by Janet Riehl
Quite often when we want to focus on our writing, we sign up for a group retreat. These serve as get-away creative vacations.
We go to an exotic place and study with someone Who Ought to Know. We drop a chunk of change. We leave inspired, pack our notes and the addresses for wonderful new friends. We may even have done a bit of writing. Group retreats may help us develop craft or spur our motivation. They have their place.
But, there is another choice: a Do-It-Yourself writing retreat. It’s cheaper and deeper. You are in charge. You pick the place and set your own structure and goals. Writing down the goals and structure for your retreat makes you accountable to yourself. Talking these over with a writing buddy may help you, too. Here are some questions to get you thinking.
1) Motivation. Why do you want to go on a solitary writing retreat? Do you need to live without distractions and responsibilities to others for awhile? Do you need chunks of time to increase your productivity? Do you want to gain greater self-reliance? Or?
2) Purpose. What do you want to accomplish? Will you work on a project? Write on a theme? Journal to heal and gain guidance? Select a skill to practice to develop your craft? Or?
The structure you design for your retreat contains you and your work. Setting limits provides boundaries and paradoxically leads to greater creative freedom.
1) Location. Where will your retreat take place? Will you weave larger chunks of time into your daily life at home? Will you travel? Or?
Although I’m not Catholic I’ve gone on several solo writing retreats at Catholic retreat places and loved it. These places are inexpensive, beautiful, inspiring, and quiet. Once I brought my own food to cook in a cozy kitchen. Another time I ate in a private dining room by myself. A third time I ate at a long table with the monks. What a social feast!
2) How long? Will your retreat be a day trip, a weekend, a week or more?
3) Schedule. Set up a daily routine—as loose or tight as you like. Make it fit to serve you and your purpose. Do you need to rest? Then wake up on your own time before setting about your daily schedule. Set times for meals, daily writing periods, walks, and reading. You can flex these, but start with a plan.
4) Make your writing periods realistic. Intersperse writing with planned breaks. You can vary these as needed. Fifteen minutes for free writing followed by lying down to look at the ceiling? An hour followed by a snack and stretch? Two hours followed by a walk in the woods? Or?
5) Get in the swing right away. Habit is our friend. We’ll bring habits with us, and develop new ones. What we learn about our work and ourselves on solo retreat strengthens us and our work when we return home.
When you end your retreat, feel your gratitude for this time, this place, and the writing you’ve done. You’ll want to go again, and I bet you will.
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