Writing Retreat 2014

(Page Updated: 7/3/14)

When: Oct 19 – Nov 18, 2014
(Dates subject to slight shift.)

Where: Crested Butte, Colorado

Who: Approximately 28 writers (ages 14-21) plus trip leaders Dev, Autumn, Abraham, and Melissa

How Much: $1700 plus travel

Arrival/Departure Airport: Denver

Application Status: Closed

Priority Application Deadline: May 1, 2014
This program is full, including the waitlist. Hope to see you next year!

It’s back again! The Writing Retreat is Unschool Adventures’ most popular program. This year we’re writing our hearts out—for a second time—in the beautiful mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado.

New for this year: Program director Dev Carey’s Gap Year student group will be joining the Writing Retreat!

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 (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo: the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month) with a community of like-minded young novelists.

Today, most teenagers who join the Writing Retreat continue to do the NaNoWriMo challenge, but the overall goal is this: Choose an ambitious writing challenge and stick with it for an entire month. Whether your write fiction, poetry, blog posts, or something else—this is your opportunity to set your sights high and expand the limits of your creativity.

Some challenges that previous writers have given themselves include:

  • Write a 50,000-word novel (in traditional NaNoWriMo-style)
  • Write a 80,000-word novel (for those who have already completed NaNoWriMo)
  • Write 100 single-page poems
  • Publish 20 blog posts (of 1000 words each)

The focus of the Writing Retreat is rapid production of a first draft—not the careful editing and refining a final draft. Everyone at the Writing Retreat (including staff) choose a specific numerical goal for what they’ll write during the month. Then they turn off their inner editors and focus on hitting their daily word count. That’s how we roll at the Writing Retreat.

Writing in a cafe – Writing Retreat 2012

Our Community

During the Writing Retreat, students write at their own time, place, and pace. But perhaps more important than the actual writing is the Writing Retreat community itself. Where else can you live in a diverse group of fellow peers and adult staff who love writing and embrace self-directed learning?

Our group will spend the month living in the Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado (location map), which we rent 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, grow, write, and explore.

What’s it like to live in a snowy mountain lodge with 30 other people 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 (lead by staff and assisted by students) 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.

Many non-writing activities also take place at the Writing Retreat: we go hiking, watch movies,  journey into town, organize talent shows and story nights, do readings from our manuscripts, and teach each other how to partner dance. Students at the Writing Retreat are free to create spontaneous fun for themselves, whether it’s offering “free hugs” downtown, organizing write-ins in a hotel lobby, recording music, or making friends with weird restaurant owners (all of which have happened on previous retreats). The lightly structured nature of the retreat makes this kind of spontaneous adventure possible; the adventure fuels our community; and the community fuels our writing.

Check out Ali’s video from the 2012 Writing Retreat in Hyannis, Massachusetts, to get a taste for community life:

The Role of the Staff

With regards to writing, our talented staff offer inspiring workshops, lead small group feedback sessions, provide one-on-one writing mentorship when asked, and undertake their own writing challenges. What they don’t do is police students’ writing. The goal of the Writing Retreat is to provide a supportive and free environment for passionate, self-directed writers to do their thing. The staff encourage writers to accomplish their stated goals without ever guilting or shaming those who aren’t meeting their targets.

Previous staff-led writing workshop topics have included: Free Writing, Metaphors, Lessons from the Grammar Police, How to Lead a Life Worth Writing About, The Art of Dialogue, and Getting Published. Staff also organize “power hours”, intensive focus times during which we crank out a huge number of words. (Student attendance at all workshops and power hours is optional.)

Our staff’s role also extends far beyond writing: they check-in with students every day, direct meal preparation, manage the chore system, lead all-group activities, help students strike a healthy balance between writing and not-writing, organize hikes and walks, and generally set the tone for a happy, healthy, and productive community. The Writing Retreat staff are experienced self-directed learners and community-oriented leaders who receive unanimously positive feedback ever year from the students.

Writing Retreat 2013 group (don’t worry, they don’t always look like this)

Small Groups and Feedback Sessions

Writing is a lonely affair, and it helps to share your words with others. That’s why we have  daily small group meetings with optional writing feedback sessions.

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 the group blog. Browse the 2012 group blog and the 2011 blog to get a feeling for what you might share.

The Writing Retreat is a place to make new friends


  • October 19: Arrival at Denver Airport, group shuttle to Crested Butte, move-in, and orientation. Writing starts at midnight!
  • October 31: Unschooler Halloween! (Yes, there will be trick-or-treating. Evidence.)
  • November 17: Cleaning party. Writing ends at midnight.
  • November 18: Early morning shuttle from Crested Butte to Denver Airport. Sadness!

The Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel – Your home away from home

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 writing workshop or a power hour (always optional)
  • Eat dinner with the group and attend the nightly meetings (both large-group and small-group — always 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

Work-Trade Opportunities

We have four work-trade & leadership positions available that are compensated with a $200 reduction in program fee.  Responsibilities include leading dinner cleanup crews, preparing lunch spreads, and sometimes leading a workshop,  activity, or small group check-in. 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.

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 who possess demonstrated leadership skills and a strong work ethic.

A Few Photos from Last Year’s Retreat

View all the photos from the 2013 Writing Retreat in Crested Butte.

Photos of the Lodge


Frequently Asked Questions

Please read our general FAQ 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. Most students who don’t live within easy driving distance of Colorado choose to fly to the Writing Retreat.

If you do fly, 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 roughly $75-$125 each way depending on the number of students electing this service. Please figure this number into your trip budget.

Alternatively, you may fly into Gunnison airport and arrange a shuttle with Alpine Express to the hostel.

No matter where you fly, 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?

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).

A quick note about bandwidth: 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, Spotify, 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 page to learn how you might earn your passage to the Writing Retreat.

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