Writing Retreat 2012

This program ran with 26 students and ended on November 15, 2012.

When: Oct 14 – Nov 15, 2012

Where: Hyannis, MA

Who: 26 students (ages 14-19) plus trip leaders Blake, Dev, Brenna, Cameron, and Matt

How Much: $1725

It’s back again! The Writing Retreat is Unschool Adventures’ most popular program. After a 2009 retreat in Oregon and a 2011 retreat in Colorado, we’re offering our first-ever east coast retreat on beautiful Cape Cod.

What’s Different?

Our previous writing retreats focused on high-word-count fiction writing (following the 50,000-word challenge of National Novel-Writing Month). Some students also opted for high-word-count poetry, memoir, or short stories. This year we invite you to undertake any type of writing challenge, whether high- or low-word-count.

Also new for this year’s Writing Retreat are:

  • Daily writing feedback sessions
  • Twice-weekly sharing of your work (on the Writing Retreat group blog)
  • An improved chore and work-trader system
  • New mid-October to mid-November dates (= better weather, and you’re home for Thanksgiving!)

Writers from the 2009 Unschool Adventures Novel-Writing Retreat

Trip Purposes

We create every Unschool Adventure trip with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish.

Writing, Writing, Writing

The Writing Retreat is a month-long writing adventure. The purpose of the retreat is to support young writers (and those with a serious interest in writing) in accomplishing an ambitious, self-paced writing challenge.

At the Writing Retreat, students write at their own time, place, and pace. Our talented staff lead optional workshops, check-in with students daily, and provide assistance when asked. They also undertake their own writing challenges, direct meal preparation, and organize all-group activities. What our staff doesn’t do is police students’ writing. Our goal is to provide a supportive and free environment for passionate writers to do their thing.

Here are a few example challenges that you could give yourself over the 30 days of the Writing Retreat:

  • Write a 50,000-word novel (NaNoWriMo-style)
  • Write 100 poems
  • Write a 25,000-word memoir
  • Write a 100-page play (Scriptfrenzy-style)
  • Write 20 high-quality blog posts on a topic about which you’re passionate
  • Write 10 short stories
  • Write and illustrate one full-length graphic novel

The only writing challenge you aren’t allowed to give yourself is no writing challenge!

At the end of the retreat, students will have the opportunity to print and receive hard copies of their manuscripts in paperback format (included in the program fee).

Living with 20+ Unschoolers for a Month


A self-paced writing challenge is difficult to do alone — that’s why we band together! Our group of 20-30 self-directed teens, plus staff, will live together in the new Hostelling International Hostel in downtown Hyannis, Massachusetts (view location map). Located across the street from the Hyannis ferry docks and within easy walking distance to the beach, cafes, shops, and public library, this hostel offers an incredible place to live and grow with a group of fellow unschoolers.

Because the hostel has limited common area space, students will be encouraged to venture into town to find their own special writing locations (like coffee shops, the library, or the beach).

What’s it like to live in a house with 20+ unschoolers for a month? A little crazy and a lot of fun. To keep the place in order, the staff will organize students into small chore teams to assist with daily cleaning. We’ll cook our own dinners (big, healthy, mostly vegetarian meals), provide do-it-yourself breakfast and lunch items, and have lots of snacks available 24/7. We’ll enforce quiet hours but not a bedtime—so if you do your best writing at 3AM, feel free!

Enjoying Workshops, Field Trips, Evening Events, and Spontaneous Fun

To help inspire and improve your writing, our staff (and sometimes students) will lead writing-oriented workshops—typically one workshop per day, five days a week. Previous workshop topics have included: Free Writing, Metaphors, Lessons from a Grammar Nazi, How to Lead a Life Worth Writing About, Dialogue, How to Get Published, and Introduction to Online Self-Publishing. We also organize informal “power hours” which you can join to crank out a large number of words in a short period of time. Attendance at all workshops is always optional but highly recommended. Staff will also be available for one-on-one writing mentorship.

To clear our heads, we’ll go hiking, watch movies, or go rock climbing. There will also be day trips to Martha’s Vineyard and Boston (specific field trip destinations may change based on weather and availability). In the evenings we’ll organize occasional events like talent shows, readings, dance workshops, and story nights. Participation in field trips and evening events will also be optional but highly recommended.

Finally, students on Unschool Adventures Writing Retreats tend to create all sorts of spontaneous fun for themselves. Whether it’s offering “free hugs” downtown, doing write-ins at a local hotel lobby, or recording music, our students find innumerable ways to connect and have fun. The lightly structured nature of the retreat makes this possible.

The 2011 Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat group: total weirdos!

Sharing Our Writing

Writing is a lonely affair; when you’re having trouble, it helps to share. That’s why we’re instituting a new feature in this year’s retreat: a daily writing feedback session. Every evening you’ll have the chance to share some of your writing with a small group of students and staff. You can ask for feedback on content, story, style, technique, or nothing at all. The important part is that you share and talk openly about how your writing challenge is going.

Another new feature this year is twice-weekly sharing of your writing on the Writing Retreat group blog. Every Wednesday and Sunday we’ll ask students to choose a short excerpt of their writing and post it online for the world to see. (The “world” will mostly be retreat students, staff, and parents.) We feel that sharing your writing publicly is another great way to stoke self-motivation. Don’t worry, you can polish your excerpts to your heart’s content. We do ask, however, that you don’t skip any days. Come prepared to share!

The Writing Retreat group blog will also be a place for students and staff to post photos, videos, and stories from our month-long adventure. (Check out last year’s group blog here; click the “Older” link at the bottom to see more posts.) This year’s blog will be hosted on WordPress to enable multiple authors.

Trip Itinerary

  • October 14: Arrive at Hyannis, move-in, and orientation. Writing starts at midnight!
  • October 15-November 14: Writing, of course!
  • October 15: Explore Hyannis and getting-to-know-you activities
  • Date TBA: Island field trip
  • October 31: Unschooler Halloween! (Yes, there will be trick-or-treating.)
  • November 14: Closing event. Writing ends at midnight!
  • November 15: Move-out and departure from Hyannis.

A Day in the Life

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

  • Wake up after a long night of inspired writing
  • Create your own breakfast
  • Write in your best atmosphere (hostel, cafe, library, etc.) and enjoy Hyannis
  • Eat lunch (lunch spread provided at hostel from 12-2pm)
  • Do a chore (average of 30 minutes each day)
  • Afternoon adventures, more writing, or a workshop
  • Eat dinner with the whole group (required)
  • Attend all-group meeting (required)
  • Participate in small-group check-ins and writing feedback (required)
  • Evening writing, games, or special events
  • Quiet hours start at 11PM
  • Go to sleep (at your hour of choice)

Work-Trade Opportunities

March 2012 Update: Both work-trades roles have been filled!

This year we offer two work-trade opportunities, both kitchen-related:

  • The Dinner Dishes Gladiator leads a crew of 2-3 students in cleaning up after dinner. An eye for detail and ability to manage/direct other students is required. Be available from 6:30pm-8pm daily.
  • The BLS (Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks) Goddess prepares (and cleans up) a daily platter of leftovers, sandwich fixings, and other lunch-friendly foods. This person also ensures that we have sufficient breakfast and snack foods, advises staff on what to purchase, and organizes the refrigerators. Be available at 11:30am and 2pm daily.

Each work-trade is compensated by a $400 reduction to your program fee. Work-trade responsibilities are results-based, not hours-based: that means that if you get really efficient at your duties, they may take very little time. And your efficiency will benefit the entire group! So plan to work hard.

Hyannis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (Photo: Flickr)

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Please read our general & domestic trip FAQs here!

I’ve never written much before. Will I be prepared to write a whole novel/play/etc.?

Yes! At the Writing Retreat we believe that virtually everyone can write, but very few people motivate themselves to write. Many people dream of writing a novel/play/blog, but very few do it. This retreat offers you a chance to do the writing you want to do, in a supportive atmosphere of fellow novices, without every-day distractions.

Do I need a laptop?

You may do your writing on a computer, typewriter, or by hand. That’s up to you. Students provide all of their own writing instruments. If you bring a laptop, please ensure that you have the necessary hardware (e.g. functional power source, wi-fi capacity) and software (e.g. word processing software). To share their writing online, students without laptops will need to borrow someone else’s laptop temporarily or use a local library computer.

Wow, a whole month with my laptop! Can I stream videos and music endlessly, day and night?

No :) In a hostel with 20+ people and one internet connection, everyone must be conscious of their bandwidth consumption. Some people choose to write on Google Docs and need an internet connection to access their writing. Streaming YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, etc., makes this very difficult. Please plan to do your media streaming and other high-bandwidth activities at another location with fast wi-fi (e.g. Starbucks, library).

How can I backup my work?

We’ve had a few file deletion scares (and losses) over the years. To prevent against accidental loss of your writing, install a free automatic cloud backup service like SugarSync or iCloud. Or write on Google Docs. At minimum, you should e-mail your document to yourself each day or upload it to a USB stick.

What is the sleeping and laundry situation?

The HI Hyannis hostel offers comfy, well-lit rooms with 4-6 dormitory-style beds each. Each room has multiple electrical outlets and small lockers. Students and staff will stay in different rooms, and all rooms are gender-segregated. There are two buildings at the hostel, one of which will be the designated “very quiet” building for light sleepers. Each student will have a small amount of personal storage space, so be prepared to live out of your suitcase! Linens, blankets, pillows, and towels are provided by the hostel. Students will have laundry machines available at the hostel.

What will the weather be like?

Variable! Expect sun, rain, highs in the 50’s, and lows in the 30’s-40’s. See the Average temperatures in Hyannis. Come prepared with warm clothing and waterproof shoes.

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

Yes, as long as your student is prepared for a month of independent living, self-motivated writing, and living around other teens of widely varying ages and personalities. This challenge does take a certain level of emotional maturity. Please drop us a line to discuss whether your student is ready.

How can I stay in touch?

Via cell phone and internet. Unschool Adventures provides a calling card for students without a phone.

How do I get to Hyannis?

You may drive directly to the hostel, fly into Hyannis airport, or fly into Boston airport. If you fly into Boston, an Unschool Adventures staff member will meet you at the airport and help you board the Plymouth & Brockton shuttle to Hyannis (not included in program fee). We’ll use the same process to depart Hyannis at the end of the month.

How can I afford this trip?

Check out our fundraising suggestions for raking up that dough!

Go top