A Writer's Life

A Portable Writer’s Retreat

Recently two writers I admire were lucky enough to be able to get away to a writer’s retreat, complete with cabins, mountains, a hot tub and even a chef! They enjoyed a very productive, inspiring retreat with other writers. Someday, I’m going to do that.

In the meantime though, most of us can’t manage such wonderfulness. It occurred to me that there’s something we can do on a much smaller scale – assemble our own individual “Portable Writer’s Retreat” bag to set up a writer’s retreat whenever the opportunity arises. I’m using a quilted coffee-themed bag that was made for me one fine Christmas. It’s roomy, cushioned and fun.

Here’s some ideas to help you get started on your own Writer’s Retreat bag.  Grab a satchel, tote bag, backpack, or what-have-you, stock it up, throw it in the car  or sling it over your shoulder and go for a nice wander until you find the perfect spot for your retreat. A park? A library? A coffee shop? Whatever suits you and your muse!

I posed the question ‘what would you put in your Writer’s Retreat bag?’ to my writer friends.  Together, we all came up with the following list. You won’t need everything, and I’m sure you’ll come up with items we didn’t think of. I’d love to hear your additions in the comments!

  Writer’s Retreat Bag Ingredients

Writing Materials (of course)

Low Tech

  • Writing journals
  • Pens and Pencils – more than one! Stock many.
  • Color Pens
  • Sharpies
  • Idea cards. Those are pictures cards: subjects, actions, objects. When you are out of ideas, you pick one of each, and try to make them fit together.
  • Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Sure, you could download it on to your tablet’s book-reading app, but having an actual dead-tree copy gives you tactile joy. Plus it’s a small book.
  • Pocket Dictionary/Thesaurus
  • Index Cards
  • A collapsible flat writing surface (in case you are in a park rather than a coffee shop).

High Tech

  • iPad (my choice. And I use the Werdsmith app. It’s clean, stable and suits me)
  • A spare charging cable for your cell phone (just in case you need to access the Internet for research)
  • One writer commented, “if you have a wifi only tablet, I like the 4g base station that AT&T sells with 5GB of data for $50 a month.”
  • A real keyboard, with Bluetooth
  • 11 inch MacBook Air

Thinking Helpers

  • Rubik’s Cube
  • Silly Putty
  • Headphones for iPad or your musical device
  • Essential Oils.  For mental clarity, try Rosemary, Basil, Juniper Berry, Peppermint, Sage


  • Water, Coffee, or Tea bottles: I received a glowing recommendation for Contigo Autoseal Travel Tumblers. These have lockdown tabs and I am told they are completely spillproof, even when stuffed in a purse or laid on their side.
  • Another writer recommends a Water Filter Bottle.
  • Trail Mix. Perhaps dried cranberries, unsalted cashews and almonds, with dark chocolate bits. Or my favorite, granola, cashews, almonds, and M&M’s.
  • Chocolate. 85% dark should be good for a thousand words!
  • Mints
  • Hard Candy
  • Gum


  • Hand Lotion
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun Hat
  • Fingerless knit gloves


  • Business or calling cards with your name and a email address only (you can write your mobile number on the back if you think it’s safe to share)
  • A little totem to cheer you up if/when you get stuck

One friend, who shall remain unnamed, said that his bag would contain, “Mechanical pencil, whiskey flask, brass knuckles, post-it’s, gin flask, passport, fake mustaches, tequila flask, lawyer’s phone number.”

Another friend with less of a shady past and a tendency to ramble said, “Something chewy to give people when they need to shut up. Like REALLY big chewing gum. Bandaids with Winnie the Pooh on them to be every kids favorite random aunt! But then a clown nose would fix both those things. And it might take less space in your bag. It can also be used when there is awkward silence (I hate that). I am getting a red nose!!”

I hope you’re inspired to stock up your own bag.  Perhaps you’ll even want to include a red clown nose.  The brass knuckles might weigh you down, though.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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