Take A Writer’s Retreat: Go Camping or Rent A Cabin

by John Soares on August 15, 2011

Do You Need a Writer’s Retreat?

We freelance writers are bombarded with distractions: e-mail, blogs, social media sites — the entire Internet — along with phone calls, visitors, family, pets, and more. It’s difficult to get our writing done.

My solution? Get away from it all by heading out into mountains to focus on completing my writing assignments and projects.

My Writer’s Retreat: I Go Camping

I personally prefer camping. I go way out into the forest far from any actual campground and find a level spot with good shade. I take a comfortable folding chair, a folding table, any necessary work/research materials, and my laptop. I have a device that converts the DC electricity from my car battery’s cigarette lighter into AC current to run my laptop directly, or to just charge the battery, so I can write as much as I want.

There’s no Internet and often no cell phone reception. In short, nothing to distract me except nature.

Another Writer’s Retreat Option: A Cabin in the Woods

If camping is bit too rough for you, consider a writer’s retreat in a cabin. There are many places scattered around the United States and the world where you can rent a cabin cheaply. Some places specifically cater to writers and artists. You might also know someone who has a cabin or isolated home where you can house-sit.

Don’t Have the Time for Camping or a Cabin in the Woods?

You can also do this for just an afternoon by going to the forest or a park or picnic area, or any place you will be relatively undisturbed and will be in nature. Just be sure that you don’t have Internet access and your cell phone and any other electronic devices are turned off, and that you are in a beautiful and tranquil spot.

Key Considerations, Especially for Campers…

1.    Be prepared for the weather. (Check the forecast.)
2.    Be prepared for insects if you plan to write outside. In many places mosquitoes can be a major problem. You can use repellent or you can set up your table and chair inside a tent. Ants can also distract you and potentially bite you. Place your chair carefully. Make sure you are away from both ant mounds and ant trails.
3.    Bring a comfortable chair, but also one that won’t sink into the dirt once you sit in it.
4.    The folding table must be large enough to hold your computer and any reference materials.
5.    For both the table and chair, pay attention to proper ergonomics as best as you can.
6.    You can usually camp for free on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Get detailed maps and advice from your local office. You want a level spot that you can access easily with your vehicle. I find that heading down smaller dirt roads off main dirt roads is the best bet.
7.    Make sure you have adequate food, water, clothing, and shelter.
8.    Tell someone where you’ll be and for how long.

My 2009 Camping and Writing Getaway

In July of 2009 I spent several days camping, writing, and exploring in the mountains above the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River west of Mount Shasta. Here’s my campsite…

My campsite above the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River. It's level, shaded, and secluded.

My campsite above the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River. It’s level, shaded, and secluded.

And here’s my beautiful golden retriever Molly taking a swim in the little creek right next to the campsite. (Molly passed away in 2010, last summer, at the age of 14. You can read my tribute to her here.)

My golden retriever Molly. She was a great companion on hundreds of hikes and camping trips.

My golden retriever Molly. She was a great companion on hundreds of hikes and camping trips.

And here’s a view of Mount Shasta…

14,179-foot-high Mount Shasta and a sugar pine from near my campsite above the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River.

14,179-foot-high Mount Shasta and a sugar pine from near my campsite above the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River.

A bear story. Molly and I took a hike up the dirt road by the camp. I looked across a meadow and saw what I thought was a black SUV driving slowly. A few seconds later I realized it was a humongous black bear and that my perspective was a little off. On the way back to our campsite, we heard very loud crashing in brush 50 feet to our left — another bear, although we couldn’t see it.

I’m Off Camping and Writing Right Now…

I’m writing lecture outlines for a college-level science textbook, a project that’s due this Friday. I’m leaving this afternoon (Monday) to camp in the mountains west of my home near Mount Shasta, California, and I won’t be back until Wednesday. I’m looking forward to reading all your comments when I get back.

Update!

Just returned and the camping trip was just what I needed. Here’s what I did:

My writer's retreat campsite, complete with folding table and laptop.

My writer’s retreat campsite, complete with folding table and laptop.

Your Take

Have you ever taken your laptop out into the woods to get some writing done? Did you camp? Stay in cabin? Any suggestions to add here?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 linda@adventuresinexpatland.com August 16, 2011 at 1:55 AM

These are great suggestions. I’d been thinking about my own personal writer’s retreat, and hope to do one eventually. In the meantime, there’s no reason why I can’t pack up my stuff and head for a shady woodland park. Thanks for reminding me that it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’.
linda@adventuresinexpatland.com recently posted…A Grenade Lost in Translation

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2 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:46 PM

Parks are a great alternative. Just last week I spent the afternoon working at a picnic table in the city park in Mount Shasta.
John Soares recently posted…Write Faster: 12 Top Tips for Freelance Writers

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3 Michael Kauffmann August 16, 2011 at 6:36 AM

John- I like these ideas a lot. It is so important to get away from media to be able to focus on any of life’s projects without so many distractions.

Funny story from the summer–I got one of those DC to AC converters and was working from the truck in the hills of the southern Sierra. I ended up charging my computer for so long (without starting the engine) it killed the truck battery. This forced me to put away all technology and just read for half a day until I was lucky enough to have a truck came by and jump started me. I really enjoyed this time without any access to electronics–I was stranded on a mountain with a million dollar view and nothing to do but sit, enjoy and ponder…

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4 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:35 PM

I’ve nearly done the same Michael.

I spent several months of both 1999 and 2000 traveling around the western United States in a van (with two golden retrievers). I often would spend up to five days out in the forest working on my freelance writing projects and exploring the area. I had a voltmeter that I used to check my regular battery and the deep-cycle battery just to make sure I didn’t drain my main one too far.

And I know what you mean about no electronics at all. I take several short trips a year with nothing, just the cell phone for emergencies.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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5 Dave August 16, 2011 at 7:28 AM

I could go to the beach and do this far more than I do…

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6 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:36 PM

I’ve never been able to do much work at the beach. Too much sun, plus worries about getting sand in my laptop.
John Soares recently posted…How Multitasking Hurts Your Productivity

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7 Eric Soares August 16, 2011 at 8:26 AM

Great ideas John. I have spent weeks camping at pretty creeks in Wyoming and at hot springs in Idaho, churning out books on my computer. Here are solutions to two problems.

Regarding power for your computer: Get a small solar panel and hook it up to your car battery (or an auxiliary), and then you can use power to your heart’s content and still have plenty left over to start the car, run the lights, radio, etc.

Regarding skeeters: Get a small pavilion w/mosquito netting walls. That way you can comfortably sit at your computer table and move around with ease inside the pavilion without getting bit. Plan B is to get mosquito clothing with netting on the face, etc. The good news is that it doubles as a sun shirt. That way you don’t have to put spf and deet all over your skin (yuk).
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8 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:39 PM

I really like both of your suggestions. I find that I can go a couple of days of running my laptop for writing and the interior lights for night reading without draining the battery, but longer than that can be a problem.

I was fortunate that there were almost no mosquitoes where I camped this time. I was far away from streams and meadows.
John Soares recently posted…Write Faster: 12 Top Tips for Freelance Writers

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9 Karen August 16, 2011 at 10:02 AM

Great ideas. Getting back to nature always spurs my creativity. I actually try and stay as ‘disconnected’ as possible, even in my daily life. I’m not too drastic about it but I’m one of those “no landline phone, no TV (drastic for some, I know), no email alerts” sort of people, and my current office has a view of the forest behind my house.

Every little helps.
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10 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:40 PM

I really like your style Karen! I’m making good progress on minimizing my connectedness to what’s really essential, but I can still improve.

I find that the more I simplify my life, the happier I am.
John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writer’s Guide to Internet Research

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11 Anne Wayman August 16, 2011 at 11:14 AM

Love the bear story… family rumor has it my grandfather once hooked a lion on a fly line!

And you know you and I agree on taking breaks.

Good pix too John.

Thanks
Anne Wayman recently posted…Time Tracking For Freelance Writers

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12 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Wow! The lion must have been quite close and quite interested in your grandfather.
John Soares recently posted…My Guest Post and Live Call on Carol Tice’s Make A Living Writing Blog

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13 Mary August 16, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Great ideas! Everyone needs to get away and take some time to let the creative juices come back to us.

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14 Luke August 16, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Everyone needs a little retreat ;) In any working field, too much is never good. Little problems grow to unsolvable enigmas…but just little work in the park “reset” the mind.
It like cleaning a house after kids “assault” so it ready for another one.
Luke recently posted…What was the First color movie ?

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15 Ruth Zive August 16, 2011 at 1:26 PM

Don’t think I’m quite cut out for the woods (mosquitoes LOVE me!), but I do find that I write better and more when I take at least one opportunity every day to get outside. I’m lucky enough that I have a pool in my backyard, and the fresh air and sunshine does wonders for my energy and focus. It’s a little challenging in the winter time (I live in Canada!), and there is no question that my productivity in the middle of December stinks!
Ruth Zive recently posted…Getting Customer Consent for Case Studies – 5 Easy Tips

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16 John Soares August 17, 2011 at 4:44 PM

Ruth, I’m fortunate to live in a rural area, and I work out on the patio furniture on the back deck whenever I can, or I’ll go outside and sit under a tree to do necessary reading.
John Soares recently posted…How Tai Chi Makes Me a Better Writer

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17 Sarah O August 25, 2011 at 10:36 PM

This sounds so great but I have two questions:
–How the heck can you read your computer monitor outside? I have a hard time writing outside even in my own yard because of the glare. I’ve been hoping to find some sort of shade or anti-glare device to protect this. Do you just have a better screen? I’m using a mac.
–where to you get those AC converter things. If I can figure out the glare thing, this sounds like such a great idea!
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18 John Soares August 26, 2011 at 6:07 AM

Hi Sarah. I solve the glare problem by always working in the shade, which also means I don’t have to put on sunblock.

And I got the DC to AC converter thingie at an RV supply store, but it might even be at a place like WalMart, and you can certainly get it on Amazon.

Have fun out there!
John Soares recently posted…Life Isn’t Fair: On Freelance Writers Who Write For Free or Low Fees

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19 bigwhitefish.com June 20, 2014 at 2:18 PM

That sounds like a great way to focus on writing. It’s hard when you’re stuck inside at your computer and don’t feel motivated. The outdoors, though, can give you that relaxed feeling and allow you to get into your writing without worrying about all your other problems. With all the new lightweight solar panels it might even be reasonable to bring your writing laptop backpacking soon. I will have to look into that. Anyway, great article. Take care.

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