I don’t mean retreat from battle – I WOULD NEVER ADVOCATE FOR THAT! Fight until the end, my warrior friends!
I’m talking about a personal retreat to achieve certain goals, such as mastering a new weapon, learning a new fighting style or, for the cerebral among you, writing a book. Or a good chunk of one, anyway.
As I’m about to undertake a writing retreat myself, and have done quite a few successful ones in the past, I’ll focus on wordsmithing. But you may decide to apply some tricks to other types of retreats, as well.
1. Choose your Location
Can you achieve this at home? Or will there be a thousand interruptions? I’m an awesome procrasti-cleaner and procrasti-cooker, so I find home dangerous. I’m trying it this weekend, but usually I head to a place made for retreats: a convent. (A silent retreat where I don’t have to attend religious activities, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve not spontaneously combusted.) Wherever you go, make sure you have headspace and time. Make sure you’ll have a writing space all your own, and make sure that distractions are at a minimum (convents rarely have TVs or wi-fi. I’m weak-willed and know it.) Find your perfect spot.
2. Choose your Time
Pick a time of the year/month/week that makes sense for you. If the neighboring warlords are about to invade your borders, now is not the time. It’ll prove a distraction in your focus. Choose a time where you won’t have too many demands to ignore. I know, it’s hard when you’re a sought-after hero. But this is for your personal achievement. Make it happen.
3. Choose your Companions
Like any good adventurer knows, the right companions can make or break your quest. I personally talk and giggle a lot as I write, and I’m an extrovert by nature, so I usually only take myself. But others like the motivation of working in groups, and have been quite successful at it. Just choose your companions wisely. Everyone must be focused on goals
Speaking of which, what will you be doing? Will you try to write 20,000 words? Edit half your novel? Destroy the nearest stone garden with your new rock smashing sword techniques? Make it realistic, so you can see yourself getting closer to reaching it.
5. Track your Success
Goals are fun, but seeing your progress toward achieving them is even more fun! I personally mark down my word count every half hour on a mini post-it note and stick it on the wall. I like trying to beat my best times. I do it every half hour because it’s not very long, so I keep saying “oh, I can do better, just another half hour.” Hours of extra work competing with myself.
6. Remember your Body
Eat. Drink water (and coffee!). Move. I usually take a half hour walk after meals, to digest and think. I keep focused on my writing and my goals. I get back to work after.
7. Hush up, you Braggart
The more you talk about the things you’ve achieved in your writing as you’re working to achieve them, the more you’ll get a pay off from people telling you that you’re awesome. You’ll spend all your time waiting for adoring crowds to love you instead of trying to reach that goal. Stay off social media. Text if you must for some motivation. But focus on you. Brag after you’ve conquered your story. Let the bards tell your tale.
8. Get the Sword out of the Stone
Stuck in your story? Writers block? Can’t go on? Skip a scene. Take a walk. Switch writing mediums. Have a good cry. But get back to it. It’s your writing retreat. Preparation will help you be super productive. Stubborness will get you the rest of the way.
9. Focus on the Moment
Remember that last battle? Your blood pumping, your muscles flexing, your sword clanging and your screams resounding across legend? You survived because you were in the moment. To focus on anything else but the enemies surrounding you would have meant death. Same here. Focus on your story. Give it no quarter. Come in for the kill to finish it. Is that hard? Of course it is, but no great warrior was born by wussing out during the final battle. It’ll get easier the more you practice. Get your time in. Get those words down.
I hope you’ll give this a whirl, or share your own experiences with retreats! Now off to battle I go! Best of luck, my wordsmithing brothers and sisters! *quill-bearing fist pump*
Marie Bilodeau is writing. Shhhhhh…