The Joy of Retreats

In January, I spent seven days on retreat in the mountains with two of my writing friends. Normally, Deb, Judy, and I meet at cafes in town to do some writing, and knowing the others will be there helps me to stick to my commitment to write. I really appreciate having experienced writers to talk with. I can ask them questions or bounce ideas off them and get back informed support, which has been really vital as I struggle with the long and uneven process of writing a novel. Going on retreat together was the best of all of these things. I got to write and talk writing to my heart’s content without the frustration of distractions or interruptions.

Our retreat was really simple: we each packed our own food, some clothes, and our writing materials, and headed for a house in the mountains. The owners were on vacation, so we took care of their cats and kept an eye on things while we were there. We also paid them some money to cover the utilities we used, but even so it was the cheapest week away from home I’ve ever spent.

I’ve never been on a workshop-style retreat, mainly because I’m not sure I’d like it. If I’m going to set aside the time and spend the money to give myself days on end to devote to writing, then I want to decide when and how I work, and what I work on. For years, I’ve gone on sewing retreats with my quilting friends, long weekends where we keep each other company as we all sew whatever we want to. Being able to spend time on my own projects and switch gears when I need to always works for me.

It certainly worked well in January. I wrote seven chapters in seven days, which is a new record. And I didn’t even spend the entire time writing. Instead, I varied the types of things I did. I am by nature a variety-loving girl. The same thing too many times in a row, and I am bored bored bored. So I plotted, wrote chapters, did research, daydreamed, and made time for lots of self-care, which included exercise, healthy food, and adequate sleep. I did bring things to do other than writing — books to read for fun, a knitting project, a sketchbook — but I kept the extras to a minimum so they wouldn’t turn into distractions. Because of the intense concentration involved in writing first draft material, I was grateful to go for walks or to knit a little. My brain needed the breaks.

In the evenings, we often watched a movie together. It made for a good change of pace as well as sparking conversations about the art of story-telling as we discussed the movie afterwards. Towards the end of the week, we treated ourselves to dinner out. We all needed a change of scene and enjoyed the added bonus of not having to cook or clean up afterwards.

As productive as I was, the time came when I was ready to go home. I found myself missing my husband and my dog more and more. My limited set of break-time activities lost their appeal, and I was ready for more variety in my day. And despite my efforts to keep my work and rest balanced, I couldn’t maintain that level of production forever. In fact, since I’ve been back, I’ve been struggling to get back into a steady work schedule. But I don’t regret going.

I’ll be going on more retreats like this one in the future — simple breaks from my routine to give me a chance to really focus on the project at hand. And I recommend a DIY retreat to anyone who longs to have some time to focus on writing or any creative work. You can make lots of progress with the simplest of retreats. All you have to do is be willing to give yourself — and your art — the gift of time.

Note: today I am the guest blogger at Mystery Writing is Murder. You can see my post here.

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