Over the last couple of months I’ve noticed something disturbing on Facebook—lots of my writer friends have been attending writing retreats. Why disturbing? Because I haven’t been able to go to any (cue violins).
I read once that a writing retreat is to creativity, what a good nights sleep is to physical well-being.
With the way my last few months have rumbled down the speedway of life, I haven’t been getting much writing done, or sleeping for that matter. Going away for a retreat was out of the question. But I had a week of kiddo-at-camp coming up.
A little creativity, a lot of flexibility and, voila, I had a personal writing retreat. Here’s how:
1) Redefine your expectations for a retreat
Mine started as this …
Redefined to this …
Time and finances dictate what’s doable. If you can get away to that first picture (or whatever retreat location floats your creative boat), please take me with you. 😉
Time and finances dictated a different scenario for me. And that was okay. I chose to write on my front porch with the blooming Jasmine plant and dragonfly chimes. When the weather didn’t cooperate, I moved to the sunroom with the water fountain, blooming orchids, and the paintings I’d brought back from Bermuda.
If you can write with distractions, try a coffee shop or a park. Maybe the pool if you want that “vacationy” feel (and assuming it’s summer, probably not as inspirational in the dead of winter). If you need quiet, try the library.
My WIP revolves around horses, so one of the days I took my notebook and went to the stable.
2) Commit to yourself
I had limited time for my “retreat.” Camp was from 8-4 so whatever I was going to do, had to fit within that time. First thing I did was canceled all appointments for that week, except for a pedicure (that was part of the retreat plan but more on that later).
Whatever time you have, make sure it’s yours. This isn’t the time to have your teeth cleaned or get the oil changed in your car (unless your manuscript calls for an oil change in a scene and then you can chalk it off to a creative-inspiration writing spot). Your time!
3) Set your goals
Write down what you want to accomplish within the time you have. Be realistic and specific. Don’t set yourself up for overload. You shouldn’t need a vacation to recover from your retreat.
I’m not known for being realistic in my goals. Specific very much so, but I always think I can get more done with the time I have. This part tested how flexible I was willing to be.
For each day of my retreat week, I wrote down the hours I had. Then made my list and prioritized. I ended with the following: write 6k in my WIP, read one craft magazine, catch up on blog posts, sign up for a kid lit one-day conference, finish the novel I’ve been reading.
And there was one more thing on the priority list: relax. Crazy concept, right? See how I managed to justify to myself the time for a pedi? Relaxing and doing “nothing” are valid goals. After all, sometimes the best thoughts come when we’re not trying to force them. So I read the novel and relaxed. Oh, and came up with a fix for a plot problem that had been torturing me for a couple of weeks.
4) Be prepared
Make sure you have what you need handy before you set off for your writing destination, even if it’s only another part of the house. Don’t spend your precious writing time running up and down stairs, although if exercising is a goal, I suppose that could count.
- Laptop charged, especially if you’ll be outside without access to an outlet
- Charger if you’ll have access to an outlet
- Any instructional or inspirational material you reach for on a regular basis
- Music or noise canceling headphones
- Pens, highlighters, sticky notes, notepad, etc.
- Gummy bears or whatever munchies get you through the creative hiccups
I see some of you twitching!
Remember what we said at the beginning—this is your time to dedicate to your writing. Unless one of your goals is social media, you can survive for a few hours without internet. Trust me!
Close your browser and turn off email notifications. Put the phone away or at least turn it to stun so you don’t have the constant pinging of texts and emails. Between the kiddo rock climbing and family concerns, I had to keep my phone near by. I turned off text and email notifications though. And I didn’t answer any calls that weren’t family related.
Since I hadn’t put social media as one of the priorities, I only gave myself an hour each day. An hour AFTER I finished writing.
Guess what? After the first hour on Monday fighting the must-check-email twitch, I was fine. Not one twitch the rest of the week.
Confession time: I did open a browser a couple of times but only to look something up for the WIP. I totally resisted checking in with Facebook and Twitter. Honest!
After my retreat week, I had almost 8k of shiny new words—my goal was 6k. Score! I’d read one craft magazine the entire way through. Oh yeah! I signed up for that one-day retreat and even sent in my picture book manuscript for a critique. Rocking the retreat. I read a handful of blog posts that had been open in my browser for dare-I-confess a couple of months although not nearly all that I’d hoped. And I made it to the ¾ mark in the novel I was reading. Still progress.
The top priority got done plus some. Best of all, I did indeed feel renewed energy for writing. I reconnected with my WIP and the blog posts gave me some overdue “craft” inspiration.
"A writing retreat is to creativity, what a good night's sleep is to physical well-being." Very true. Now if I could just figure out how to master the good night's sleep.
Your turn … any retreat DIYers? What tips do you have for making a Stay-retreat successful?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.