Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Writer Wednesday: How to Create Your Own Writing Retreat

When I say "writing retreat" do you think of this?


Or maybe this?


For me, "retreat" means free of distraction. Time devoted to the thing I'm "retreating" for. Whether it's for a few days or a few weeks, when I say I'm going to a writing retreat, I mean that I'm going to spend time doing essentially one thing only from morning to night (and sometimes well into the night): Write.

A writing retreat can be a great way to get yourself back into writing if you've had a long break. It's also perfect for when you're nearly done with a project and need to do a last final push to get to the end. 

Writing retreats can happen with a small group of writers (friends or strangers) or they can be solo affairs. They can be high-end posh affairs that ensconce the writer in luxury, or they can be bare bones and simple where the focus is on writing.

If you have the funds, you can travel to a cool location for a hosted writing retreat in the company of other writers. I've done this before, and it was great fun. But there are two problems with this kind of retreat. First, it can cost quite a bit. From a few hundred to several thousand. Second, I have found that often the programming takes up a lot of time which means that there's little time for what you probably came for: Writing!

But you don't have to travel to an exotic location or spend thousands to have a writing retreat experience. You can create a writing retreat for yourself or your small group. Here a few tips to ensure a great experience:

1.  Retreat! You can schedule a few nights in a hotel in town or maybe the next city over. Or you can send your family away for the weekend and take over the house. Staying in your home environment doesn't feel "retreat" enough? How about a short car trip? I've done all three of these, and any of them will work. The main thing is to find a way to give yourself time without distraction. No kids, spouse, significant other, housemate or responsibility for taking care of other people. This is probably the most important thing. You don't want to have to worry about whether other people are being taken care of. Use the resources at your disposal (spouse, parents, sister/brother, friends, etc.) to take care of others you usually have primary or co-responsibility for. Schedule yourself at least 48 hours of time when you are only responsible for you. Makes your lists and obsess about the details ahead if you must. But once you've shuttled all responsibility to the others, let it go. You're on writing retreat now!

2. Plan Ahead: Book your hotel in advance. Find others to help take care of the kids (and dogs, etc.). Schedule time off of work. And if you're retreating at home, consider a meal subscription service or cook and freeze meals ahead for yourself. For me, cooking is relaxing and enjoyable, so I pamper myself with Plated or Blue Apron and take a break from writing, pour a glass of wine and cook myself a tasty, gourmet meal. If you hate to cook, order takeout or go to a local restaurant (that way you don't have to clean up!). 

3. Unplug: Are you easily distracted by cat videos and toddler memes? Do you get on Twitter and two hours later find yourself still engrossed in tweet after tweet? Or maybe you find it impossible not to open email when you see a notification pop up. Regardless of your general level of distraction, UNPLUG! This is not negotiable. Let everyone know that you'll be away for a few days. Your readers, fans, and family will be supportive. After all, they want to read your next book (or story or poem). So close your email, turn off the ringer, put your phone in "Do Not Disturb", leave the television off. Play music that feeds your soul and allow that to be the only soundtrack to your writing weekend.

4. Have Your Tools Ready: Make sure you have the tools you need to write as much as you want and can. If you write with a pen on paper, ensure that you have plenty of both. And this is no time to skimp. Get the good paper (I love Moleskine notebooks - smooth paper without drag). Get out the good pen that feels great in your hand and make sure you have plenty of ink refills. If you write on a computer, ensure that you have batteries for your mouse and a comfortable keyboard.

5. Pamper: Next to creating a space free of distraction, the next most important part of a retreat is to feel pampered. Make it special for yourself. Get a nice bottle of wine (not the "2 Buck Chuck" from the bottom shelf). Tea or coffee drinker? Stock up on your favorite. If baths are a luxurious ritual you rarely have time for, make sure you have the supplies for a soothing bath during your retreat. Schedule a massage for a break and to ease the tension in your tight shoulders. Buy some good quality dark chocolate or another treat that feels special to you. Get out the candles and create an ambience to support your muse. Think ahead of time about what feels luxurious - special - to you then create that in your space.

Unplug, retreat and pamper. Give yourself the opportunity to freely follow the creative urge and see what happens.  Cheers!

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