My wife will be at a conference in another state for the next week, so instead of moping about, cuddling cats, and spending entirely too much time on youtube, I thought I might try something different. A friend had brought up the possibility of renting a cabin for a writing retreat over the 4th of July weekend, but that fell through and I was left unexpectedly disappointed. Then I thought – I’m going to have all this time to myself, why not make the retreat for myself? At home?
I can’t exactly take a week off from my day job, but I can turn all the time outside of work into prime retreat fodder. The ideal is alluring: sitting at the table in the morning with a pot of tea and my netbook, dreaming up words. Same scene in the evening, but with a candle and a scone. It’s not quite quiet: I have Cofftivity hooked up to my speakers. When I’m plum out of writing steam, I’ll read books relevant to my current work in progress (WIP). Then on my days off work, I’ll plan and schedule a whole day on the floor, in pajamas, with my netbook and my story.
In reality, I’d have to move mountains to squeeze that kind of focus out of my easily distracted brain. But knowing where I’m most likely to hit snags is the first step towards having an at-home writing retreat. Unlike a “real” retreat out in the woods somewhere or at a hotel with a dozen or so other writers, all your usual comforts and distractions are still within grabbing distance. Cats will still do cute things and/or try to sit on your computer while you type. The internet will still be there, trying to seduce you away. The chores and errands and messes will all be right in front of you, telling you to stop for just a moment and attend them.
So anticipating all those things, here is what I can do to make this next week the best possible environment for an at-home retreat:
1) Anticipate distractions.
The internet – as vast and wondrous as it is – is my biggest distraction and time-suck. I know myself better than anyone else, and I know for a fact that if my computer connects to the internet, I will be checking tumblr and facebook within a heartbeat. As with sugar, I have little to no self control when it comes to the internet. I could use this time to strengthen that self-control. Or I could simply take the easy route and turn off the internet.
Since I know what my biggest distraction will be, I can plan on how to deter it. Namely, having an absolute internet time out while I’m home. I can cheat and check my email all I want while at work or in a café, but once I’m home that’s it. This will be most difficult on days where I’m not at work for 8 hours, but I think it will also be most rewarding on those days.
2) Have a goal in mind.
Aimlessness rarely does anyone any good, especially me. So, for this week I’ll have an overall goal and a daily goal. My daily goal will be hitting at least 1,000 words, but preferably 2-3,000 words. My week-long goal, what I most want to get out of this endeavor, is both a substantial amount of words and an overall better understanding of where this story is going. I would also love to be able to just spend a few hours at a time at work, sans distractions and expectations. I want to see what I can really do when I set aside the time for something like this.
3) Acknowledge that it is impossible to write constantly.
I’m not going to write every single free minute I have in the coming week. For one, I know I don’t work that way. For another, that would be kind of insane and definitely counter-productive. So I need to plan for the times I won’t be writing. What could I do that would still be in the spirit of a retreat?
Read, for one. When they took away our only bus route, that cut out a good 40 minutes that I had just for reading each day. I am now sorely behind in the books I want to read and it’s been itching at me. So whenever I truly don’t want to write, I’ll read one of four books I picked up from the library for just such an occasion. Not just any books, mind you – they all tie into the research I’m doing for my new WIP, as well as comp search for the just-finished final draft. If I hadn’t already read most of them, I would have picked up a handful of books on writing itself.
For another, move about. That includes walking, running, biking, swimming, hiking… whatever gets me out of the house and moving. For me, my most creative times are when I’m running, so it’s only natural that this week I’ll set aside extra running time.
4) Plan fun activities.
Reading is fun, but there are other activities that can be equally beneficial that I don’t typically find the time for. I aim to add a bit of meditation to my daily ritual, as well as journaling. But really fun activities are one of a kind. I already have a writing workshop lined up for Monday evening, but I also will have a writing night planned with friends and a bottle of wine, and an evening just for me with popcorn and a writing-related movie.
5) Pretend I’m going out of town.
It’s not really a retreat if you have a bunch of non-writing obligations on your calendar. Schedule yourself free and tell everyone what you’re up to. That way they’ll (hopefully) only call if they want to join in on your writing night.
Additionally, I always thoroughly clean my home and clear out the fridge before going anywhere for more than a day or two. I’ve found it’s wonderful to come home after a trip to a clean house, but in this case it’s a good way to have everything uncluttered and in order before your retreat, so you won’t be tempted to finally clean the bathroom now that you have a little extra time. Like every other writer I know, I will scrub every last inch of the floor before settling down to write.
Pretending that you’re going to be out also forces you to get all your non-negotiable obligations lined up and taken care of, like paying your bills and acquiring sufficient cat food. No errands or chores for me this week. If it has to be done, it can wait until the week is over.
6) Stock up on food and beverages.
One of the fun parts of a retreat – so I hear – is the food. So indulge a bit when it comes to stocking your kitchen for the week. Grab a bottle of wine and a box of cookies. Or, if you’re a little stricter of diet, some fizzy water and dried fruit. Anything that would normally be a treat. Make sure you also stock up on easy-to-make meals, like salads and burgers, then pre-prepare whatever you can.
I also plan to be consuming a fairly steady amount of tea, so I’ve made certain I am well-stocked in that regard.
7) Make a (flexible) schedule.
Last – but definitely not least – I’ve put together a daily schedule for myself, with different activities for each day as well as different expectations. Since this week will span both days I’m working and days I’m not, what I get done and what I get read will vary greatly on a day to day basis. It’s not at all rigid, but more of an idea of what I’d like to accomplish and what kind of additional things I can do instead. It’s a good way to provide a framework so that you don’t flail about with no idea of what to do, but without boxing yourself into a corner.
That’s what I’ve done so far and what I hope will be sufficient in turning what would otherwise be a youtube- and tumblr-filled week into something a wee bit more satisfying and productive. I’ll let you know how it goes.