Recently, I had the opportunity to “get away from it all” and participate in a casual writer’s retreat. A month or so ago, a few members of my writers group decided it would be a great idea to pick a weekend to head out of town and into the mountains so we could write, write, write! Most people thought that was a fantastic idea and were all in; after all, isn’t that what we dream of, just some time where we are free from the distractions that are keeping us from achieving our writing goals? However, by the time we were signed up and ready to go, only 3 of us made the trip. Those distractions? Those are called life. I am just grateful that I was able to rearrange my life in order to go, and I hope the others in my group will be able to make it another time (because there WILL be another time), or they will be able to use the lessons I learned from the retreat in their everyday writing lives.
So, whether you are heading to a cabin in the woods, or sneaking in a few writing moments in a storage cabinet, here are a few thoughts about the writing retreat.
Have a retreat, even if you don’t have…
…the time: If you wait for the perfect time to get your perfect writing done, you are perfectly misguided. Can’t leave the duties of life behind for a continuous 48 hours? Schedule your writing time at the same time each day, one hour, for 48 days. Or 6 hours each weekend for eight months. You could net more pages over those few months than you would have in one weekend, anyway.
If you do take a weekend, great. You will hopefully write for hours on end. But you have to eat. And that kind of focus can wear you down. Take breaks. Take a walk or work out. You will find your mind drifting back to your desktop or pad of paper with ideas that wouldn’t have sprouted without a little sunshine.
…the money: If you cannot afford the getaway, don’t do it. Yes, there are times when you have to spend money to make money, but look closely—is this one of those times? If a paycheck from your writing is a sure thing—say, you are up against a deadline and can’t seem to find the words in your normal writing spots, a change of scene may help you get that paycheck (of course, if the resort you choose is double what you will earn for the piece, this may not make sense, unless NOT finishing the piece will cause you to lose future assignments from the editor).
If you writing for therapeutic reasons, to explore the craft, or are still deciding what you want to write—you may not want to go into debt for a writing weekend. It is easy enough to have a no-cost retreat. Change of scenery can cost as much as a cup of coffee; if you retreat to a coffee shop (you know that’s where authors like J.K. Rowling wrote hundreds of thousands of words, right?). Need somewhere quieter? Your local library is a good spot. Have a car? Drive to a scenic overlook and write there. Find a place that inspires you. If it has to be in your home, change something about your writing space to make it feel fresh and new: clean it up, add a new piece of art, burn a candle.
…the energy: If you are like me (chea—frugal!), you want to get the most out of your dollar (this is why I have to stay away from all-you-can-eat buffets). When I made the investment in my writing retreat weekend, I wanted to make sure I got something back in return. This was enough to summon the writing energy that had recently been sporadic. With my mindset shifted, I felt that I was buying something. Those pages, I paid for them. The new focus for my memoir—CHARGE IT, with no interest and no regrets! Money well spent.
It’s not always that you don’t have the energy to write, you lack the spark to BEGIN. By setting an appointment with yourself or your writing buddies, you are making a commitment. This is not a commitment to run a 5K, to paint the den, or to pull up weeds. This is to write. All you need is your mind—distracted or not—and something to write with. Yes, you may be tired, you may be stressed—but if you are a writer you must learn to ‘come as you are’ and write. Write tiredly, write sloppily; no matter what those first scribbles look like they are your beginning. As you continue, your writing will take the shape as it will. It’s all going to be edited anyway. Ease in to it. It won’t hurt nearly as much as your first 5K.
What kind of writing retreats do you take, or would you like to? What is holding you back?