I’m still designing how the label “Writer” fits me. Writing still exists as more of a hobby or side-gig right now, but occupies more real estate on my 8-year plan. So I try to emanate what writers do… They write, read, write, wander, go on writing retreats, write, submit articles, drink wine, apply for writing residencies, write, procrastinate, get a publishing deal, get distracted, and write.
So far, it’s been hard to create a regular habit for me. I started my blog to force the daily writing habit (but my kids went to sleep earlier back in 2012). Now that they’re older, and seemingly never go to bed, my train of thought gets too easily distracted by the constant movement in my house. I don’t have a protected writing space physically or mentally. I often go away from home to get any writing done.
My writing retreats consist of Saturday mornings when I get up to move my car by 7:30am (due to street cleaning) or when I house sit for others and put distance between me and my laundry, dishes, bookshelf, stack of magazines, and binge-worthy shows. Conferences and retreats always sparks ideas and energizes me to write, but I don’t want to spend a lot of extra time and money just to get writing done. Also, while I love the networking aspect, I get more wrapped up in other people’s ideas and know that sometimes, I need to focus more deeply on my own.
It dawned on me that when I wrote my master’s thesis 5 years ago, holing myself up in a hotel near my home helped me retain my focus! I live only 6 miles from the Crowne Plaza LAX hotel, limiting my travel time, and knew they’d done extensive renovations. With their view of LAX, it makes my mind wander enough to get the “what ifs” flowing without making me want to get up and wander.
In order to maximize my time, I set up a few guidelines and enforced them:
RESPECT YOUR TIME – While on this mini retreat, use time wisely! Set boundaries, eliminate distractions. Although a bed to myself and unlimited paid TV movie channels tempts me, I purposefully left the TV off or swore that I’d wait until I met my productivity goals. (Turns out it never went on).
PERSONALIZE YOUR SPACE – Rearrange any furniture not bolted down, that moves easily. I made sure the desk and my notebooks would be the central focus. I stayed close to the air, put my back to the view, and felt more invested in the job at hand.
SET GOALS – Whether aiming for a certain page count, or hashing out an idea by meditating on your ideas, make a schedule for yourself to allow balanced time for eating, sleeping, working, and daydreaming.
HEALTHY FOODS – My goal focused on not spending too much time and effort on meals. Though this hotel does feature a variety of food in the lobby, I knew if I ate in the hotel, I’d get wrapped up in conversations and get distracted. I purposefully drove offsite for dinner. Kabuki in the Howard Hughes center offered me flavorful sushi options outside of my routine spicy tuna rolls.
I packed a weekend’s worth of healthy snacks for my marathon writing session.
I did wind up running to the lobby for a salad from the Boulevard Market Cafe and it hit the spot!
HYDRATE – My fluid routine consists of equal parts coffee, water and wine – in that order. Creative juices flow more freely with proper hydration!
VOLUMES OF SUPPORTING MATERIALS – Obviously, I’m the one you should look for in the case of an emergency that may prevent us from returning home right away. Not for my snack and hydration supplies but for my books to read to pass the time.
SELF CARE – Make sure you take time to be still, or pamper yourself, or do whatever helps your daily routine dissipate and allows you to center and be present for your writing weekend.
BE FLEXIBLE – You may define this as yoga, I define this as forgiving myself and allowing the schedule to reveal itself as I go. Things may change, I may not hit every mark, but still dedicating time to myself and living in a boundary-less space while stretching my creative muscles felt amazing!
I’d love to report back that I finished a novel in 24 hours, or even an outline, but I didn’t. Still, it’s worth the exercise to get away, organize my notes some, and remind me what I love about writing. Next time, I plan to amplify my efforts with large adhesive note papers and some expo markers, or even a pile of square note pads that I can stick to the wall and continue to hash out ideas.
What about you?
When is the last time you did a retreat?
Were you alone or with friends?
What is your favorite part of getting away?
What are you writing right now?
Where should I go next?
Alone or with other writers?
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