If you've ever been on a writing retreat, you know a complicated mix of feelings follow you home.
You’ve flexed your writing muscles, cracked open new internal spaces, gained traction on projects or gotten a peek at some new and exciting creative paths. Your neurons are firing, your soul alight, you are tenderly goofy and in love with the world again.
Fired up with good intentions you are also: tired, disappointed and doubtful.
You are, after all, returning from magic-land to mundane-land. Bills will need to be paid, children will need to be fed (are they never full?), and if writing is not your work, your job awaits. And you have a deflating hunch that it won’t be all that long before your routine catches up with you so eking out a few spare hours to squeeze imaginative and inspirational prose from the daily grindstone, well...
Facing re-entry from my recent two-day sojourn to the cosy and remote Backeddy Resort and Marina on BC’s gorgeous Sunshine Coast, I decided to explore what it might take to extend the retreat feeling into my working week.
It occurred to me driving back, that while I might lack long uninterrupted blocks of time to take the deep creative dive, I could at least attempt to recreate the retreatness of it so that in the time I do have available, doing a little artistic wading might at least be possible.
Based on my observations of the habits and behavious of the writers-on-retreat, here are my tips for the at-home (or at-work) retreat:
1. Feed the machine.
Stock up on healthy, easy to make snacks. When you're on a writing roll and get hungry, you don't want to interrupt the muse to feed. She is hungry for a different kind of nourishment. Having dried fruit, almonds, cheese and crackers, water, juice and tea handy means you can replenish and dive back in. For you caffeine-fuelled writers, keep the coffee on.
2. Sharpen your tools
Keep a pen and notebook in easy reach (or iPad, tablet, laptop etc). This one might seem obvious, but having your writing ‘kit’ nearby means you won’t miss an opportunity to jot down that new idea or poetic fragment as it fleetingly dances past. Also keeping those pens, pencils, coloured markers and notepads in view acts as a gentle reminder to Stay Focused and Get Something Down.
3. Do your warm-ups.
Practice. Even though you may be working in minimal time windows, use the time you do have to freewrite, cut drafts, or even do a little revision of existing pieces. It's common to leave a writing retreat with a joyfully scribbled list of possible topics and a smattering of half-baked false starts. Use these as writing prompts, even if you only have a few minutes.
4. Put on the Squeeze
Set a timer. This tip relates to Tip #3. Trying to fit your writing practice into the cracks between work and home duties already constrains your time, so lean into the constraint by setting a timer and write, and only write, until it goes off. This creates a crucible for forced creativity, shunting the editing side of our brains onto a siding so our wild wordchild can play. Choose short time blocks that work with your other demands.
5. Tap into your talismans
In addition to pens, pencils, notebooks, devices of all kinds, many kinds of snacks, treats, and various other objets d' comfort, it seems retreaters are notorious for bringing very special and specific trinkets along with us to act as charms to invoke and placate the writing gods. No reason you can't observe similar rituals in your home or office. Break out those candles and crystals, buff up that lucky stone or seashell and let them inspire you. We need our mascots and metaphors.
I’m fortunate in that writing is a big part of my work, so I have kind of an all-access pass to trying some of these tips out. Nevertheless, much of my 'work' writing is devoted to very specific tasks and and my creative work often gets neglected. I test-drove the tips this past week. In addition to this blog post (okay, maybe that's a bit of a cheat - but I did work on it throughout the week, in the cracks), I completed a draft of a new poem and have done more reading aloud of my drafts (lucky hubby).
I'm also feeling very writerly. It appears I have been able to extend the retreat feeling into my daily life. Words, ideas and phrases flit about, sometimes landing and letting themselves be caught. Seems my net is ready. Moreso than usual, I am infused with a kind of expectant happiness.
What am I expecting?
How about you? Can you take on the at-home/at-work retreat? Would love to hear how it goes. Any tips to offer?