtual Retreat In Brief

Sometime in June, author Lina Rather (who wrote Sisters of the Vast Black) tweeted that informal virtual writing retreats with a fancy schedule are the only reason she’s getting any writing done during the pandemic. Inspired by that, I took her schedule and invited a bunch of friends to join me. I created a server on Discord and a master spreadsheet on Google Drive and set a date.

That first session had three participants. We listened to music through Discord, we wrote on our own, we accomplished our goals. It was a good time. So good, in fact, that we scheduled a date to repeat the experience the next month.

August was my third month hosting the retreat, and the group has plans to keep it going until the end of the year and beyond. We’ll be doing writing sprints starting in September, and there’s already talk about what we want to do during National Novel Writing Month in November. Each session has brought something new, and I’m excited to see it grow.

Tips for the Budding Retreat Leader

A tip jar about halfway filled with a very blurry background

I encourage you to host your own virtual retreat for artistic endeavors! Here are some tips I picked up based on my own experiences.

Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

I try to be inclusive in everything I do. In creating my own writing community, I want to welcome everyone to join in: different genres, different experiences, different backgrounds, the whole shebang. And while my current group is demographically similar to myself, I still make a point to use language that welcomes everybody.

So as the leader of the retreat, I have the responsibility of calling out unwelcoming behavior when I see it. I have yet to do this, which means I have a pretty good group. I also hope that people feel safe enough to call me out if I do something I didn’t know was exclusionary or unwelcoming.

I should note, I haven’t had to uninvite or block anyone in my small group just yet, but I am prepared to do so for the safety of my other participants should the need arise.

Listen to Feedback

The last thing we discuss as a group is providing feedback. I prefer to receive feedback as part of a group discussion, and I take notes when I do so. The most important part of listening is showing that you really are. Engage with questions, voice intentions, and make changes where necessary.

Tailor the experience to your group, so everyone involved can get the most out of it. I did not expect to lead writing sprints, but I am excited that someone suggested they happen.

Vertical neon green text against a black background, Matrix-style, because this is a virtual retreat and technical issues sometimes happen

Be Patient With Technical Issues

And technical issues will happen. The technical issues that happened to me were all unexpected, with the most common being people’s internet not strong enough for the Discord voice chat. I prefer to meet on the voice chat for discussions, but forcing the participants into it when they can’t support it doesn’t mesh with the first lesson of being inclusive. Instead, we use voice chats for the server’s music bot during creative times.

Be patient with human issues too. I had one participant forget how to join a voice chat once. We all agreed it was because they had woken up before noon.

What are you doing to stay creative in 2020? Let me know your habits in the comments!