Sadly, lately my writing has taken a backseat to everything else. So last week, I decided that I would use the long holiday weekend for an unofficial writing retreat. “Unofficial” essentially means that I didn’t need to apply, travel, or formally do anything other than pledge to write — perfect for such a last-minute decision.
When I mentioned this to my friend Wendy Call, an alumna of Hedgebrook, she too was up for the idea; she’d already been part of a more formal virtual retreat, Hedgebrook Writes (a brilliant idea). So when Wendy got a few other writers on board for a virtual retreat via Facebook, and my unofficial writing retreat began to feel a little more official.
Writing time is precious and necessary, but let’s face it — we can’t always leave home; we can’t always plan ahead. Yet there is no reason we can’t create our own writing retreats at any time, for any length of time, whenever we need to. A few hours of retreat time is better than none at all — it’s just a question of making the time. And so I finally did just that.
It was a great weekend overall, and I learned a few things that will make my next one even better. So here are a few tips that I hope will help you create your own writing retreat…
– Just do it. My retreat was completely last-minute and completely unplanned. I wasn’t even thinking about it until I found myself, while writing an email to Wendy, realizing that I absolutely had to spend some time writing that weekend. So I decided to do it, told her my plan, and I’m so grateful that she ran with it, giving me no excuse to flake out on myself. Which brings me to my next tip…
– Gather your fellow writers together. You don’t necessarily need to gather in one place; what’s important is that you all agree to write during the duration of the retreat. This will ensure that you actually write (be accountable to yourself and others by keeping in touch, or by reporting your progress at the end), and it’ll also give you the inspiration you need if your energy or creativity begin flagging. And, of course, if you do live close to your writing buddies, by all means, do get together, whether for a few hours of freewriting or a weekend retreat at a nearby inn. The group dynamic helps immeasurably.
– Clear the decks. On the first day of my retreat, I decided I would just do “one little update” to my web site, and as you can imagine, one thing led to another and six hours passed with no writing getting done. By then I had a headache, so I went for a walk, which ended up being a three-mile hike (albeit lovely — and I saw my first wild turkey ever, so it was worth it). But basically I lost my entire first day because I thought I could take care of one little thing before getting started. Make sure you’ve taken care of all that you need to do before retreating, so you aren’t tempted to do anything else that could end up overtaking your writing time.
– Create your space. You may have a place in mind for your retreat — a fellow writer’s house, a quiet cafe, a library — but perhaps more likely you’ll be writing at home. If you have other family there with you, you’ll need to let them know that you’re On Retreat and can’t be disturbed. Make whatever arrangements you need, from child care to pet care to hanging a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door. This is your time.
– Stay offline. I didn’t check email, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else all weekend. It felt so great. For me, it helped that this was a holiday weekend during which nothing was happening work-wise — try to plan your retreat at a time when you won’t feel compelled to stay connected. And do whatever you must to be sure you don’t interrupt yourself with the lure of the web.
– Give yourself guidelines. Whether it’s a timeline (writing from 9 a.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Sunday, for example) or project-related (finishing that first draft of your novel), give yourself clear parameters and stick with them. Figure out what works best for you (you may prefer a time-based schedule to avoid feeling pressured to finish a specific project; on the other hand, if you tend to procrastinate, setting a project-specific goal may be better). Then set your schedule and go.
– Afterward, assess the pros and cons, the highs and lows. This will allow you to better plan your next retreat. Was being at home too distracting? Do you need to fit more reading time into a retreat weekend? Do you need to stay off the computer and write by hand? Figure out what can make your next retreat more productive and fun, and work it into the plan.
– Schedule retreats often. I am already looking forward doing another D.I.Y. retreat over Labor Day weekend; I’ve decided that these long holiday weekends are perfect occasions for me to carve out some writing time. But because waiting until September is too long a stretch to not be writing, I also plan to find a weekend to retreat sometime in August as well, even if it’s just a day, or a few hours. Plan ahead. You need and deserve this time.
And while creating your own, stay-at-home retreat is a beautiful thing, consider a more formal writing retreat as well — and if you do, check out these tips from Kelli Russell Agodon, an award-winning poet whose work is proof that writing retreats are necessary and magical.