Writer’s Retreat Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve only two days left in my two-week writer’s retreat and thought I’d share what I’ve learned from the experience.

I came to my summer home by myself not expecting many external distractions. Everything was perfect except when I arrived my basement was flooded. Five inches of solid rain for two days had nowhere to go because our drainage pipe was totally blocked by a root mass.

In addition to clean-up chores that needed doing after the pipe was cleared, I had some outdoor work that needed my attention. That part at least I was prepared for, and as the weather turned colder, I also became a slave to my fireplace––gathering kindling to go with the split wood I’d secured before I left in September and then trying not to forget to let the fires go out.

The bottom line for me is that I don’t expect to write 8, 10 or more hours a day. I came here to re-start work on my sixth novel that had been interrupted by a busy end of summer and the Jewish high holidays back in Maryland. Although I hadn’t accomplished as much as I hoped over the summer, I was past the halfway point in the book and knew some concentrated writing time could propel me into the home stretch. Writers probably recognize the home stretch analogy. That’s when you’ve solved all the major problems in the story and you can see the finish line. It’s a good feeling.

So here are my writer’s retreat Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Have a definite project in mind. Don’t wait to decide what to work on until you arrive, and the project should be substantial enough to justify the concentrated effort.
  2. Have a work space where there are few visual or other distractions. My desk faces a wall. I try to remove anything not related to the work at hand from that area.
  3. Start working the same time each day. I go to my desk immediately after breakfast. Other than coffee or tea refills, my goal is to stick to the writing until 1 p.m. Standing up and stretching every once in a while is as important as that second cup of java.
  4. Follow your normal writing routine. I start by reading what I’ve written the previous day and continue from there. That should work whether you’re a pantser (don’t plan ahead) or a plotter (work off an outline).
  5. You can set a daily word-count goal, but don’t be a slave to it.
  6. Schedule breaks during the day. I stop for lunch around 1 and do something else for a few hours, such as go to the post office, do some outdoor work, take a walk, or read a book. That allows me to get back to my desk in the late afternoon refreshed and ready for another period of writing or editing.
  7. Bring some books to read. Reading is relaxing and it stimulates the brain. You see things other writers do well and also some areas they could do better, both of which you can apply to your own writing.

I’m fortunate to have a physical place to go for my writer’s retreat, but that’s not necessary. You can plan a retreat in your regular living space for a day, a weekend or as long as you can manage. No matter where you’re writing, reduce distractions by telling friends and family what you’re doing and asking them not to interrupt you except in an emergency. You should also only checking your email and social media at set times, and you might plan your menu in advance so you don’t have to take time to run to the store every other day.

I started my current retreat by creating a simple three-column spreadsheet for the final chapters of my novel. The first column is for the chapter number, the second describes each scene in the chapter and the last is for the date when the scene takes place––something you may not need. Once that was in place, it was easy for me to get started. I may not finish the entire draft before I head back home, but I’ll have made enough progress to justify taking the time away from family activities and the like. Maybe I’ll do it again next spring.

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