I just returned from a fabulous weekend in Vermont, where I actually managed to get some writing done, despite the lure of friends, gorgeous hikes, great food, and lots of shopping (for birthdays and Christmas – and some goodies for myself, of course!).
The weekend was partially intended as a writing retreat, but it was somewhat ad hoc except for Saturday morning, when we had a more formal writing session using prompts, and gathered to read our work aloud or just talk about the process afterward.
I love doing mini writing retreats. If you don’t have the time or money to take yourself off to someplace more formal, designing your own retreat can be a great way to immerse yourself in your work, and can be tremendously productive.
You can do it on your own, or you can get together with friends. The advantages of a solo retreat are uninterrupted time and the ability to set your own schedule. The downside, of course, is that no one is there to stop you from turning on the tv, say, or jumping on Facebook. With friends, you have feedback and camaraderie, but if you have different ideas about what constitutes a good retreat, it can be more stressful than helpful. One way to combine both is to get a friend to decide to retreat with you, but in her separate space (if you don’t live close enough to meet up). Then, check in at the beginning, perhaps in the middle, definitely at the end.
You can do a retreat for as little as half a day, or a weekend, or a week (or longer). What makes it a retreat as opposed to just a regular writing session?
1. It’s pre-arranged, sacred time, with a beginning and an end.
2. It’s great if you can get away from your usual writing space, so you’re not sucked into the everyday “stuff” at home.
3. It’s best if you don’t have access to the internet, or other usual distractions.
4. You go in with an idea of a specific project to work on (but are open to serendipity if you’re inspired by your surroundings).
You can arrange it however you like, but there are some practices I’ve found especially useful. Starting and ending with a ritual is a good idea, to formally commence and close your retreat experience. For me, this often involves candles, meditation, and bringing focused attention to my intention to make the most of this writing time.
I also do timed writing periods, with rest breaks in between. A simplified version of the Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com/ ) is a good way to start. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Write. Take a 5 minute break. Set the timer for 25 minutes. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (10 or 20 minutes). If I’m dithering about what, exactly, I want to accomplish, just setting the timer and starting to write – anything at all – helps break through any resistance. Sometimes just getting started is key.
It’s also important to have lots of water, and good, healthy food on hand, ready to go. Other retreat activities might be taking a long walk, or doing some visual art (coloring, collage, abstract painting) to stimulate your creativity but get away from words for a while.
It goes without saying (I hope) that checking your phone is forbidden, unless you absolutely must check in case a family emergency has come up. Just remember that once the phone is in your hand, it’s easy to check email, Twitter, etc. etc. and soon get out of retreat mode.
That’s it, in its simplified version. Depending on how long you have, and what your goals are, you can make it more complex, or less. You can even give yourself a treat at the end, whether it’s an ice cream, a massage, or a trip to a bookstore or library to get a good book.
I can already hear some of you saying, “That sounds nice, but I could never take that much time for myself.” Really? Or is it that you have to claim that time for yourself, as an artist? No one will give it to you. No one will give you permission. You have to give it to yourself. You have to believe that you deserve it. Whether you’re single or not, have a family or not, there will always be people who pull at your attention, and other things that seem crucial to do before you can sit down to write. It’s up to you to claim your writing time, and to take yourself seriously as a writer. Retreats are special occasions, to go deep and savor the time to focus on your project. Start with a short one – a half day, perhaps – and see how it feels.
Have you done a writing retreat? Do you do them regularly? Let us know about any tips or ideas you have!
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