Friday, June 7, 2013

Going on a Writing Retreat

In today’s busy world, it’s often hard to focus on your writing. Distractions attack you from every angle—T.V.’s blaring, Internet flashing, cell phones ringing, kids screaming, spouse calling, and who knows what else. If you’re having a tough time getting any writing done, perhaps it’s time to take a break, not from writing but to writing. Perhaps it’s time for you to go on a writing retreat.

Retreats have long been used by religions to help their followers focus on their teachings and the spiritual side of their lives. Basically, to go on a retreat means to withdraw to a quiet and secluded place—away from the stress of everyday life, away from work, away from family.

Writing is difficult enough without all the distractions. And getting away from it all may just help you jump start that new novel, that short story you’ve been meaning to write, or that article that’s been nagging you to be written.

A writing retreat doesn’t have to be a big expensive affair. One writer gets together with other writer-friends of hers once a year at a one of their houses for a week of writing, eating, and sharing. They write during the day in separate areas of the house, taking a break only for lunch. In the evenings, they cook dinner together, talk about their writing, and what’s new in their lives. It’s all done in a relaxing atmosphere that results in stress reduction and more writing being done.

But the key in the above retreat is that the writer gathered with other writer-friends of hers. They all know each other and can help each other by sharing ideas and solving problems. However, in official, commercial writing retreats you’ll find by searching the Internet, you’ll be among writers you don’t know. As often as not, some of them will be very opinionated and want to impress the others about how good they are. This, in itself, creates stress, the very thing you’re trying to get away from.

Some commercial retreats offer a bare bones approach, offering a sparsely furnished room with shared bath and kitchen facilities. Others provide meals and a more luxurious atmosphere. Some require a minimum stay of two weeks. It all depends on how much you time and money you can afford to spend. But do you really need all that?

Most working writers—that is writers working 9-5 jobs—getting away for two weeks takes up all their vacation time. And if you have a family, getting away by yourself for two weeks is all but an impossibility. For most, getting away for two or three days, say over a weekend, is just the ticket. The advantage of shorter retreats is that you can do them more often.

To create your own retreat, find a vacation house, either one to rent or one belonging to a friend, that’s vacant for the time you need. The optimum word here is “vacation.” In order to keep costs down, rent it during the off season. A house at the beach is a great place for writing, especially before it gets to cold to take walks along the surf. Perhaps you can share the cost with another writer or two that you know. The same goes for a mountain cabin.

Another solution is to book a cheap hotel room with a mini fridge and perhaps a microwave. All you need is a desk and a power outlet. You can go out for dinner or get take out. Again, book in the off season. Many include breakfast. A bed and breakfast is another option. However, while these have charm and quiet, they’re usually more expensive than a hotel.

Don’t think that you have to work all the time while on your retreat. Sleep in once in a while or take an afternoon nap or a walk. Try not to work for more than two hours at a stretch. Refueling your body and mind will help your writing and make you more productive.

If you live alone and can’t get away, create a stay-at-home retreat. Plan to work at your writing throughout the day, perhaps in one-hour stints. Between each hour do something else—go for a walk, have lunch at a local diner or café, play with your dog. When you sit back down to write, you’ll find you’re refreshed and ready to continue.

If you can, vary your writing locations. If you have a laptop or tablet, you’ll be able to write just about anywhere. If the weather cooperates, take yourself outdoors and write on the patio or balcony. Take your laptop to a fast-food restaurant or doughnut shop and work while sipping some coffee or iced tea. Some places even have outdoor seating for warmer weather.

Above all, plan your home retreat ahead of time so that you won’t be distracted by sudden phone calls or other duties. And don’t forget to turn off your cell phone. If you’re not used to writing full time, then a retreat will show you how your routine needs to change should you ever wish to quit your job and become a freelance writer.

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