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Feeling burned out? Need a break but you’ve got another deadline looming? Plan a writer’s retreat!
I’ve just returned from my second writing retreat with Barbara Dunlop and CJ Carmichael and the four days together this March saved my skin-and my book. I didn’t get three new chapters written like I did last year, but I realized why I was stuck, why I couldn’t make myself write, and after going back to the prologue I slowly, painfully wrote myself out of the corner with my two great writing buddies close by for moral support.
So why a retreat? And how do you justify taking time away from your full-time job-like Barb did-or from your family — like we all did? How to justify the expense for those with husbands counting the pennies we spend on our writing careers?
For Barb, CJ and me the retreat evolved out of the need to spend more “face” time together (we all live in different states/provinces). We all have tight, intense deadlines and because we all write different styles, and have different strengths, we enjoy bouncing ideas off each other as well as get some feedback on current projects.
A retreat from the world would allow us to do all of the above and more. The first step was to find a comfortable place we could work, some place scenic, hopefully inspiring and away from distractions.
We also didn’t want to spend so much time traveling that it ate into our writing time and yet — being romance writers, and knowing we needed to reward ourselves for meeting our writing goals-we wanted some good restaurants nearby?
Banff, Alberta, Canada was the perfect location for our first retreat last March. CJ Carmichael rented a roomy cabin, picked Barb and me up from the airport, and we headed straight from the Calgary airport to our Banff cabin.
It’s amazing how quickly we got down to work once we arrived in Banff! We each picked a different spot to work-Barb on the couch, Carla in a chair, and me at the kitchen table. And we worked. We took breaks every hour or two, chatted a few minutes, got a snack (poured a glass of red wine!), talked about what we were doing, a scene proving problematic, character motivations that needed clarifying.
We gave each other space to work. Quiet to work in. And then every night, we each had a ‘turn’ where we helped each other brainstorm, plot, and discuss future books.
During each night’s brainstorming session, CJ Carmichael — who’d brought a big chart and lots of colorful stickies-we went through one of our books, outlined scenes chapter by chapter, focusing on plot points, character growth, transitional scenes.
We all approach our writing from very different perspectives — Carla is quite sophisticated and complex in her plotting, Barb is very tight, funny and yet linear, and I’m very moody, emotional and instinctive. But because we look at the process differently, we can offer each other unique points of view.
During our four day retreat we made sure to take breaks for meals, a daily walk or run, and relaxation time each evening over dinner. We’d go to bed when tired, and wake up and begin work early the next morning.
By the end of the retreat last year, I’d written nearly 3 chapters in less than 4 days — but I didn’t feel stressed, I felt incredibly relaxed, and best of all, I felt happy. I’d had time with two of my favorite people in the world, felt validated as a writer, and new enthusiasm for the next year’s projects.
1) Set goals; share those goals
Before the retreat we discussed what we hoped to accomplish, shared via email a little about what we were working on, so we’d be as supportive of each other’s goals as possible.
2) Keep Communication lines open
During the retreat check in with each other at least once in the morning and once in the evening to make sure everyone is doing all right, to see if there are any problems, clarify goals again if need be.
3) Pick a Spot to Work
Everyday have a designated work area-keep your books, computer, materials in your area. Try to respect others’ work area. Writers need mental, physical, and emotional space when working? You and everyone else will write better if you can create such separate work zones.
4) Set & Respect Work Time
If you’ve agreed that everybody writes from 9-11, then from 9-11 refrain from talking, interrupting, asking questions. If you can’t focus, go for a walk, head to a bedroom and read, but respect work hours and the good old work ethic.
5) Plan Social Activities
We worked hard. But we also made sure we played, too. We built rest periods into our schedule, using meal times to chat, walks to relax, the spa trip on our last afternoon to reward ourselves for working hard. At night we’d open a bottle of wine, munch cheese, eat chocolates, and then we’d work some more. You can work a long day and be very productive if you take time out to rest and refuel the body and muse.
6) Keep Meals Simple!
The focus of our writing retreat is writing, and we don’t pack in a lot of groceries and spend time cooking. We take snacks, simple breakfast foods, but we eat the big meals out someplace close. That way we can relax and let someone else do the prep and clean up while we talk about we’ve written. Our job during the retreat is to write, not cook and clean, so figure out how you and your writing partners want to handle meals, but remember-you want to have fun, and you want food to be easy.
7) Have Fun!
The whole point of getting together with other writers is to feel good about your work, and your career goals. Don’t do a retreat with people you don’t enjoy! A great retreat will refresh you mind, body and soul. Use this time away from the world to grow as a writer and savor your good fortune of being one blessed with creativity, talent and desire.
Good luck, and get that retreat scheduled!