My definition of a writing retreat is this: A time of self care where you nurture your body, mind and creativity so that you can produce words that inspire others. It's not bootcamp or a novel sweatshop where you produce words. Not for me, anyway.
Here's how I go about mine:
First, have a plan
Always be ready with a list of writing tasks so that you won't be at a loss how to meet your writing project goals. When you're in a vacation spot, it's really easy to get carried away by relaxation activities. Great if you're on vacation. Not so great if you're trying to complete your novel. Be precise when describing your tasks. For example, don't just write "Finish chapter 1". Write, "Add scene with monks in chapter 1". Or if you're revising a novel, you can write, "Refine dialogue between Bob and Sarah in chapter 6."
Go somewhere inspiring
When I lived in Adelaide, that place was Hahndorf. I brainstormed a good chunk of the second novel of my space opera series while sipping black coffee and watching autumn leaves fall around me at a cafe in that idyllic once-German town. Nature has an amazing way to inspire the creative mind.
Even if you don't have access or time to go to scenic locales like Hahndorf, you can always take a walk in a park. And even if you don't have access to that, perhaps luxury would do it for you? I use Airbnb a lot, and I often stay in luxury condos with a view of the spectacular skyscape. (And I usually pay about RM80 (US$20) to RM100 (US$25) per night for them!) Somehow, just a look at the neon-lit buildings at night would send me racing to my laptop.
Don't forget to exercise
A healthy body produces a healthy mind. That's why I make it a point to have writing retreats at places with gyms, swimming pools or are near parks. I do it first thing in the morning and then in the evening. If I skip this I often get lethargic, and it doesn't do my writing any favours.
Feed the muse
Sometimes we work so hard to produce something that we forget that we need to supply our brain with raw materials to convert into great stories. Yes, food and exercise is part of that, but I'm talking about creative raw materials. During writing retreats, I make a point to do these: read (usually by the pool), watch TV and movies (yes, really!), or if I'm lucky, go to a museum with works of art.
I'm not saying go on a diet. In fact, going on a diet may add unnecessary stress to your mind and body at a time when you want to relax. Instead, eat food you know will keep your mind alert and your body invigorated. For example, if I eat gluten of any kind, it's usually a recipe for trouble as headaches and stomach aches are sure to follow. So, during my retreats I make sure I have a good supply of fruits and vegetables and lots of water!
Don't work too hard
Say what? Remember, it's also a retreat, not a sweatshop. So allow yourself to be a tourist, sleep and have fun. I made the mistake a few writing retreats ago by working well into midnight. I had set an impossible deadline for myself (always a bad habit, thanks to my type-A personality). As a result, I did not sleep well at all during my writing retreat. My friends thought I'd be refreshed after my vacay, but I looked like I slept in a bin of cactus for days.
In all things, let there be balance.
Hope this little list inspires you to plan your solo writing retreat. Do tell me about it :)