On writing retreats

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I’m a big fan of retreating.

Of carving out a special, dedicated space for a specific task or focus.

I’m not a natural multi-tasker, but by virtue of the fact that most of my work is online, every time I sit down at my desk to work, I’m faced with a billion potential distractions. If you’re reading this, you probably feel the same. Maybe you read my post on ‘productivity tips’ and getting shit done the other week.

I seem to get a lot of things done, but honestly, most of my work is short-form: a one-hour tarot reading, a blog post, guest writing, a page-creating session on my website. When I want to do lengthier, more focused work, I sometimes have to take myself out of the day-to-day so I can focus.

I recently took a six-week writing course. It was focused on fiction, so not 100% my thing, but I learned a few things about professional writers, discipline and hard work. True writers, we were told, write every day. True writers don’t binge-write – that’s unhealthy and unsustainable. Well, I guess I’m not a true writer. Binge-writing is the only way I know how. So that’s what this is all about.

I like to retreat. And then to write. A lot.

Here’s where I wrote the Alternative Tarot Course (on my girlfriend’s boat in Manchester, while she was away for two months – I made it my writing studio. My own boat was right next door.)

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Here’s where I (re)built the Alternative Tarot Network (in a beat-up caravan with a wi-fi connection in Durham, NC):

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Here’s where I wrote the first drafts of two tarot books and about two months’ worth of blog posts (in a super-basic woodland cabin in upstate New York, where there was literally nothing to do but walk and write…and the walking was frankly kinda boring):

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And I redesigned my entire website and (finally) made a plan for the coming year whilst dog-sitting at a friend’s house.

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Same cat. Different home.

In all of these cases, what was important was the intention behind the retreat, and the commitment to that intention. It was not about pretty pictures, designer coffee or productivity apps, it was about a distraction-free – and by that I mean the more basic the better – space where this one piece of work was the only thing that mattered, the only thing I could possibly do. By carving out those spaces and saying ‘this is for my book’ or ‘this time is for the network, and only that’,

And it’s bliss.

I don’t care if it’s unsustainable. I don’t care if I can’t do it all the time. It’s an affordable luxury I’d like to have in my life a couple of times a year. I don’t want to retreat from life full time. I don’t want to become a hermit. But from time to time…it’s awesome.

If you have something you’d like to finish, or even begin, or if there’s a big piece of work you just can’t seem to fit into your life, or if you’ve been saying ‘I’d love to write XYZ book’ for so long but you never actually allow yourself the time to do it – try a retreat.

You could….

  • Splash out on 12 days in a remote cabin – like I did.
  • Find something simple on Air B’n’B for just a couple of nights, maybe a Friday to a Sunday. See what happens!
  • Book a single night away in a hotel like Sarah von Bargen (this is fun and inspiring!)
  • Find out when your friends/parents/parents’ friends are going away and offer to house-sit (hell, you could even get paid for this!)
  • Ask around your circle of friends and find out if anyone has a caravan, a cabin, a cottage or any kinda hideaway.
  • And here’s another useful post from Hey Shenee! about creating a one-day business retreat.
  • And one from Esmee Wang on a month in a woodland cabin, a little like mine.

Set your intention before you retreat. Think about how damn much you want to make headway with your project. Maybe you wanna write the first draft of your novel, maybe you want to write a blog series or nail down posts for the coming month, maybe this is about planning, designing and beginning a project, maybe you want to sketch out the major arcana for your tarot deck. Whatever it is, set a goal. (A realistic one.)

Then tell people you’re going off-grid. You’ll want to turn your phone off, disconnect from the wifi, be free of social media. The world will turn just fine if you’re not on Facebook and you can catch up with your favourite blogs when you get back.

Conquer that feeling of ‘missing out’. The biggest missing out of all is when you don’t do your amazing, wonderful work because you’re too caught up with immediate stuff.

As a non-multi-tasker, this works brilliantly for me.

What works for you?

3 comments

  1. strophoria says:

    I think the idea that “real writers” work certain way is somewhat ridiculous. Some people are sprinters, not marathoners! You have written some things, therefore you are a real writer!

    On another note, this post really resonates with me. Somehow I manage to get my most productive creative work done while riding greyhound busses, because there is literally nothing to do but nap, snack and work.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    I really enjoy your posts about writing! A writing retreat is exactly what I’ve wanted all summer. Not a vacation. A writing retreat!

    However you write is how you write. I’ve heard that “you’re only a writer once you write every day” thing before too. I understand that it’s supposed to inspire people to create regularly, but I do think it also is a negative judgement.

    If you don’t feel like writing on a particular day/week/month you shouldn’t be forced into a mindset that you’re not a writer. From that mindset it’s easy to just give up…I mean, if you’re not a writer anyway why even bother, etc…
    If you write, you’re a writer. Period.

    There’s also a lot of privilege wrapped up in that. Yes, any artist needs to practice and create. But, it’s hard to write every day when you’re poor, have to work two jobs, go to school, and by the time you’re done with that you barely have enough time for sleep or relationships.

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