Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The Benefits of a DIY Personal Writer’s Retreat

By Jodi Turchin, @jlturchin

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Getting away from your regular writing routine can shake up your muse and boost your productivity. Jodi Turchin shares tips on how to create your own writing retreat.

Jodi Turchin is a Young Adult novelist represented by Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary. She’s also a photographer, a high school English teacher, an adjunct college professor, and a former actress and director.

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Take it away Jodi…

From a financial standpoint, I know I’m not the only one who can’t afford to drop a lot of cash to take a formal “writer’s retreat.” But at my companion’s suggestion, recently I booked a short getaway and called it my own writer’s retreat. If writing at home is complicated (and even if you live alone, sometimes life itself can be a distraction!), here are some suggestions to get out of your normal routine and get some words into your manuscript.

1. Find a place.

I chose a moderately priced hotel in Naples, FL, less than two hours from home. Close enough to drive, far enough away from my real-world responsibilities. I also chose to go mid-week, since as a high school teacher, I was already on summer vacation anyway. My logic was mid-week would likely be quieter at the hotel, and prices are also usually cheaper mid-week.

2. Decide what your goals are.

Do you want to have a specific number of pages or words written daily, or have a specific quota to meet by the time you leave? Are you looking for maximum writing time, or are you, like me, a sprinter who likes to fill your well with part of your day, then empty it writing the rest of the day? Are you writing, or are you revising?

Different objectives will have a different set of goals. Writing at home was only generating about a thousand or so words a day, and I wasn’t writing every day, so I had a goal of coming home from my trip with 15K words added to my novel.

(Here’s more with Stay Motivated With Writing Goals)

3. Stock up on your writing needs.

Snacks, coffee, wine, whatever – make sure you have it when you start the retreat! I chose a hotel with a coffeemaker, microwave, and refrigerator so I could bring a bag of my favorite snacks with me to have on hand. I brought a couple of notebooks and pens, also, to start my day with handwriting before I dove into my manuscript. The hotel had free wi-fi so I had access to my music apps through my laptop or phone. If you have everything you need with you, it’s much easier to resist the temptation to put writing aside to go on supply runs.

(Here’s more with Keep Your Writing Routine from Becoming a Rut)

4. Plan your days.

When your time is limited, it’s important to ensure you’re not flying by the seat of your pants and end up wasting your valuable writing time. I knew I had three solid days of writing – I arrived Monday evening, and went home Friday morning, leaving me Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for solid writing days.

Florida is prone to afternoon thundershowers, so I knew afternoons would be good chunks of time for writing, and I made sure my laptop was fully charged in case of possible power outages (which I fortunately didn’t have). I knew I needed to have well-filling activities – one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is you can’t drink from an empty well – so I scheduled a sunset cruise on the night I arrived, and excursions to the zoo and a botanical garden for two of the mornings; I left Wednesday as a full writing day.

I’m an early riser, so I got up, had breakfast, did some journaling in my notebooks – not necessarily related to my manuscript, but a way to jump-start my creative brain – and headed out to my destinations when they opened at 9 a.m. After lunch, I spent the afternoon writing in hour-long sprints with short stretching breaks in between.

(Here’s more with Writers: How to Ditch Distraction and Focus)

5. Forgive yourself if your brain doesn’t cooperate.

This is an important one. On the first two days of my personal retreat, words flowed and I managed over 5K words each afternoon. But on the last day, no matter how long I sat in front of my computer, my flow wasn’t as easy as it had been on the two days prior, and ultimately, I came home Friday morning with just over 13K words, a couple thousand words shy of my goal. But it was 13,000 more words than I would have written at home.

When you have real world responsibilities like a full-time job, or a family, or pets, or whatever may distract you from taking writing time at home, it’s important to find a way to get out of the restrictive spaces and get yourself to a writing headspace. If you can’t take several days away, even a single day out of your normal routine could result in a mini-retreat! I know some libraries have study rooms that can be reserved, or if you have a fellow writer friend, maybe make a plan to go to each other’s homes to write together.

Sometimes having another person writing in your space can stimulate your writing. I attend a lot of workshops through my local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (or at least I did pre-pandemic), and I found sometimes I could tune out the speaker and blow through pages of my manuscript sitting in a room with other writers.

Don’t be afraid to give yourself permission to take the time to bring your manuscript to life!