Alaska writing retreats

Earlier this month when Deb and I interviewed each other, the subject of perfect writing retreats came up. It was such a fun question, I wanted to open it up to readers: What is your ideal Alaska writing retreat, real or imagined? And — perhaps this is a different question — where have you actually gotten your best writing accomplished?

Pictured here is a lovely rental house outside Ketchikan that I had the pleasure of renting for about a week last summer, while researching a book about the Tongass National Forest for Alaska Geographic. There was no driveway down to the little coastal house, just a steep path through Jurassic-thick woods, with lots of bear scat to remind us we weren’t alone. The tides rose each day, swallowing up most of the beach, and offering a perfect place to launch our kayaks. I used this place as a base, but didn’t write in the house very much, because I was busy doing interviews in town. And all too quickly, at the end of the week, we had to pack up and go. I didn’t want to leave. I’d only kayaked twice, all too briefly; I hadn’t gotten tired of staring out the window at the salmon leaping everywhere.
Maybe a house like this is too beautiful. I think I’ve gotten the most written at a grungy Wasilla motel with dirty carpeting, just off the highway, where I closed the blinds and burrowed into my imaginary world for three days and nights, fueled by Doritos, pizza, coffee, and red wine.

What’s your story?

7 thoughts on “Alaska writing retreats”

  1. I’ve written some good stuff at my cabin (back when I owned one) and some that never saw the light of day while holed up in a Santa Monica while my daughter learned volleyball tricks from tall California blondes. I suppose the place that matters most is inside our heads.

    That being said, I got excited when I learned on a listserv that Jackie Mitchard keeps a house out east somewhere solely for writers to use for retreats. No charge, you just apply. If it weren’t so far away, I’d love to give it a try. Sort of like your idea of a writer’s cabin, Andromeda. And I love how the Canadians keep the Berton house in Dawson City as a writer’s retreat. But darn the luck, it’s only for Canadian writers.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Oooh, I’ve never heard about these other free-to-use houses. I’ll have to tell my Canadian friend, Ellen, about the Berton house, if she doesn’t know already.

    And I’ll say it again about the Alaska version — I really do think we should create this someday. Not only would it reward local writers (including not-yet-published ones, for example mothers of young children, who need an occasional ‘room of one’s own’ most of all) but it would draw more national-caliber writers to visit here. They’d get use of the cabin or cottage for a week or so, but would have to give us a talk before they left. Any millionaires out there, please contact me so we can make it a reality! (And Deb’s real estate background could also come in handy.)

  3. What occurs to me is how many “snowbirds” leave Alaska for the winter every year. Just up and leave those lovely homes of theirs all empty. I know many out-of-state writers might be more inclined to come up during the summer, but for locals, I wonder about this… as far as tax deduction goes (if they continue to pay for utilities, etc., so people can stay there), they’d need a 501(c)(3) to designate their “donation.” So. All we need is a snowbird and a willing 501(c)(3) “host,” and we’re good to go, right?

  4. That’s an intriguing question about Alaska writing retreats. My favorite place (which I almost hate to mention, because it’s already so popular) is Byers Lake in Denali State Park and its public use cabins. I try to get there at least once a year for a solo retreat, especially in the fall, though life’s circumstances have kept me away the past couple of years. In a way, it’s more of a writer’s getaway, a place to find some solitude, and to relax, recharge, and renew my nature writer’s spirit. I rarely, if ever, write polished pieces while there. But in addition to my explorations of the area (and berry picking), I always write in my journal: about my experiences while there, to brainstorm or expand upon essay or book ideas, to do stream-of-consciousness writing, etc. Perhaps because I write mostly about my own — and our species’ — relationship with the wider, wilder world we inhabit, I find my time at Byers Lake to be immensely enriching and inspiring. I’m certain it feeds and deepens my writing. As for where I do my “best” writing: I’m lucky enough to have a quiet space in my own home where I can sit with my computer and create essays and articles and larger, book-length works. Though I’ve done some productive work at writer’s retreats and residencies (outside Alaska) and highly recommend the experience, my home office works best for me when moving from journals and research into story.

  5. I spent a little over a year converting a rotting beach house that came with the apartment building we own. I prided myself in using salvaged materials and not spending too much money on it and trying not to make it too cozy. I began to refer to the beach house as the Yab Yum Shack after the shack up the hill from Jaffy Rider’s house in The Dharma Bums. During the next few years I did a lot of writing about this writing retreat, but actually very little time actually writing from within its crooked walls. I don’t really see this as a problem though as during this time I found a new creative outlet in carpentry which provided new inspiration for my writing and feel that the shack has truly become a character of my own mythology. Here’s link to some of my shack pieces

  6. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hey Jonas, I see you’re from Juneau. Good to see you here! I’ll check out your blog…

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top