Some writers spend hundreds of dollars for a few days of seclusion in the wilderness. Far from Internet connections and cellphone reception, writers at retreats try to rekindle the spark of inspiration. Authors have always found isolation to be rejuvenating and beneficial to their work. Some checked into hotels in strange cities; others venture out to cabins in the woods. There is something about a writing retreat that has prompted generations of writers to put their lives on hold for a days or weeks in search of fresh creativity.
I, too, am in need of a retreat. I need a day to escape my daily routine and focus on my work. Lacking the funds to attend a planned retreat, I decided to hold my own.
For several hours yesterday afternoon, I shut myself in my apartment and focused on the work (or at least, made a very good effort to try).
The retreat went something like this:
- Opening Ceremony: The Ritual Unplugging of the Wireless Router
- Part I. Inspiration
I started off by reading a little bit about the craft of writing, from people who know the subject. I kicked it off by reading a chapter from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird.I then did a warm-up exercise from Developing Story Ideas by Michael Rabinger. I set a half hour timer and tried to retell a fairy tale in a new way. I added the twist that I was only allowed to use my typewriter (no deleting). After a few awkward keystrokes, I actually found the words pouring out of me until, when the timer went off, I had two pages of a story about Little Red Riding Hood being a drug mule for a cartel.
- Part II. Rewrites
I got into the meat of the retreat with merciless revisions on a short story I’ve been working on, “The Cannibals of Kitsap.”
- Part III. Goals
I wanted my writing day to balance creativity with practicality, so I laid out a grid and decided which projects to focus on for the next few months and which to put on the back burner. I set myself specific milestones and deadlines, which will come in handy, since I’m prone to procrastination.
- Part IV. Plotting
I saved the most intensive creative work for last (which may or may not have been a good idea, since I was starting to get tired at this point). I tried to flesh out a working plot for two major projects I want to kick off for the second half of 2014, a novel tentatively titled “Arizona Burning” and another stage play set during the race riots of 1943 Los Angeles (with the thrilling title “Untitled Play”).
- Conclusion. Recognition of Writerly Awesomeness and Ritual Plugging In of the Wireless Router.
Finally, in the late evening, I took a step back to evaluate what I’d accomplished. I had two plot outlines, notes to improve a short story, a calendar of writing goals to carry me through October/November, and even a new story with some potential. Not too bad. I gave myself a pat on the back and rewarded myself with an hour of zoning out on Netflix before bed.
For my first retreat, I think it went well. I can see why a lot of my peers seek out this experience on a regular basis. I’ll definitely be doing it again. But next time, maybe I’ll seek out a partner to keep me accountable. There were some moments (particularly when I was supposed to be plotting) when my concentration wavered. Next time, I will also need to make two pots of tea. Overall, I’d say it was a success.
Have you ever been to a retreat? Have you ever organized your own? Let me know what worked and what didn’t in the comments.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. He writes many things, including very entertaining tweets. Thanks for reading!