Words are funny things. When used in one context, a word can represent something desirable, and in another, a panicked directive. Take the word Retreat. Spa retreat. Spiritual retreat. Corporate retreat. And then there’s the type of retreat that comes in the midst of battle, when the other side is kicking your ass. Today, however, I would like to share my recent experience with one of the happier meanings of the word: Writers’ Retreat.
When my friend Mari jetted off to Mexico last summer for a week-long writers’ retreat, I was both jealous and a little intimidated. A whole week spent doing nothing but writing? Talk about pressure to perform. So when I recently decided to take a mini retreat with a couple of writer pals to lovely Lake Tahoe, I shrugged off the assertion that three days simply wasn’t enough time.
We arrived Thursday late afternoon, went to the grocery store, made dinner, and chattered away for a time, finally sitting down to write at about 9 o’clock. This was my first clue that I would probably get a lot more writing done if I’d brought less engaging people along. By 11:30 or so, we called it a night, determined to get a fresh start in the morning.
On Friday, we quickly fell into a comfortable pattern: two hours or so of writing, followed by a 45–60 minute break. While I set about revising my novel, Jen worked on the first in a series of fantasy novels, and Annika wrote about her days working in the classifieds department of a local weekly newspaper. Every time I glanced at the clock, another hour had whizzed by. When a minor epiphany led me to resolve a troublesome plot issue, I started feeling pretty good about me. I was kicking writers’ retreat ass!
Less than 24 hours later, I was on the edge of a neurotic downward spiral. After breezing through some key revisions in the first section of my novel, I moved on to the next section only to find the writing disjointed and flat. My heart and my confidence dropped into my belly. While Jen and Annika tapped away productively at their keyboards, I glared at my laptop, the bile rising in my throat.
After an hour of this torture, I decided to pack it in for a while and take the dog for a walk in the forest that butts up against the property where we were staying. It was a bright and warm day, the blue skies dotted with marshmallow white clouds. As I trekked through the forest – listening to the sounds of chirping birds, pine needles snapping under my feet, and the wind blowing in the trees – I thought of a friend who recently moved in with her boyfriend. Rather than cramming all of their cumulative belongings into the shared house and then attempting to sort through the mess, the couple stored everything but the essentials in the basement. That way, they could bring out items only as they needed them, leaving their home uncluttered. As I walked, it occurred to me that I can apply this same approach. My novel is a little like the Six Million Dollar Man: I can rebuild it. I have the material and the tools. I just need to find the patience.
Writers’ Retreat Takeaways:
- Five days minimum. As The Clash once sang, the minutes dragged but the hours jerked.
- Go somewhere peaceful and preferably in nature (as long as there’s an outlet for your laptop).
- Go with people you like, but not too much.
- Don’t try to keep a fire going and write at the same time. Literally.
- When in doubt, walk the dog. Take breaks to stretch your legs and air out your mind. Let inspiration seep in.