This post originally appeared on the Book Marketing Tools Blog on October 20, 2016. Go here to read it.
If you’re anything like me, when you read the latest writing magazine edition, you look longingly at the ads promoting retreats to write in beautiful places with beautiful views, wishing you could find the time and money to take one. And if you’re anything like me, you have other obligations monopolizing your time and money, preventing you from enjoying such a retreat.
In August, 2016, I decided to take matters into my own hands to create my own writing retreat. I live in the Quad Cities, a metro consisting of four larger and several small cities and town situated on opposite sides of the Mississippi River in Iowa and Illinois. I cleared my calendar and set aside two days to get out of my house and write. Granted, you may not live in an area like I do where there is an abundance of inspirational destinations readily available, but I bet if you get creative, you can create your own writing retreat, too.
Look No Further Than Your Own Backyard
Literally. Take your notebook or computer and sit outside in your backyard. It’s great if the weather is pleasant, but huddled under an umbrella in the rain or snow could give you some interesting material, too.
After your backyard (or if you don’t have a backyard), look to your town and region for places to write. Visit museums or historical attractions and write what you observe. I went to the local art museum and plan to take a one-day retreat soon to write at Buffalo Bill Cody’s home and a pioneer village. Even if you don’t have a museum nearby, most locations have some sort of public art or historical marker you can visit.
Most every town also has some sort of park or natural area where you can sit quietly to write. I visited a marsh area on the Mississippi River and took a water taxi to different places along the river (this also gave me a great perspective of Iowa and Illinois from the river). Coffee shops and book stores are also great places to write. You can learn a lot about dialogue and human interaction by eavesdropping at these locations. If you already frequent certain coffee or book shops, look around to try to find new ones to visit.
You can use your writing retreat to work on a certain project or to just be inspired in general, honing your writing craft. If your latest project takes place in a real setting, go there (it may take more planning if it’s further away), walk the ground, and write what you see, smell, feel, and touch. Even if you haven’t worked out your plot yet, you can put your character in a space and write about how he or she would navigate it.
If you absolutely cannot get out of your home to do a writer’s retreat, you can still create one in your own home. The key is setting aside the time and giving yourself permission to focus only on your writing. Treat it like an actual trip; tell your family your plans (even if they roll their eyes), and make it clear you aren’t to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.
Whether you take your retreat at home or away, do your best to minimize or eliminate distractions. Hide your phone, turn it off, or at least put it on “do not disturb” mode. If you enjoy television or playing video games, set a time for your retreat day to be over (I chose 8 p.m.) and stay away from the programs and games until then. If you are not actively writing, use the time to read instead.
Be Ready For Resistance
Each morning when I set out on my do-it-yourself writing retreat, I had to overcome resistance. I felt strange and somewhat guilty for stealing the time away to only focus on my writing, reading, and thoughts. The weather wasn’t ideal when I took my retreat either, though the warm, muggy air was typical for Iowa summer days, so I was really tempted to stay at home where it was cool. Going to the art museum helped me here because I couldn’t use air conditioning as an excuse not to go. Once I got started, I was glad I forced myself to follow my plans. Write down your itinerary and the rules you plan to follow, and if you need to, make a bargain with yourself that you’ll only go for an hour or two; then, if you really want to, you will let yourself quit. It’s your retreat so you can do what you want, but chances are, you’ll want to finish the day.