I’ve just returned from my annual writing retreat and am struggling to slide back into a routine. Life seems to be fighting me more than usual this time, or else I’m just noticing it more. Have you ever tried to hold onto the last scrap of serenity from a time away while life comes crashing down on you?
Yeah. This is that.
Rather than indulge myself (and bore you) with a litany of my stressors, let’s keep things on the positive side. Here then, without further delay, is my list of the top 5 things I learned while on retreat.
- Find your sweet spot. I set wild goals to write thousands of words per day at the retreat. Guess what? That didn’t happen. Instead, I slogged along at the pace of 1,000 words per day. Try as I might and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to break the pattern. Only once did I manage to get into the plurals by reaching 2,000 words. That was a banner day, but I was exhausted at the end of it. Eventually the light bulb went on. As mentioned, I paid a little better attention to details this time around. Upon returning home, I set a minimum daily word count goal for myself of 1,000 words. That may be a snail’s pace for some people, but it works for me.
- Stick to your daily goal, even when it hurts. It was sometimes a bit of a challenge to reach my minimum word count goal, but I always pushed through until I did. I was on retreat, after all, where I had to write. Another moment of revelation revealed an attitude adjustment I needed to make. Since returning home to the domestic chaos I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have nonetheless completed my daily word count goal. This now takes a more herculean effort than when I am on retreat, but like the pony express riders of yore, ignoring every peril, I press onward on my appointed rounds.
- Even in a perfect scenario, there will always be something to prevent you from writing. It would seem to follow that at a writing retreat a writer should be able to write. Not always. Sometimes you wind up networking on an important project, orone of your retreat partners needs help with a technical problem. If you lead a retreat as I do, when any issues come up (most often with the property where we’re staying), you have to step in. Sometimes you accidentally oversleep and start your day behind. Maybe you get hungry in the middle of a scene and have to stop to make something to eat. Or you run out of clothing and have to do laundry. If the place comes with amenities, you might feel the urge to soak in the hot tub or swim in the pool. After all, you’re supposed to be relaxing, too, right? And then there are all the distractions of email and social media waiting to ensnare you. You could easily go through an entire day at retreat letting everything but writing happen. All of my retreat partners have cottoned to this fact, fortunately. That makes it much easier to act like an anti-social leper when I need to. My point I that no matter where you are you have to push life aside to write. Just do it.
- Question yourself. Maybe you are like me and have a list of things you can’t do. For example, I can’t write outside, to music, in the company of others, or unless (insert condition here). Although I enjoy nature and find it inspiring, I’ve avoided writing outside–that is until the retreat. Once I needed to find a spot to write by myself, so I set up my laptop in the open-sided gazebo at the house where we held our retreat. I’d been stuck while writing a difficult scene all morning, but as soon as I settled in with the sounds of a waterfall, the rustle of leaves in the trees, and bird song flowing all around me, my creativity unlocked like magic, and I couldn’t write fast enough. Now I’m questioning all the things I think I can’t do.
- When a scene is hard to write, don’t give yourself a pass. Sometimes when you’re stuck, it’s better to plow through the scene than to walk off and let it gel indefinitely. At least in my case, that can be procrastination, and I have production goals I’d like to (or in some cases have to) meet. I usually can’t afford the luxury of walking away. Besides, when I put a scene on hold, the demands of life or the vagaries of my writing/speaking schedule can prevent me from returning until the story is dead-cold and now even more intimidating. It’s far better to at least get down something I can work with when I edit.
I hope these tips from my writing retreat help you. If so, I’d love it if you’d let me know in the comments, below. Do you have anything to add to my tips? Have you picked up a few of your own while on a writing retreat?