No time (or money) to get away? That’s ok! Here’s how to create your own writer’s retreat, and why you absolutely NEED to.
Imagine yourself on a writer’s retreat. No committee meetings. No teaching. No grading (weeeee!!!!). No meals to prepare. No small humans or pets to care for. Just you, your writing project, and the focus you’ve needed for so long.
But let’s get real. A writer’s retreat is just that: a retreat. An escape. And though the time can really renew and restore you–and push your work forward–realistically we can’t afford such a multiple-day escape more than once a year (twice tops). So what to do? Here are some ideas to get the benefit of a writer’s retreat without actually leaving home. (If you do want to leave home, check out this info on the January 2019 Academic Women’s Writing Retreat in Puerto Rico here.)
The Do It Yourself Writer’s Retreat:
I’m usually an advocate of short writing blocks (no more than 2 hours) consistently implemented over time (you can learn more about how to do that here). But the idea of a big block of time to write is so enticing that I think it’s worth discussing how you (yes busy, over-scheduled you) can make that happen.
- Block off time in your calendar. Summer is a great time to plan your retreats for next academic year. The key here is to plan before the semester fills up, and to honor this as an un-alterable commitment. That means that when your department chair calls a committee meeting, you have to say, “I’d love to but I am unavailable because I’m going on a writer’s retreat.” If he/she asks for details, make them up. J
Planning ahead will give you time to adjust your semester to accommodate your retreat. Schedule class assignments so that students are working on something they will turn in right after the retreat, not immediately before. You cannot teach during the retreat, so write it into the syllabus that students won’t have class. You can plan an online activity for them to complete without you or some other form of making up the time later. Teaching sucks your writing energy. Don’t do it.
- You don’t have to actually go somewhere (but you could). As an academic mom of three, leaving town is really difficult for me. I pretty much have to be around for bedtime and school drop-off. So my writer’s retreat will take place from 8:00-4:00 for two days in a row.
Now, if you decide to stay at your home for the retreat (I suggest this over staying in your office—too many possible interruptions), you need to clear a space in advance. And by “space” I mean both mental and physical (we’ll get to the mental space in #3). Clear out a writing area that will feel happy and peaceful to you. If this means that you need to move your unfolded pile of clean laundry onto somebody else’s bed, or onto the sofa, or back into the dryer for two days, then do that. The idea is to have the immediate area around you clear of clutter and if possible, with natural light.
Spend a little tiny bit of money buying yourself some fresh flowers to put in your writing area. It sounds ridiculous but it will definitely help you differentiate your writer’s retreat days from just any old day that you tried to stay home to get work done.
Staying at home might be way too distracting for you, so another option is to go somewhere nearby that will be quiet enough for you to focus on your work. This could be the town library, a coffee shop, a park, or even a hotel lobby. Get creative but try to avoid places where you are likely to run into people you know (maybe a coffee shop the next town over is a better choice than the one down the street).
- Plan your day-to-day grind activities ahead of time. The rules of a do-it-yourself writer’s retreat are: no cooking, no grocery shopping, no cleaning, no laundry. These are the very things that we are “retreating” from. Eliminating them will create the mental space for you to just write.
You’ll need to plan and prep your meals. This could mean actually cooking and packing up meals in advance of the retreat, so you (and any dependents) can just eat from the fridge. This could mean setting aside a little budget for eating out or getting delivery during the retreat days. The idea is: eliminate the worry of “what’s for dinner (and breakfast and lunch)?” for two days.
To avoid cleaning and laundry, either do it in advance or pay someone to do it in advance for you. If those things are done it is less distracting, and the whole point of a writer’s retreat is focus.
- Mitigate against the risk of emergencies. It seems that whenever I have a nice writing day planned, someone around here (usually a small person) gets sick. Obviously you can’t prevent this from happening, but you can try to reduce its effect on your planned retreat. Enlist back-up child care (grandma? a friend?) in case of a sick kid. Within reason, try to avoid canceling your retreat for unforeseen emergencies by getting help.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off phone notifications, tell social media you are on a break, do not check your email. You can set up an email auto-responder so that people know when you’ll be back on. You can leave your phone on vibrate and check it at certain prescribed times to avoid interruptions.
The mental stuff
OK, now that the logistics are under control, it’s time to put yourself in the right frame of mind for retreating. Here are three things to focus on in order to make your retreat a success.
- Set measurable, realistic goals. If it is realistic to say that you will finish (actually complete to the point of submission) a writing project, then do it. But you don’t have to have such lofty goals. You could set goals for the number of pages, sections, or words written. You could set the goal as a complete draft, to be polished with a few more hours of work after a mental break. It’s up to you. You know yourself as a writer. The most important thing is to make your goal realistic so that you get that feeling of accomplishment that will bolster your writing ego in non-retreat times.
- Realize that taking time to write is important for your career. I may begin to sound like a broken record here, but I really mean it when I say that the world needs your voice. You have a unique, once-only-on-earth perspective on your field and it needs to be heard. Academic publication is key to our careers for a reason. It moves the field forward.
- You deserve it. Most of the year we run around doing everything we can to help others: teaching, service, administrative responsibilities. We deserve to spend time writing. It’s the activity that has the greatest potential for increasing our salaries (through promotion) or for getting us that job in the first place. Is it selfish to write? Is it selfish to want to advance your career? No. It is simply part of the job. And you deserve to invest that time in yourself and in your work.
I hope that this post has inspired you to pre-plan writing time, and given you some strategies for making it happen. If you are interested in a more social writer’s retreat, I run a Virtual Writer’s Retreat (and its tiny, one-day pre-event, the Mini Virtual Writer’s Retreat) once per semester. Join the next Virtual Writer’s Retreat here.
If you’re really ready to retreat, you might be interested in the Academic Women’s Writing Retreat, which will take place in January 2019 in western Puerto Rico. It will be four days of focused, distraction-free writing time with a small group of like-minded women and a view of the Caribbean. Spots are already filling up, so click here to grab yours!
Join my I Should Be Writing! facebook group
In this group I share helpful advice in a community of scholars who are looking to write and publish more while keeping their sanity. It’s a group to support each other as we work to have our unique voices heard in the world of academic publishing.