Planning Your Personal Retreat

I have a busy life, and I wear a lot of hats right now: mom, wife, business owner, and writer. I have found it hard to create big blocks of time in my schedule to work on my novel because there is no external deadline, no one demanding attention. I can usually find thirty or sixty minutes at a time, but this hadn't been enough to really dive in and get acquainted with my story and get it organized. I tend to work better when I can put a bigger chunk of time in up front. After I get started, I can tackle what needs to be done in smaller blocks of time.

The young people in my life have needs, and when I’m at home, their needs and my resistance gang up on me to make it hard to go deeply into my project. A writer friend was holding a Mother’s Day writing retreat. I thought, I’ll sign up for that. Then I changed my mind. I knew that it would be awesome and fulfilling, and I also knew that what I really needed was a big chunk of time to work on my novel. So for Mother’s Day, I requested a day and night away from my family to stay in a hotel and work uninterrupted for several contiguous hours. It was such a success; I plan to do this quarterly. It is a great way to care for myself and my writing.

Here are some suggestions that came from my experience. Take the suggestions below that work for you; make up your own if they don’t.

What Do You Need?

I highly recommend that you figure out exactly what you need. I cannot say this enough. If you are like me, time away from other responsibilities can be challenging to arrange. I wanted to make the most of it and use every moment possible, so I planned ahead.

Think about how much time you need and how much you can spare from your other work and family. Think about the space. Can you send your housemates away for the weekend, or do you need to find another place? What are the conditions you need to create to do your best work? Three or four hours at the library or in a coffee shop may be enough. Maybe you need a writing partner with you so that you don’t get distracted and wander off. Maybe you need more than 24 hours. Do your best to create exactly what you need. It won’t necessarily be perfect, but if you plan, you can set yourself up for success.

Set an Intention

What do you want to accomplish? I wanted to finish character sketches for my main characters and a rough outline for my novel. I also wanted to feel rested and ready to return to my family. Make your intention doable, and don’t be afraid to stretch yourself a little.

Set Boundaries

Let people know you’ll be unavailable. No phone calls, no emails. The point is to have uninterrupted time. Set the expectation before you begin.

Bring What You Need

You want to spend the bulk of your time working, not running out for supplies or materials you forgot. Get it ahead of time. Bring the food you need or make a plan for how you’re going to eat. Save your executive functions for your creative endeavor; don’t saddle yourself with decisions. Work out as much as you can before you go.

Determine Your Schedule

Set a schedule, including breaks. Stick to it as much as possible. I need to get up and move around periodically, so setting a timer was helpful. Don’t overdo so that you return to your family or job feeling depleted. Make your schedule reasonable and kind.

Rituals

Do your usual writing rituals or experiment. Bring candles, your favorite music. You could watch an inspirational video to kick off your retreat. Again know yourself, and do what works for you.

Remove Distractions

Close your browser, especially social media. Make lists of items to look up later during breaks from writing. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you plan a two-hour session and a thirty-minute break, do that consistently unless you find out that it really doesn’t work. Be mindful of resistance popping up to take you off course. At one point during the morning, I had a lot of thoughts about how ridiculous it was, about how I wasn’t cut out for this. But then I looked at the work I had already accomplished and realized it was resistance.

Afterward

Congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished. Check your intentions. How did you do? I was about eighty-five percent successful, which feels pretty darn good for the first time. I completed my character sketches, and wrote a big picture outline of the whole novel, and a more detailed outline of about half the novel. My real goal was to get far enough into the outline that I could take advantage of smaller blocks of time, and I accomplished that. I didn’t get as much rest as I’d hoped. I chose to work late into the night and get up early to take advantage of my time alone. That said, I was so filled up from the creative endeavor that I felt good despite the lack of sleep. I went to bed early the next night, and made up for it.

Make note of what worked and what you might change next time. I had planned to eat out so that I could get a change of scenery and take a walk. In the future, I think I will pack my food in so that I don’t have to leave.

If you are rejoining your family, take a moment to pause and center yourself before you make contact. Remember that their experience may have been very different from what you were doing. Meet them where they are.

Planning your own creative retreat is a great way to structure time to meet your precise creative needs. We invite you to set up a retreat for yourself. Let us know what you did and how it went. Have you conducted your own personal writing retreat? Feel free to let us know about any tips we missed in the comments, below.

/Leslie