This past weekend, I got to do one of my favorite writing things. I joined good friends (all writers, go figure) and had a writing retreat: two and a half days of working on my own stories, hearing about others’ work, sharing story (books, movies) recommendations, and discussing the ever-evolving publishing industry. Now all we need are house elves to deliver coffee and wine chairside, and we’ll have perfected the art of the writers’ retreat.
In the early days of the 8LW blog, I talked about my writing retreats with this particular group of writing friends. A few years later, I was lucky enough to gather with the other Eight Ladies in Arizona for a retreat of our own, which inspired me to share my top five favorite things about these outings (spoiler alert: number one on my list is bonding with fab friends). Now it’s 2017, time for our bi-annual reminder that writing retreats are an awesome thing, and if you are a writer as well as a joiner of any kind, getting out of your writing cave and spending time around real, live people might just be the thing to kick-start your creativity and reconnect you to the joy of writing.
Is a writing retreat for you? Just in case there’s a doubter out there who doesn’t see the value of finding other members of the genus homo sapiens writeris and retreating for days of shared story joy, not to mention overindulgence in drinks and chocolates of choice, I have a few reasons to retreat that might convince you. (You can also use these to convince any doubters in your life that your retreat is not just about drinks and chocolate, it’s actually important to your work!)
New space, new schedule, new energy. Do you ever have trouble sleeping when you have to do it somewhere new? If so, congratulations, you are a perfectly normal human. In evolutionary terms, trouble sleeping when we aren’t familiar with the immediate surroundings makes sense. It keeps us just alert enough to – hopefully – avoid being eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger that might sneak up on us in the dead of night. No, that is not a metaphor for other writers plotting our demise. It’s a prehistoric thing.
Fast-forward to today, and our brains still pay attention to the world around us in a different way when we are in unfamiliar territory. Yes, this can be annoying and even exhausting. But it also shifts our energy and focus. We writers can use that to our advantage. Keeping our writing fresh depends upon transferring the energy of the stories that live in our heads onto the page. Writing in a new place might just make us write in a new way. This is related to:
Breaking out of comfort zones. My writing chair with the heart-shaped red pillow to put behind my back (because I am short) is comfortable. Sipping coffee out of my favorite mug, pictured above, is comfortable. Having my unusually sociable cats check in on me and beg for treats on the regular is comfortable. Our need for comfort is biological. It means safety, protection, survival. There is nothing inherently wrong with comfortable. Until you get too comfortable.
Comfort can quickly lead to complacency, even boredom. And those can funnel into the work. I’ve also learned that when I depend upon comfort to get my writing done, when I become too precious about the work and how it gets created (but I must have my pillow and my mug and my cats, and the sun must come through the windows just so, and the neighbors really need to tell those noisy to kids to play inside), I lose the ability to create without all those crutches. And most days, life is not just so. Learning to write in a new place with other people and without all of our precious things can teach our brains that, yes, we can actually write without the rituals of our routines.
A meeting of the minds. I told you upfront that my favorite thing about writing retreats is bonding with fab friends. One of the things that makes these friends so fab is that they, too, are writers. They understand the sheer joy of finding just the right ending beat for a scene, and the deep despair of having a bad writing day (week, month, or year). They appreciate the solitude necessary for creation and respect the boundaries of fellow writers in a way that others never quite do. And they love story. Love, love, love it. They don’t mind talking about what makes good (or bad) story at every meal, brainstorming to unstick your plot, or analyzing for the hundredth time why ‘not-well-written book x’ killed on the bestseller list, while ‘stunningly brilliant book y’ crashed and burned.
The writing life is a solitary endeavor. Make no mistake, this is by choice as much as by necessity. But even writers are human, and humans are social animals. Socializing does great things for our endorphins and our attitude. Socializing with other writers adds an extra layer of joy in connecting with others who know just how glamorous :cough, cough: the writing life really is. Try it. You might like it!
I’ll be back next week with some tips to get the most out of your own writing retreat, if you’re so inclined. What say you – have I convinced you? Are you ready to attend a writers’ retreat or maybe even host one yourself? (If so, can I come? I promise to bring wine, Bourbon, and chocolate!)