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How to Go on a Writing Retreat and Not Lose Your Mind

photo by Rob Mulally

photo by Rob Mulally

1. Low expectations. Non-writers might imagine some sort of serene and meditative experience that produces at least hundreds of pages if not a book. Writers will expect multiple games of Words With Friends, an endless layering of bad feelings: guilt, shame, fear, boredom, panic, anger, regret. Repeat. Writers know that no matter the beauty of your setting – mountains, ocean, lakes – you will feel trapped, sad, and grow to loathe the landscape.

2. An escape plan. Do not isolate yourself (remember The Shining). Do not welcome being completely "off the grid" (see Words with Friends, above). Do not underestimate your need to read about your neighbour's friend's sister's breakfast. Also, you need to Google: “Writer's Retreat – Want to die.”

3. Don't cleanse. No to the Whole 30, veganism, going off sugar, coffee or anything like that. Don't drink because you'll get morbid and possibly violent (see The Shining, above). Bring books that make you laugh written by people entirely unlike you to reduce jealousy, paranoia and depression. Bring magazines featuring unhealthy recipes – no supermodel/published writer who looks like a supermodel, and no Virginia Woolf (trust me).

4. Don't answer your phone if it's 1) your 90+ mother – "How is your little book?" 2) Your ex-husband – "I can't believe how much I'm enjoying parenthood this time," 3) Your son – "Where are my socks?" (he's boomeranged home), 4) Your husband – "Where are my keys, when are you coming home, the cat wants to talk to you."

5. Finally, remember this: no one WANTS to go away alone to write, like no one really wants to go off sugar or jump out of an airplane or do Cross Fit or run a marathon, or read Proust or learn a new language. They want you to do it. They want you to suffer and feel lonely and unloved. They will say, "Oh I'm so jealous! I'd love to do that!" Trust me: They are lying. You are a canary in a coal mine. You are suffering for all mankind.

Molly Moynahan