On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.
In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.
I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.
So I planned.
- Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
- Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
- Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
- Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.
So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.
I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.
My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:
I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.
Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.
I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.
I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.
A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.
It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:
- Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
- Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
- Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
- Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.
The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.
I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.
It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices
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