Spring is supposed to be here, but I live in northcentral Pennsylvania, and it’s slow coming. We’ve had several snow storms in the past few weeks, but the ground is too warm for it to stick around. Then we endured rain and high winds. I believe the temperatures are rising next week to the 60s, so I’m itching for a writer’s retreat.
I like to go on solo writing retreats, isolating myself from the Internet and phone, and the various tasks that get heaped on my shoulders. My husband is heading out of town in a couple of days, traveling to Florida to visit with family, so I could technically set up a retreat here at the house.
But that still leaves the Internet and phone and the classes I’m wrapping up at Lyco. We have three weeks left in the semester, so I can’t run away.
I enjoy writing retreats.
During sessions of solitude, periods of silence, or “Time Retreats,” we shun life’s chattering distractions and simply notice what is left: ourselves.
Last year, I took a solo camping trip and had a great time. I mentioned this on a previous podcast, but it bears repeating. I took my camper and my dog to Bald Eagle State Park, about an hour’s drive west of here. No Internet except for the data on my phone.
Writers don’t always feel inspired to be creative. It’s happened to me. I’d been on a hiatus from my fiction writing career for too long. It wasn’t intentional. I let other tasks and chores get in the way. I wanted to wrap up a book series and move onto the next one, but I needed to get back into the groove.
I wrote quite a bit on a novel I’m working on, and I read several books. It was a week of peace, hiking the trails with my dog, taking photographs, relaxing around the campfire, cooking whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to, going to bed late and sleeping in.
It’s not the first writing retreat I’ve taken. I journeyed to Virginia with my friend Janice Ogurcak one year, when she had a timeshare vacation to use and her husband wasn’t available. We drove to a cabin in the woods in January, and spent sleepless nights listening to the constant honking of migrating Canada geese. We also drove into D.C. to have lunch with her son and my daughter, at Old Ebbit’s Grille. Then we toured the National Archives.
I wrapped up my first novel on that retreat, wrapped in blankets and downing kegs of coffee. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I could sleep. Not the geese. Jan slept fine.
Writing retreats are great outlets for creativity, and they inspire me to kickstart new writing routines.
What helps even more than retreats are writing sprints. I look at these as mini retreats.
My infatuation with writing sprints blossomed after I attended a workshop taught by Dr. Rachael Hungerford, on “Journal to the Self.” At the short workshop, she armed attendees with tools to journal efficiently. I used her 5-minute and 10-minute writing sprints to break through a stubborn mindset, and was delighted with the feedback.
This is the kind of positive reinforcement you can only get with a challenge. Challenges force us to prioritize, and I needed a reason to quit shuffling between email and social media and my manuscript. I was able to combat this by accepting a simple, short challenge. It had a beginning and an end, and positive results.
It’s a win-win situation.
Better yet, create a mini writing retreat wherever you are.
Aren’t writing retreats a time of solitude and quiet, when you go away to a secluded location to focus on your writing project?
Yes, but also no.
According to Judy Reeves, author of “The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression,” a writing retreat is time you take out of your ordinary day-in and day-out routine, when you set aside everything else and give yourself over to your writing.
I picked up The Writer’s Retreat Kit from Otto’s, my local bookstore, and I’ve referred to it many times in the past few years.
It’s crammed with creative ideas for you to create your own themed writing retreats and immerse yourself in writing sprints. This kit will show you how to go on retreat anytime, anywhere, and for any length of time. The only requirements are to set aside a place and time to enter your retreat mindfully and with intention.
Need a reason to go on a writing retreat? How about 20?
- To renew your creative spirit
- To connect with your inner voice
- To being a project
- To complete a project
- To focus your attention
- To change your perspective
- To unkink the coils of your brain
- To find connection
- To cross-fertilize
- To fill your empty cup
- To set a place for the Muse
- To have time to simply be
- To rest
- To read
- To renew
- To reward yourself
- To be in solitude
- To be with other writers
- To honor yourself as a writer
- To write
With the rest of the world pared away, a clear vision of long-buried beliefs and dreams takes center stage and anything seems possible.
A writing retreat starts with intention. This intention brings together your body, mind and spirit into conscious awareness of the action are are about to take.
Now that you have intention, make the time. No one will give it to you — you have to take it. Carve it out and claim it. I talked with my husband about my idea, and he agreed that I deserved time alone. He also deserved time alone. It worked out for both of us. He thinks it’s such a good idea, he wants to take a solo writing retreat also.
Plan your retreat. Are you going somewhere? Start with a reservation. Make a list of things you’ll need and arrange for travel. Gather your materials, including your journal or notebook. I decided to go camping, so I made a reservation online, then packed up all of our camping gear. With the camper hitched to the back of the truck, I headed west.
Once you get to your retreat, make it a safe, nurturing space. Make sure you feel protected, both physically and psychically. I set up the canopy and placed an outdoor rug and comfy chair under it. I made sure everything was securely attached, so wind wouldn’t tamper my site. I cleaned the camper and filled it with comfy pillows and blankets and food I enjoy.
Some people enter into retreat. They could hold a ceremony to define the idea of crossing a threshold. This could be a mindful awareness or even a physical action you take. I used a broom when I solo camped, sweeping away the cobwebs.
Remember, writing is not the sole occupation of your retreat. Use this time to engage in something different. I went on slow hikes with my dog and took a lot of photographs. We explored the campground. I built campfires, a chore I’ve always left to others. And I did a lot of reading.
When emerging from a retreat, perform ritual, crossing a threshold, just as you did entering it. I cleaned the camper, packed away all of the supplies, and dumped the holding tank. The flushing of the camper might not seem like a glorious ritual, but hey, it got the job done.
Say thanks to the people who allowed you to retreat. Acknowledge their inconvenience and loss while you were away. Allow yourself to honor your time as a writer. I’m still thanking my husband. Just a few minutes ago, I encouraged him enjoy his upcoming trip to Florida, and fill the truck with snacks he’ll want. To buy new clothes for the journey, and play golf and kayak with family and friends. I want him to have a fantastic time, even if I’m not there.
Because I’ll be here.
Writing and retreating and sprinting to the end of my novel.
The creative process is a mystical path. It is not measured in miles or minutes. It is not linear. We do not enter it after we get everything else out of the way. We must know that we can enter at anytime, and anywhere. Knowing this brings an exhilarating sense of joy.
Burghild Nina Holtzer
Books by Judy Reeves
The Writer’s Retreat Kit is a portable book-and-card package with practical prompts for writers. Each retreat contains exercises and tips to get writers and artists started and keep them going.
In her years as a writing coach, Judy Reeves has found twin urges in women: they yearn to reclaim a true nature that resides below the surface of daily life and to give it voice. The longing to express this wild, authentic nature is what informs Reeves’s most popular workshop and now this workshop in a book. Here, you will explore the stages that make up your life, from wild child, daughter/sister/mother, and loves and lovers, to creative work, friendships, and how the wise woman encounters death. Both intuitive and practical, Wild Women, Wild Voices responds to women’s deep need for expression with specific and inspiring activities, exercises, and writing prompts. With true empathy, Reeves invites, instructs, and celebrates the authentic expression — even the howl — of the wild in every woman.
A Writer’s Book of Days has become the ideal writing coach for thousands of writers. Newly revised, with new prompts, up-to-date Web resources, and more useful information than ever, this invaluable guide offers something for everyone looking to put pen to paper — a treasure trove of practical suggestions, expert advice, and powerful inspiration.
Reeves’s holistic approach addresses every aspect of what makes creativity possible (and joyful) — the physical, emotional, and spiritual. And like a smart, empathetic inner mentor, she will help you make every day a writing day.
About Judy Reeves
Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher and writing practice provocateur whose books include A Writer’s Book of Days, which was named a “hottest books for writers” and won the 2010 San Diego Books Award for Best Nonfiction. Other books include Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Creative Writer’s Kit and The Writer’s Retreat Kit. In addition to leading private writing and creativity workshops, Judy teaches writing at University of California, San Diego Extension and in private workshops, and speaks at writing conferences internationally. She is a cofounder of San Diego Writers, Ink where she served as Executive Director.
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- Writer’s Retreats
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