Sunday, March 18, 2012

Retreats

If you've ever seen writers talk about retreats and wished you could do one, except that you don't have money, or a crowd of like-minded friends, or a glamorous location to visit ... well, you don't actually need any of those things.

You only need two things: time and space.

The time can be of almost any length, although retreats commonly range from a weekend to a week. "Going on retreat" is just a way of formally carving out a block of time where writing comes first.

The space can be anywhere. In a pinch, the retreat can occur by barricading yourself into a congenial corner of your house or apartment. But generally it's best to get out of your usual living space, because otherwise the temptation will be strong to "just throw that load of laundry in," "just take that call," "just run that errand," "just open the mail," "just take the dog to the park," etc., instead of writing. The space need not be fancy. It can be a motel or a B&B in an area where such accommodations are inexpensive. It can be a room in a place that specializes in retreats. It can be a friend's or relative's vacation home in the off-season. It can be a house-sitting gig. You may even be able to win a fellowship to a writers' colony. My own preference is for a place that's soothing and attractive, with space for walks.

Beyond that, you decide: retreat alone, or with friends? Does solitude scare you or refresh you? Will the presence of strangers hamper you or stir your creativity? Will you be tempted to socialize instead of write? If you're sharing the space, have you all agreed on the "quiet hours" and the rules of the house?

Will you go in with a specific goal--finish a revision or a draft, complete certain assignments? Or are you going to let your imagination play? Are you going to start that idea you've always had in the back of your mind, and see if it works?

How many hours a day do you expect to write? What will you do on breaks, and how will you manage your time?

How available will you be to others? I typically would turn on my phone for half of every day, and would call my husband once a day while on retreat. I warned people in advance that I would not be checking email for a week, and gave out my phone number to those few people who might have an urgent need to reach me. (So far, nothing urgent has ever happened while I've been on retreat.)

Retreats allow us to put the rest of life on hold. The writing that we often fit in between a hundred other activities is given all the room it wants.

9 comments:

  1. Excellent post and suggestions! So, so true. I've gone on self styled retreats to the mountains. But you know I've never thought about doing it at home. We have a huge yard with our fifth wheel in it! Huh...thanks for helping me see the forest for the trees, lol!

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    1. I tend to put the at-home retreat as a last resort, because it can be so tempting to let our normal routines drag us out of the writing. But I think it can work, with the right planning and commitment.

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  2. I've been to several retreats with a group of my writing friends, and it's always a wonderful experience. :) I'd like to try going on one by myself, though, away from my demanding five-year-old. Sigh. My mom owes me a week of babysitting. It may happen soon!

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  3. I would love to go on a writing retreat. I've been trying to set one up with some of my writing lady friends, but schedules and priorities aren't gelling. I think I might have to do one by myself at some point.

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    1. I've been lucky enough to have had a few with congenial friends, but I'm willing to go alone at some point.

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  4. My family owns a gorgeous cabin on a lake in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. No phone. No Internet. I often dream of spending a week there with my husband. Someday!

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    1. If I may be a bit presumptuous:
      Stop dreaming and go. :-)

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