Writing Retreat 2013

When: Oct 16 – Nov 17, 2013

Where: Crested Butte, Colorado

Who: Approximately 26 writers (ages 14-19) plus trip leaders Dev, Cameron, Melissa, and Logan

How Much: $1700 plus travel

Arrival/Departure Airport: Denver

Application Status: Full with waitlist.
As of September 5th, we are accepting waitlist applications.
Please write office@unschooladventures.com to discuss your chances of enrollment.

We’re back again! The Writing Retreat is Unschool Adventures’ most popular program. This year we’re excited to write our hearts out in the iconic mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado.

New for this year: Four work-trade positions, an awesome charter bus (just for our group) from Denver airport, and a “night owl” staff member.

Same from last year: Daily small group feedback sessions, the group blog, chores with partners, and our earlier-than-NaNoWriMo dates (which means better weather and you’re home for Thanksgiving). 

Welcome to the Writing Retreat

The mission of the Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat is to support young writers (and those with a budding interest in writing) in accomplishing an ambitious, self-paced writing challenge.

We started the Writing Retreat as a place to do National Novel-Writing Month (the challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November) with a community of like-minded young novelists. Since then we’ve branched out, making space for poets, bloggers, short story writers, graphic artists, and those who want to explore a combination of writing styles. Now we simply say: Choose your own ambitious writing challenge. Aim for a goal that’s bigger than anything you’ve written before, and plan to stick to it for the entire month.

A few example challenges include:

  • Write a 50,000-word novel (traditional NaNoWriMo-style)
  • Write a 80,000-word novel (for the highly ambitious)
  • Write 100 single-page poems
  • Write a 25,000-word memoir
  • Write a 100-page play (Scriptfrenzy-style)
  • Write and publish 20 blog posts of 1000 words each
  • Write 5 short stories, 20 poems, and a 10,000-word memoir
  • Write and illustrate one full-length graphic novel

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

Writers at our 2009 retreat

The variety of writing styles that we accommodate offers a chance to “cross-pollinate” and broaden your scope as a writer. More than a few students have walked away from the Writing Retreat with new-found passions for poetry, nonfiction, or blogging.

During the retreat, students write at their own time, place, and pace. Our talented staff lead workshops, check-in with students every day, run small group feedback sessions, and provide one-on-one writing mentorship when asked. The staff also undertake their own writing challenges, direct meal preparation, keep the place in reasonable order, 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, self-directed writers to do their thing. We’re not here to  shove word counts down your throat.

Living with 20+ Unschoolers for a Month in a Colorado Mountain Town

CB Lodge and Hostel

The Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel (pictured in winter)

Perhaps just as significant as the actual writing, the Writing Retreat offers young adults a chance to live in community for a diverse group of peers and adult staff.  Our group of ~30 writers will spend their month living in the Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado (view the location map), which we’ve rented in its entirety. Nestled within a small mountain town and within easy walking distance to the cafes, shops, a library, and hiking trails, this property offers an incredible place to live and grow with a group of fellow unschoolers.

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

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

To help inspire and improve your writing, our staff (and sometimes students) lead writing-oriented workshops—typically one workshop per day, five days a week. Previous workshop topics have included: Free Writing, Metaphors, Lessons from the Grammar Police, How to Lead a Life Worth Writing About, Dialogue, and Getting Published. We also organize “power hours”,  intensive focus times during which we crank out a huge number of words. Attendance at all workshops and activities is optional.

It also helps to clear your head when doing intensive writing. That’s why a big focus of the Writing Retreat is non-writing community activities. We go hiking, watch movies, and journey into town. In the evenings we organize talent shows, readings, dance workshops, and story nights. This year, we have the free bus shuttle to Mount Crested Butte (a ski area on Forest Service land) available to us, which expands our hiking and outdoor adventures opportunities.

The 2012 Writing Retreat group: sweethearts and weirdos!

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, recording music, or making friends with weird restaurant owners, our students find innumerable ways to connect and have fun. The lightly structured nature of the retreat makes this possible.

Small Group Feedback and the Group Blog

Writing is a lonely affair, and it helps to share your words with others. That’s why we have the daily small group meeting and writing feedback session. Every evening you’ll have the chance to share some of your writing with a group of roughly six other students and one staff member. We encourage you to use this opportunity to ask for feedback on your content, story, style, technique, or overall feel. The important part is that you share and talk openly about how your writing challenge is going.

Another place to share your writing—and your wacky stories from the retreat—is our group blog. Browse the 2012 group blog and the 2011 blog to get a feeling for what you might share.

Program Itinerary


  • October 16: Arrival, move-in, and orientation. Writing starts at midnight!
  • October 16-November 15: Writing, of course!
  • October 31: Unschooler Halloween! (Yes, there will be trick-or-treating. Evidence.)
  • November 16:  Cleaning party. Writing ends at midnight.
  • November 17: Move-out and departure from Crested Butte.


A Day in the Life

What does a typical day at the Writing Retreat look like? Our days vary widely, but here’s a rough sketch:

  • Wake up an create your own breakfast
  • Write in your best atmosphere: the hostel, cafe, library, your bed, etc.
  • Join a spontaneous mid-day adventure with other students
  • Eat lunch (lunch spread provided at hostel from 1-2pm)
  • Write more!
  • Do a chore (average 30 minutes each day)
  • Join the afternoon workshop or a power hour (optional)
  • Eat dinner with the group and attend the nightly meetings (large-group + small-group — required)
  • Enjoy evening writing, games, dancing, power hours, or special events
  • Shhh! Quiet hours start at midnight
  • Go to sleep at the hour of your choice

Walking to town — Writing Retreat 2011

Work-Trade Opportunities

All work-trades for 2013 have been filled.

This year’s retreat offers four work-trade & leadership positions.  These four students will rotate taking responsibility for traditional work trade roles (coordinating dinner dishes and lunch spreads) with taking some new leadership roles: leading a workshop, an activity and some small group check-ins. They will meet weekly with staff to receive the support and training necessary to succeed in those roles.  The position will require 7-8 hours a week on average and receives a $200 reduction in program fee.

To apply for one of these positions, send an e-mail to explaining your motivations and qualifications to program director Dev Carey at devbrennan@gmail.com.  Preference will be given to those applicants who have already attended a Writing Retreat and demonstrated leadership skills and a strong work ethic.


Photos of Our Lodge

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 before applying!

What are the extra costs for this program?

The Writing Retreat program fee covers all food, lodging, and group activities. The fee does not cover travel to and from the Crested Butte hostel. If you’re flying, we recommend that you arrive at Denver airport and take a charter bus with other students, which will be arranged in September as we finalize our enrollment numbers. Due to the long distance of this trip, the shuttle will cost anywhere from $75 to $150 each way depending on the number of students electing this service. Please figure this number into your trip budget. (We anticipate that this bus ride will be a highly memorable part of the retreat itself.)

Alternatively, students may be driven to Crested Butte or fly into Gunnison airport and arrange a shuttle with Alpine Express to the hostel. (Please do not book any flights before consulting with trip staff.)

In addition to travel, we recommend that students bring $100-$200 for snacks, toiletries, and other incidentals during the retreat.

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. This retreat offers you a chance to write in a supportive atmosphere of fellow novices without every-day distractions.

Do I need a laptop?

Most writing retreat students bring a laptop. For the ambitious (or crazy), feel free to write by typewriter or hand. 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).

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 his or her 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 (e.g. coffee shop, library).

How can I backup my work?

We’ve had a few file deletion scares over the years. To prevent against accidental loss of your writing, install a free automatic cloud backup service like SugarSync or iCloud or compose your entire manuscript on Google Docs. At a minimum, you should e-mail your document to yourself each day or back it up on a USB drive.

What is the sleeping and laundry situation?

Our hostel has rooms with 4-6 dormitory-style beds each. Students and staff will stay in different rooms, and all rooms are gender-segregated. Each student will have a small amount of personal storage space, so plan to live out of your duffel bag! Linens, blankets, pillows, and towels are provided by the hostel. We have laundry facilities located next door to the hostel and will do student laundry once a week. Linens will be changed once per week.

What is the weather like?

Variable! In October and early November, Crested Butte might be sunny and 70, and it might have a foot of snow on the ground. Bring warm and waterproof clothing and shoes.

Is this retreat appropriate for younger unschoolers (ages 14-15)?

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 with friends and family back home?

Via cell phone and internet.

How can I afford this trip?

Check out our fundraising suggestions for earning your passage to the Writing Retreat.

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