When is a withdrawal actually an advance?

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

When it is a (writers’) retreat!

Last week I spent four days with five wonderful women in a two-bedroom condo in Branson, MO.  A little travel tip: If you are looking for a touristy playground, don’t visit Branson in January.  There is plenty to see and do there in season, but even entertainers need some time off and they take it in January!  If, however, you seek a quiet space with few distractions, midwinter Branson is perfect.

Two things that really made this experience worthwhile: Tamara Hart Heiner’s pre-retreat logistical organization (she blogs about it here) and a group of women who, though diverse in genre, style, and voice (in writing and in personality), were each well-supplied with positivity and purpose.

Some highlights:

  • Great food.  Each of us were assigned a meal to provide for the group.  We had plenty of food and variety, and it kept costs down.
  • Daily group inspirational moments and writing exercises.  These were also assigned.  They were relatively brief, but provided opportunities for focused interaction and discussion, and kept those of us whose attention tends to wander targeted on our purpose.  My favorite included this wonderful Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.
  • Making new friends.  It’s a little scary for me to agree to cohabit with someone I’ve never met.  After all those summer camps as a kid you’d think I’d be used to it.  I’m not.  One attendee was completely new to me.  It turned out well.  Danyelle Ferguson was bright and open and I’m glad I got to know her.  I also was able to strengthen my associations with the women I already knew.
  • Bushwhacking!  Not the ambushing kind.  The traipsing through the woods without a trail kind.  So fun.  And I found among my retreat companions someone else who enjoys it.  (I’m thinking this deserves its own post.)  Admittedly, our version was quite mild.
  • Learning new stuff about myself.  While on retreat I finished Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.  (This also merits its own post.)  I’ve been reading and pondering it for a few weeks, so introversion and extraversion has been at the front of my mind.  Being in this setting gave me a unique opportunity to consider my own temperament.  Along with this, sitting silently in a room full of tapping keys helped me understand my approach to writing better.  I am afflicted with a tendency to evaluate by comparison.  I do not hate myself because I am not like other people, but I do benefit by seeing how others function.  I discovered that while I am not a heavy plotter, neither am I a pantser.  I like to think ideas through and have a solid grasp on the general concept before I start writing.  I know the others were writing on WIPs, or at least had already completed the thinking-it-through phase, on this retreat.  I did notice during the writing exercises that included sprints, that most of them jumped in almost immediately while I burned half my time in thought.  This could be an effect of their having already established good writing habits, while I am still working on consistency.  If I write more consistently, I expect that my prep time will diminish considerably.
  • Goals.  We were “required” to set goals.  I could have bucked it, but I decided to give it a try.  You can get a little taste of my view of goals here.  I wrote a long list, knowing I would not reach them all, but hoping they would keep me focused and give me options when my attention started to wander.  I didn’t do everything on my list, but I did get some good stuff done, including establishing direction and priorities in my expectations for writing this year.  This may not have been one of the things I enjoyed most on the retreat, but it was very beneficial.

I have found over the last couple of years that taking time to attend conferences and retreats, whether in groups or on my own, is invigorating and helps me focus.  I’ve noticed that the time it takes me to disconnect from the day-to-day decreases with each purposeful getaway.  Now I need to learn how to implement that focal elasticity into everyday life.  If I never publish anything, at least these experiences are making me more thoughtful in the way I live my life and spend my time.

Have you found retreats to be beneficial to your writing or to your self-awareness?  What makes such an experience successful in your mind?

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Comments
  1. julia bernards says:

    I love your word play, Keli. BTW–what do you call a bunch of retreating rabbits? A receding hare line. (of course.)

    I loved the retreat, too, and discovering a kindred spirit. You rock.

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