On Planning an At Home Writer’s Retreat
I’m not a writer. Ok, *technically* that’s not true.
I’ve kept journals since I was ten. I write stories for my photography blog. I’ve written a few articles here…and there.
And technically I have published a few books, if self-published books full of mostly photographs count (lots of pretty pictures in my Art of Train Travel book if you like that sort of thing).
What brings me here though — to write about writing — is the odd fact that I find myself now three (four?) years into writing something which clearly would heretofore like to be referred to as *A BOOK*.
A long format, reach-in-and-take-over-my-life, made me purchase and learn new software to organize: *BOOK.*
A *BOOK* which — many days anyway — seems to be using me as its tool. I’m just a fertile womb from which this creature wants to be born.
The due date for this baby is yet to be determined but those painful Braxton Hicks contractions have begun (which, for what its worth, started for me about halfway through my human pregnancy, which, for the love of all things holy, means I have a long way still to go).
I’ve been thinking lately that it sure would be nice to have a general idea for how long the gestation of this particular species of “hybrid memoir written by yours truly” might be. Especially since I’m no longer able to keep the burgeoning reality a secret. That, and this growth is now bumping into my real job like a pregnant belly nudges into the steering wheel. I’m still figuring out how to navigate both at the same time.
So, this week, inspired by a series of events — signs from the universe if you believe in that sort of thing — I decided to clear my (slow-season, kid at college) calendar for a focused, news-detox, jobs-on-pause, print the dang manuscript for the first time ever (as a tree-hugger filling nearly an entire ream was both deeply unsettling, and deeeeeply satisfying) and read, note up and absorb the beast-baby all at once.
Which is how I happened upon my first ever: At Home Writer’s Retreat.
Since I didn’t know what I was doing, and didn’t wish to clear my calendar without clear intention, I set both wide and narrow goals for each day, filled my calendar with alerts to remind me to do things like cook, eat, take walks, meditate, snack, shower (yes, I would forget) and alarms to wind down for sleep.
After hearing a convincing argument for doing so, (see my favorite podcast below when Linda interviews Guru Singh) I reset my body clock to sleep early and rise before the sun for quiet, focus time (as a night owl this was easier and far more enjoyable than I’d anticipated… I fear I may become one of those “DVR Stephen Colbert” people yet).
And then it was time.
Saturday was my major prep day (not gonna lie, it was stressful — should’ve allotted two days)
Sunday was day one “in retreat.”
And a week later, the whole country celebrated my completion by throwing a big football and nacho themed party. Yes, this party was unrelated but if you can arrange your retreat to end with a country-wide fiesta, that is a fun perk.
Here’s the thing:
I shit you not — by day TWO my mind was sparking, finding epiphanies in unexpected places and generally overwhelmed by waves of knock-the-wind-outta-me, been-looking-for-this, breakthrough types of inspiration.
I thought I’d write down the outline of what I did/learned so that I can,
1) remember how to do it again (!)
2) share a sample framework if you’re inspired to take 3 or 7 (or 142) days to do something similar
3) ask you to share if you have your own tips from retreats you’ve done
* THE SCHEDULE *
DAY MINUS ONE: *the foundation is critical*
The day(s) before: Plan nourishing, simple meals for retreat. Grocery shop with a list. Clean studio. Clear writing area. Print manuscript. Gather sticky notes, highlighters, your favorite pens, clips, whatever you need for your system. Pay bills that will come up over the week. Set loose daily targets and goals. Enter framework of retreat in calendar. Clear mind. Luxuriate in a yummy scented bath the night before. JUST DO IT. If you’re going to do this, do it right, sister. Meditate. You got this.
TIP: Seriously, clean the house. You’ll thank you later.
RETREAT DAYS ONE — SIX: (plus or minus days depending on outside obligations) Rituals provide a framework in which the mind can relax…
- 6am*: rise, stretch, keep lights off, light candle and set intention, make tea and a small snack (a few almonds and apricots…easy, perfect)
- 6:15am: write / read / edit
- 7am: try not to get too distracted by the ridiculously attention hoggy sunrise (is it just me? I’m a night owl — are they always that glorious?!)
- 8:15am: make breakfast and listen to an inspiring podcast** ideally related to writing material or writing in general (scrambled eggs, spinach & bok choy, coffee and the Beautiful Writer’s Podcast go exceedingly well together)
- 8:45am: check email (not social media yet) / stretch
- 9am-noon: write / read / edit
- 12pm: lunch / long walk / meditate (I like a mid-day meditate especially to clear my mind after, let’s face it, a midday facebook or instagram check, but if that’s not your thing, you do you)
- 1:30–6pm: write / read / edit
- 6pm: check email / stretch / cook dinner (with simple stuff you’ve already planned, yay!)
- 7pm: jot notes, set intentions for the next morning
- 8pm: episode (or two) of Schitt’s Creek (because, 22 (or 44) minutes of laughter)
- 9pm: clean kitchen, set out candle, tea & light snack for morning
- 9:15pm: read in bed
TIP: keep a daily log of things that matter to you — miles walked, minutes meditated, pages written, coffees consumed… fun to see totals at the end.
DAY 7: sunrise walk to assimilate, absorb, celebrate. Find more epiphanies along the way. Stop to write them down on the index cards you’re now carrying because you can’t hold it all inside and its still bubbling out of you when least expected.
Wrap up, reflect, take notes, set goals for moving forward, and celebrate and/or cry because you’re sad its over and you’re already trying to figure out how and when you can do it again while lamenting the sheer volume of obligations that now await.
Just kidding. Not really.
One week of undistracted attention later, I have a clearer picture of what I’m doing with my book-baby. A better understanding of where the soul of my story is, where it’s all going and where it wants to end. Which is pretty cool since those were big questions when I started a week ago.
I’d call that a success. A mid-pregnancy, well-baby checkup with an “all systems go” note from the midwives.
Have you done a similar retreat? Do you have other tips (and or recipes) to share? Please let me know as I’m still learning and will most definitely be doing this again as soon as I can.
Happy Writing… and nourishing the creative!
*specific timing based on sunrise an hour later… adjust per season and time zone accordingly
**my current favorite podcast is the Beautiful Writer’s Podcast. I’ve looped the whole series now and I always feel like I’m having coffee with friends, a sense of connection which is most welcome — especially these days. Plus Linda’s giggle just makes me smile. Every time. AND she’s an amazing human — she just shared this POST with me after my retreat and it contains more great tips on #GoingDarkToWrite. LOVE.
Jennifer is a mom, a full time award winning portrait photographer, train lover and tree hugger based in Denver, Colorado who finds herself currently possessed by an alien book baby and is mildly obsessed with all things writing.