The Benefits of Retreating

I've been at a writing retreat all weekend.  It was at Scarritt Bennett, a center in the middle of the labyrinth that hosts programs on diversity, women's empowerment, and spirituality.  Labyrinthspring(That's a photo of the labyrinth at Scarritt Bennett to the right, though I focused more on the blooming Redbud and Dogwood trees when I took it, so you can't really see the labyrinth.)

Though I was hired to be the book doctor at the retreat and that kept me plenty busy, I did have quite a bit of time to write.  The way it works at Room to Write is that all meals and a room are provided.  So the retreat participants–11 of us–met for meals and bonding and talking about writing, and then heading back to our rooms to write.   A few other activities were planned, such as walking the labyrinth, meditation, a chat on publishing that Rabbi Rami and I gave, and some late-night excursions to nearby bars, but everything is optional.  So if you want to skip it all and stay in your room and write, you can, and many did.

Many of the writers at the retreat got crazy amounts of writing done.  A couple hit word counts of 10,000, or close to it. But I heard from others that they took the time to read, or think about their project.

And this, for me, was the best thing about the retreat this time.  I did get some writing done–about 2,000 words, which is nothing to sniff at–but most important, I had time to think.  Having space and time away from the concerns of day to day life allows the mind to open up and expand.  It is easier to conceptualize, and to look at the big picture.  And this, my friends, is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

You don't have to go to an organized writer's retreat in order to find this.  (Though Room to Write is awesome and I highly recommend it!) You can take yourself away for a weekend or a couple of days.  Go to a cheap hotel in a nearby city, or if you don't share my love of cheap hotels, look for a retreat center or even a monastery, which often rent out individual rooms.  Try a bed and breakfast.  Whatever you decide to do, here a couple guidelines for making the most of a retreat:

1.  Go with a specific project in mind.  It is generally best to stick to working on one thing, but if you have a crazy right brain like me, you might want to bring several.  Retreats are great for making lots of progress on a novel, for instance, or for conceptualizing and get a great start on a marketing piece (which is what I did).

2.  Have a goal in mind.  We start out Room to Write retreats with an evening session in which every participant names their goals.  As with all goals, it is good to be specific.  Not, "make progress on my novel," but "write 8000 words on my novel."

3.  If the muse hits, go with it.  If you're in the flow, don't stop.  Doesn't matter if you are at a retreat with planned activities, go with the flow and get those words on the page.  That's the point, after all.

4.  Don't overlook the power of bonding.  One of the best things about organized retreats is that you'll meet other writers.  Connecting is vital for writers, and something we often overlook in our furious efforts to become good writers.  You can go to a retreat, have plenty of time to work, and still meet other people.

So there you have it–my ideas about writing retreats.  But bear in mind, any kind of creative artist or spiritual seeker can benefit from retreating.  So, what about you?  What are your experiences with retreats?  Do you have any advice or questions for others?

***Head on over to my friend Linda Busby Parker's blog and you'll find a guest post by none other than me.  Scroll down a little bit…it is the one titled Spring Check-up.  Thanks, Linda, for the guest post.

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7 Comments on "The Benefits of Retreating"

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Patty - Why Not Start Now?
Guest

Hi Charlotte – Welcome back! Sounds like it was a wonderful retreat. That’s a lot like what I’m trying to do with my last week of the month away from home (except nobody makes my meals and there’s no late night excursions with others). But, it is so good for my creativity and spirit in general to get out of the rush and routine of day-to-day life. I have several books on artists and writers colonies/communities, and I’ve often thought it would be incredible to experience that. Some of them have six month residencies. That would be awesome!

December
Guest
04/12/2010 13:08

I’d love to do a weeklong retreat. I get energized just from a weekend conference, a full week would be amazing!
We have some here in Wisconsin that are supposed to be quite good.
Maybe once I make some money on this, I can look into it!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
04/12/2010 14:55

Patty, I was just telling a friend last night that this weekend retreat made me realize how wonderful it would be go to Yadoo or MacDowell Colony for several months at a time. It is so energizing and refreshing for a couple days, a few months would be life-changing!

December, Don’t forget that going away for a week to focus on your writing could possibly help you make money from your writing! I bet you’ve got some beautiful spots up there.

Jessica
Guest
04/13/2010 06:07
I’m discovering that family holidays are not the greatest writing retreats, especially when you have one family member who is always asking “What’s next?” My brother is getting lots of writing done but I’m the family translator and seem to be continually on call. Any tips on how to find your own writing time when traveling with others? On the plus side though, I’ve collected several great books about the places I’m visiting which will come in handy later for research. And I’ve been snapping pictures like mad – collecting ‘sets’ for future scenes I like to call it. Please… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
04/13/2010 06:55
Jessica, Yay! I’m so glad you are able to comment. And it sounds like a fantastic trip, crazy and wonderful as all the best adventures are. Two tips for writing: 1. Get up earlier than everyone else. I used to do this on family vacations, get up and sit quietly in the room and write while everyone slept or find a coffeeshop nearby or in a hotel lobby. 2. Lower your expectations for your writing. Once on a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula I was so pressed for time I just made lists of things in my journal, words and… Read more »
Angela Artemis
Guest
04/14/2010 14:10

Hi Charlotte, You’re post is very timely for me. I’m struggling with finding the time to work a book project. I’d actually been looking at writing seminars and retreats. Last weekend I decided I’d do nothing but write – Yeah, right. I wrote zero words. I’ve realized that doing a writer’s retreat in your own home is a fiction. Back to the drawing board.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
04/14/2010 14:36

Angela, Remind me where you are located–I might know of someplace nearby. But even just grabbing a hotel room for a weekend can do the trick. Yes, I’ve tried those at-home retreats. Worthless.

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