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. (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.