Trip Details

Trip duration: 1 month
When: Oct 30 — December 1, 2011
Where: Durango, Colorado
Arrival Airport: Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO)
Who: 15-20 writers (ages 14-19), trip leaders Dev Carey, Cameron Lovejoy, and Brenna McBroom, trip assistant Jessica Barker, plus various guest authors, writers, and mentors. (Unschool Adventures director Blake Boles be around Durango during the retreat, too.)
How Much: $1700 program fee includes all accommodations, meals, transport, and group activities during the retreat.
Program fee does not include personal spending money or roundtrip transportation to Durango.
Application Status: Full, alas! Look forward to another retreat in November 2012.
Priority Application Deadline: The priority application deadline was March 20.

Autumn in the Durango area

It's Back!

By popular demand, the writing retreat is back. After the 2009 Novel-Writing Retreat on the Oregon coast, we got lots of requests to run the trip again. Here it is — this time in beautiful Durango, Colorado!

Trip Purpose

Every Unschool Adventure trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here's what we'll set out to accomplish:

Writers from the 2009 Unschool Adventures Novel-Writing Retreat

Writing, Writing, Writing!

The Writing Retreat is a month-long, self-paced creative writing challenge. The point of the retreat is to choose an ambitious goal and then write a whole lot. There are many ways to get good at writing — including careful research, editing, rewriting, and grammar-checking — but the focus of this retreat is simply production. In other words: Writing, writing, and more writing!

At this retreat you can choose from many different writing goals. Many of our writers will choose to follow the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) format. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide challenge to write your own 50,000-word (175-page) novel in the month of November.

From the NaNoWriMo website:

"National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down."

If novels aren't your fancy, you may do a high-word-count challenge with poetry, journaling, short stories, or autobiography. If you can suggest a suitable format for the challenge, then we're open to it! Our big goal is to ensure that every student has mentorship and support for their chosen writing challenge.

At the end of the retreat, every student will receive a hard copy of their manuscript in book format. After all that hard work, it's satisfying to see your words in "official" form. We'll use Lulu.com to self-publish our manuscripts (even if unfinished).

Living with 20 Unschoolers for a Month


NaNoWriMo (or any high-volume writing challenge) is a difficult thing to do alone — that's why we band together! Our group of 15-20 self-directed teens, plus three staff and occasional guests, will live together for the whole trip in the beautiful and cozy Durango Hometown Hostel (learn more). With exclusive access to the hostel, we'll enjoy our own space for writing, thinking, supporting each other, cooking, eating, and doing workshops.

The hostel is conveniently located next to Fort Lewis College (where there is a free quiet library) and within a short bus ride or 30-minute walking distance to downtown Durango. Because the hostel has limited common area space, students will be encouraged to venture into Durango or Fort Lewis College during the day and find their own special writing locations (e.g. in a coffee shop, library).

Our group will share cooking, cleaning, and food preparation (including grocery shopping) duties. We'll cook our own dinners (big, healthy, mostly vegetarian affairs), provide do-it-yourself breakfast and lunch ingredients, and have lots of snacks available 24/7. We'll prepare a big Thanksgiving dinner that will make your mother proud.

Thanksgiving at the Writing Retreat

Workshops, Mentoring, Field Trips, and Fun Events


To help inspire and improve your writing, our staff will lead workshops. Sample workshop topics include: "Writing With All Your Senses", "Word Vomit" (free writing), and "I've Fallen I Can't Get Up" (how to get out of ruts). We'll also recruit writing students from Fort Lewis College, local authors and writers, and anyone else with talent to visit us and lead guest workshops. All workshops will be optional.

On-call mentoring for students will be available from the staff (in addition peer mentoring from other students). If you're having a problem with your writing, we'll help you solve it or point you to someone who can. We'll also encourage students to find their own mentors in the local Durango area or online.

To clear our heads, we'll take a few field trips, including day hikes, a ride on the Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, and a day trip to beautiful Mesa Verde National Park ($30 fee). Fun events that we'll enjoy in town will include movie nights, talent shows, art gallery tours, and more!

Beautiful downtown Durango


Trip Itinerary



A Day in the Life

What will a typical day at the Writing Retreat look like? Here's a rough sketch:

  1. Wake up after long night of inspired writing
  2. Breakfast on your own (food provided at hostel)
  3. Writing in your best atmosphere and enjoying Durango
  4. Lunch on your own (food provided at hostel)
  5. Chores (30-60 minutes at some point during the day)
  6. Writing/Durango, on-call mentoring, and 30-60 minute workshop
  7. Dinner with the group
  8. All-group meeting
  9. Writing, games, special events
  10. Sleep


Everyday Activities


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I've never written anything longer than a few pages before. Will I be prepared to write a whole novel?

A: Yes! The whole point of NaNoWriMo is that virtually everyone can write, but very few people motivate themselves to write. While many people dream of writing a novel, very few actually do it. This is your chance to do it, in a supportive atmosphere of fellow novices, without every-day distractions.

To prepare yourself for this challenge, it will be wise to read a few books first. The founder of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, wrote an excellent guide called No Plot? No Problem!. A popular screenwriting book, Story by Robert McKee, is also good. Browse the "Writing" section of your local bookstore and you'll find a hundred more books meant to guide budding writers like yourself.

But really, the best preparation for writing a novel is: writing a novel. That's what this trip is about.

Q: If I don't want to write a novel, what kind of other challenge can I choose?

A: We're open to many kind of writing challenges, as long as adequate mentorship and support will be available to you (either via our staff or people in Durango). Contact us to run your idea by us.

Q: What method of writing can I use? Do I need a laptop?

A: You may write on a computer or by hand. The hostel has three computers available, but please don't plan to make one of those your primary writing station. Bring a laptop or lots of paper and pens!

Q: What is the sleeping situation?


A: The Durango Hometown Hostel has four large rooms with dormitory-style beds. One room will be for staff, another for boys, another for girls, and the last with mixed gender. Each student will have a storage locker and (limited) space under the bunk. Linens, blankets, pillows, and towels are provided.

Q: What will the weather be like?

A: Cold! Average temperatures in Durango range from 60 degrees to 15 degrees in November. Come prepared with warm clothing and waterproof shoes to make your journeys from one warm location to another!

Q: What are the rules on tobacco, drugs, and alcohol?

A: Unschool Adventures has a zero-tolerance policy for tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Possession or usage of any of these substances leads to immediate dismissal without refund. Students sign an agreement to this specific rule as part of the enrollment paperwork.

Q: Is this retreat appropriate for younger unschoolers (age 14)?

A: Students on the younger end of the spectrum should be prepared for a month of independent living and self-motivated writing. This does take a certain level of emotional maturity. Feel free to drop us a line to discuss whether your student is ready.

Q: Will I be able to stay in touch with family?

A: Yes. There is cell phone service, three computer stations, and wireless internet at the hostel. There is also a hostel phone that students can use with a calling card.

Q: How do I get to the retreat site?

A: You may drive yourself or book a flight to/from DRO airport. We will provide an airport pickup/drop-off service.

Q: What if I have more questions?

A: Please write us and ask. If anything is not clear about the trip, please let us know so that we can update this page.

Q: How can I afford this trip?

A: Check out our fund raising suggestions for raking up that dough!

Shots of espresso help with writer's block!


Have More Questions?

Contact us via e-mail or phone and we'll be happy to answer your questions.