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Stay-at-Home Retreats

28 May 2013
Do you write at home? Most writers do. Like most dedicated writers, you write almost daily. You write for a certain period of time or for a certain word count. Sometimes that is not enough: You may have a deadline, or hit a good patch. You want to write and write until you are drained. Time for a writing retreat!

Traveling for a writing retreat, even a road trip to a motel or state park, can cost more than is in the budget, especially if family must be accounted for. Further complicating the problem is a matter of personal style: When I go somewhere new, I want to explore. I get restless. Settling down and writing in a sterile or unfamiliar environment, such as a motel/hotel room, is also tough for me. I need comfort and familiarity.

The answer is a stay-at-home writing retreat. I know, that's easy for me to say: I'm single. During my married days I learned the difficulty of writing creatively with high-energy humans (i.e., wife and kids) constantly running around. So when I ran across an article that addresses this and other issues, 6 Essential Tips For Your Own Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat, naturally it piqued my interest. While the blog makes a few good points, I was surprised by what was missing.

In summary, the article says:
  1. Set reasonable goals for yourself. For instance, if you've never written all day before, do not expect to start now.
  2. Make it fun - go to fun places, eat fun things.
  3. Use time limits.
  4. Congratulate/reward yourself.
  5. Plan your efforts in advance.
  6. Communicate your plans to support community - family, fans, and so on - so you can have a cheering section.
It's a lightweight list. #1, #3, and #5 are essentially the same. #2 and #4 are not only the same, they have nothing to do with writing. #2 even requires leaving home, and not alone! #6 is a self-congratulatory crutch. These proscriptions rely a lot on having fun, feeling cool, and self-rewarding. In fact, the joys of chocolate are mentioned twice while the joy of writing goes unheralded, giving the entire blog an air of self-indulgence bordering on narcissism. The omissions are even greater than the redundancies, so I offer my own list.

1. Have a major project to work on.

You either want to finish a project, perhaps for a deadline, or you want to break through any mental barriers that are holding you back on your project. You want to go from a trot to a sprint. If your personal psychology of writing is like mine, once you start sprinting it is hard to slow down, which is a great place to be. But sometimes getting to a sprint mentality takes a special effort, hence the potential value of a retreat.

2. Have a schedule.

Unless you are used to doing day-long writing sessions, do not expect to start now. Pace yourself. For instance, one schedule I have used is:

9 - 11 am Edit last writing session, then write.
11 am - noon Work out. Yoga does not count as working out.
noon - 2pm Lunch and rest
2 - 4 pm Edit last session, then write.
4 - 6 pm Walk, cycle, Tai Chi, yoga. Mix it up according to the weather and location.
6 - 7 pm Light meal.
7 - 9 pm Edit last session, then write.

Everyone has to find their own schedule. If the writing is going so well that I don't want to stop after two hours, I will keep writing. On such occasions I might move my morning workout to the afternoon. Or if I am feeling blocked, I may work out even more. I will eat and exercise, though, because mental health is impossible without physical health. Medical research has shown that forty minutes of aerobic exercise can cause an instant increase in cognitive ability by fifteen to twenty percent. If I feel a need for a mental change of pace, I will switch to a smaller writing project for one session. A smaller project could be a blog or story, but I will not go online and publish during a retreat.

3. Make a comfortable space

I've spent the winter and spring writing on my balcony patio, so well shaded you could call it a cave. To make it more enjoyable, I've built a small garden of large potted plants - rose bushes, tomatoes, snap dragons, that sort of thing. In the evening I may include a glass of wine or cocktail - but only one.

4. Pick your sounds wisely

I find it impossible to write creatively while music with lyrics is playing, but I want something to camouflage background noise. I stick with calm, meditative sounds that add to, rather than detract from, my cognitive processes. Even high-energy classical music can be too much at times, because when the music takes control, you lose control of your writing. I've even found some CD sets specifically created by a psychologist for stimulating alpha, delta, and theta brainwaves. If I have to tell you to leave the television off, I don't know why you are even reading this article.

5. Cut off the Internet

I don't mean stay off of Facebook. I don't mean close your browser. I mean DISCONNECT THE INTERNET. Most of my writing I produce on a laptop, because there is a button for cutting off my wi-fi connection. Even if you need to research something, save it for a research time that you do not mix with your writing time. An alternative approach? Start your writing session with the online research, then shut off your connection and start writing. Never interrupt the session to go online.

6. Forget about making it fun.

If you are a serious writer, writing is fun. If writing is not fun for you, forget the retreats and projects. Join a bowling league or something. By pacing your writing with a schedule, you can have fun all day and all evening long.

7. Forget about congratulating and rewarding yourself.

If giving yourself a writing retreat is not reward enough, what's the point? Congratulate yourself when the project is complete, not a moment sooner.

8. Forget about recruiting friends and family to cheer you on.

Send your family away for the duration of the retreat, or lock yourself in a room or space they cannot violate. Except at home, do not solicit family and friends for support, because they can only help you by ignoring you. Keep your distance. In the end a writer's motivation has to come from within, not from without.

That's my list. We all have our own needs for writing comfort. Have you ever tried a stay-at-home retreat? What would your list look like?

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