Plus, enjoy a tight-knit community and the beauty of Colorado.

A group of young people pose for a gap year program photo, looking hip and silly

8 to 15 writers,
ages 18-24

Mountain silhouettes and a pink and orange sunset

Paonia, Colorado

Four young people with backpacks smile in front of a mountain

CANCELLED--due to low enrollment

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$2,750 plus travel

Welcome to the Writing Retreat

The purpose of the Writing Retreat is support budding writers in accomplishing an ambitious, self-paced writing challenge.

The Writing Retreat is modeled after National Novel-Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo: the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month) with a community of like-minded aspiring writers. This is your opportunity to set your sights high and expand the limits of your creativity.

The goal of the Writing Retreat is rapid production of a first draft—not the careful editing and refining of 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.

two young women work on their writing outside with snow covered peaks in the background
young woman writes in her journal
working on the computer

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 who love to write?

Our group will spend five weeks living at the High Desert Center just above Paonia, Colorado (location map). Tucked between the mountains and the desert, Paonia is a picturesque small town in a valley full of organic farms, orchards, ranches, coal mines, and diverse, community-minded people. The property is located a mile and a half above town. The property offers an incredible place to live, grow, write, and explore with access to hiking trails, stunning views, gardens, and neighboring horses.

Many non-writing activities also take place at the Writing Retreat: we’ll watch movies,  journey into town, share our work, and sleep under the stars if that's your thing.  Students at the Writing Retreat are free to create spontaneous fun for themselves when they're not writing. For some that looks like organizing write-ins at a nearby farm, attending local art exhibits, or swimming at the river. 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.

Life at the High Desert Center

Our High Desert Center campus has an emphasis on sustainability, so you’ll have the opportunity to use solar-heated showers, take a dump in a composting toilet, be outside a lot, collect eggs from the chickens, and be surrounded by neighbors who talk about goats, solar panels and making one’s own electric bicycle.

Group living is a  little crazy and a lot of fun. To keep the place in order, we organize participants 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 3 AM, feel free.


Small Group and Feedback Sessions

Writing is a lonely affair, and it helps to share your words with others. That’s why we have  weekly opportunities for up to one hour of one on one with our writer in residence to get feedback.

We also encourage sharing circles for the  chance to share some of your writing with a small group of other participants. 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.

The Role of the Staff

With regards to writing, our talented staff 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. 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, and help students strike a healthy balance between writing and not-writing, 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 every year from the students.


  • HDC Common Areas: our main building is a straw bale structure built by former students. It has a cozy, earthy feel.
  • At a coffee shop: For being such a small town, it’s remarkable the number of places you can grab a “cuppa” and write up a storm.
  • HDC outdoor spaces: we take advantage of our astonishing views and have many comfortable outdoor spaces that balance comfort with natural beauty. This includes a spacious covered deck, a large hammock that can fit over ten people that past students created out of up-cycled netting from a boat, our outdoor kitchen, our swimming hole, as well as our fire pit.
  •  Sweet Spots in Paonia: Paonia has a great town park with deciduous trees and picnic tables. The Gunnison River passes through town and there’s a great public spot to stick your feet in or sit on the river bank and write. We are also surrounded by organic farms, and if writing while listening to goats bleating and roosters crowing is your thing, we can help make that happen.


  • Wake up and create your own breakfast
  • Write in your best atmosphere: the deck, the strawbale, cafe, library, your bed, etc.
  • Join a spontaneous mid-day adventure with other students
  • Eat lunch (lunch spread provided in outdoor kitchen from 1-2pm)
  • Write more!
  • Do a chore (average 30 minutes each day)
  • Join the afternoon power hour (always optional)
  • Eat dinner with the group
  • Small group feedback circle
  • Enjoy evening writing, games, dancing, power hours, or special events
  • Shhh! Quiet hours start at 10 PM
  • Go to sleep at the hour of your choice


Day 1: Arrival at Denver Airport, group shuttle to Paonia, move-in, and orientation. Writing starts at midnight!

Day 34: Cleaning party. Writing ends at midnight.

Day 35: Early morning shuttle from Paonia to Denver Airport. Sadness!

two young women work on their writing outside with snow covered peaks in the background
young woman writes in her journal
working on the computer

Have more questions:

Where will you sleep? What will you eat? What will each day look like?


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Seattle, WA

At the High Desert Center, I felt for the first time in my life that I had a place and a purpose entirely to myself. The environment provides a hands-on education in sustainable living and community building, and the staff engages each participant earnestly, asking participants to discover what we truly care about and to explore the numerous options presented by our ambitions.

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Suisun City, CA

I was tired of going to college and being surrounded by students and professors who didn’t want to be there. When I found out about the HDC gap year I read everything I could on the website. I was so excited. It seemed to provide the community and meaning that I felt I was missing in my life. And it turned out to be true.


Today! We are currently accepting applications.