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How to Plan a Writing Retreat, Part 4: Money and Rooming

We’re going to keep planning our writing retreat today! You’ve figured out the culture you want. You have a plan to create that culture. You’re not going to starve to death.

Now, it gets tricky.

By the end of this post, I hope you can plan your own retreat. However, if you have questions, I’d like you to post them in the comments, below.

Money is your problem.

No, organizer is not a paid position. This retreat is your baby, so pay your dues to make it happen.

As the organizer, you need to be able to move about $500 per person of your own money.  You are the retreat’s bond. This was your idea, and if something goes wrong, it’s your fault. If you failed to ask for enough money from everyone, don’t come back and ask for more; That’s changing the deal on people. You need to pay for that mistake, and it can be costly.

So get it right. Here’s how.

Not all rooms are created equal.

If you simply take an equal amount of money from everyone, you’ll find yourself feeling SUPER guilty when one of your sainted writers is sleeping on a couch. This is something I figured out the first year, when Hugh O’Donnell (of the Way of the Buffalo Podcast) arrived last. The only remaining “bed” was a large couch, next to the kitchen. As it was the highest-traffic area, Hugh was always the last to get to sleep, and since it was next to the kitchen, he was always the first to wake up. At the end of the retreat, tired and creatively exhausted, Hugh had an eleven-ish hour drive home through the mountains into snowy New York.

Yeah, uh… sorry, Hugh.

This is where shares and planning come in.

Most cabins have a “sleeps” stat, as in “sleeps 54 people.” These are all horribly misleading. This number accounts for couches, pull-out beds, pool tables, raised garden beds, comfortable shrubberies and anywhere else you could conceivably pass out. If you rely on these numbers, you’re going to have people sleeping crammed in a cupboard, awaiting their invite to wizarding school.

The number of rooms is actually the important stat. If you plan around that, you’ll be pretty happy. However, those couches shouldn’t go to waste! Maybe some people would be happy with a couch. The question is, how do you equitably divide up the sleeping space?

At our retreat, we have four levels of shares:

  • Chef (0 shares)
  • Couch (1 share)
  • Half-a-bed (1.5 shares)
  • Private Room (3 shares)

Chefs, obviously, don’t pay anything and get half a bed. Couch-surfers get the base-level experience: slightly uncomfortable with all of the writing fun. Then, you get people sharing a room–an easy sell for the folks who attend cons often. And lastly, you get someone wanting a private room. This costs a LOT more, because those usually have their own bathrooms, as well.

Let’s work an example.

Let’s say you have:

  • 3 couch surfers
  • 8 people willing to share rooms
  • 1 chef
  • 2 people wanting private rooms

The couch surfers can fit in anywhere, so they only factor into the money side of planning. You need four bedrooms for the sharers, plus a half bedroom for the chef, and two private rooms. That brings the cabin bedroom total to six and a half, which is a tricky number.

At this point, you have two options: invite someone else, or give the chef a private room. If this was my retreat, one chef serving fourteen people gets a private dang room. You should probably invite another chef…

So, that’s eight bedrooms. Luckily for us, we found a seven bedroom cabin for $2500 for the retreat! Now, we count up shares.

  • Couch surfers: 3 shares
  • Bedroom sharers: 12 shares
  • Chefs: 0 shares
  • Private roomers: 6 shares

We can get an even better understanding of how well the money is divided by percentages:

  • Couch surfers: 14% (3/21)
  • Bedroom sharers:  57% (12/21)
  • Chefs: 0% (as it should be!) (0/21)
  • Private roomers: 29% (6/21)

Do you see how buying a private room is weighted? Those two people are funding just under a third of the cabin and taking up just under a third of its rooms. That’s fair, right there.

Furthermore, private roomers are god’s gift to retreat organizers. Adding rooms to a cabin always adds amenities, and that’s a great thing. The more private roomers you have, the more likely you are to have theaters, indoor pools, industrial kitchens and multiple hot tubs.

So how much does everyone pay?

  • Couches cost $120
  • Half beds cost $180
  • Private rooms cost $360

Yes, you will end up with a few extra bucks this way, but people like to be billed in whole-dollar amounts. It’s easy to remember, and makes it seem hassle-free. Do not keep that money. Use it to buy them booze and souvenirs, depending on how much you have.

You can use the same method to calculate the deposit payment, which will usually be something paltry. Get that money and pay the deposit AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

My parting advice?

The most important thing about a retreat is that everyone comes into it with the same expectations. As the planner, it’s your job to set those expectations. Frankly, I haven’t always done a perfect job of that, and I’ve had to rely on the forgiveness of others from time to time. You learn, and you keep going.

Also, Microsoft Excel is the bomb. Keep impeccable records.

Remember: this is all about planning a writing retreat. People need to be there to write (or cook). You can’t just invite any person who happens to be fun at a party. Keep it close and make sure those who show up are going to be part of your ideal writing culture.

Now go get those words!

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