The Lasting Value of a Writing Retreat

Megan Houston Sager
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJan 19, 2020


How one week away kept on giving

Photo by Rachel Nickerson on Unsplash

On the day I impulsively signed up for a writing retreat, I second guessed myself for three hours straight. I was late making dinner and late walking the dog. I was a practical person and needed to justify the time and expense.

I spotted the advertisement, by one of my favorite authors, at a vulnerable time. The book I’d been writing was at a standstill and I couldn’t figure out the problem. My writing had started to feel unwieldy; I was losing my way. I craved encouragement, someone to reassure me I wasn’t wasting my time. I was sure my situation was predisposing me to an early midlife crisis; I’d planned on writing being the cornerstone of my new identity but now harbored doubts.

I ultimately signed up because I had this idea that the teacher would reveal something about her particular secrets of writing. Maybe she’d even offer me feedback, I reasoned, maybe she’d cheer me on.

Once I arrived at the workshop, three months later, my hopefulness screeched to a halt. By the second day, I realized the teacher gave no feedback at all. She said Zen inspired things like there is no good, no bad. I did not turn out to be an exception which was disappointing. She made clear that the reason we were there was to practice writing which alarmed me. I hadn’t gone to practice. She gave us writing prompts and we were supposed to sit there and write.

In the beginning my mind went blank.

“What do you remember?” she asked us. And I swear, the minute she said it, I didn’t remember anything. And then I wondered what she meant, specifically. What did I remember about what?

Practice, in this way, was something I could have easily just done at home. I realized that I paid for something because I lacked my own self-discipline. I struggled to understand how doing all these writing prompts would move me forward. They were a distraction to my writing crisis. I had no time for this.

My bad mood continued in the late afternoons when we met in smaller groups to write for several ten-minute periods — without the teacher. We were supposed to read aloud what we wrote to our group of three or four relative strangers. Steeping in disappointment on the second day of this nonsense, I…