DIY Writing Retreat: Misery Island

Every writer wants to go on a writing retreat – the chance to be alone, surrounded by nothing but your potential and the story unfolding in your mind. But let’s face the truth: we have day jobs, responsibilities, and obligations that prevent us from fleeing into the great beyond for a week. That’s where Do It Yourself (DIY) retreats come in.

Earlier this month, all three editors got together to travel from behind our stuffy desks out to the fresh air on Misery Island Reservation (an island in Salem Sound). The island has a rich history – more of that to come – and we would be left alone for two glorious hours. It was exhilarating.

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The 83-acre island was a great choice for us for a number of reasons, but especially because none of us had ever set foot on the land and the intriguing name appeals to our inner writer. Part of the draw was the island’s history, starting with Captain Robert Moulton being stranded on the island in the 1620s. He had such a miserable time, he wouldn’t stop complaining and eventually, townsfolk started calling the place Moulton’s Misery. In the early 1900s, the island sported a casino, golf course, and resort–a rich person getaway (think First Class on the Titanic before the iceberg). After the casino went bankrupt (oh hey, the iceberg!), new owners built luxury cottages which lasted until the 1920s when a fire ravaged the buildings, razing most them to the ground. In 2016, all that is left are stone walls, small pillars, a few stone doorways, and inspiration.

The Plan

When you create your own DIY Retreat, it’s important to make a plan before heading out for safety reasons. For our trip, our plan was relatively simple. Meet early (don’t be that person who shows up late and is left on the pier wondering where the group is- you know who you are), get to know the staff of the sea shuttle you are attending (so they don’t forget your face upon retrieving the group) and once on the island, explore and agree on a return time because you may only have a few hours to take in the sights, hopefully not find a dead body, then find someplace inspiring to sit down and write before the trip is over.

After a 20 or so minute ride from Salem Willow Pier with Sea Shuttle, we entered the rocky beach and traveled along the coast until we found a path, eventually leading us to the casino ruins. There, we gave ourselves 10 minutes to write something and then share. The small time limit was a challenge but it forced us to put our creative caps on and dive right into the creative process.

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When doing your own retreat, it’s important to remember to write without any expectation. Exploring someplace new is exciting and thrilling; there’re so many new things to see and it’s easy to get bitten by the travel bug and overthink the session. We spent at least 45 minutes walking around and photographing the island’s mysteries but to sweeten the trip we followed up with another writing session once we made it back to the pick up meeting place. Editor Sara and I completed poems while Editor Sandy started a short prose about a woman abandoned on a deserted island. While none of us perfected anything, we did lay the groundwork of new pieces and got helpful feedback from the team (and, on my own, I finished two of the poems later that week).

The Good Ol’ Fashion Conclusion

If you’re looking for inspiration, then make sure you document what inspired you and how it inspired you. Not only did we take a lot of photos, but I also made note of what I was feeling. Editor Sara made comments regarding the unusual gold colored moss that adores most of the ruins and when we saw a swath of dead trees, we stopped to discuss the origin of those trees and the consequences they could have on the area.

Getting out of your normal writing hole and finding someplace new to create is healthy. Adventure leads to new experiences and new experience begat new creations. So travel, see something new and be inspired. Just make sure to use that inspiration.

Now it’s your turn. Share a travel story in the comments!

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