Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Joy of a Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

Fresh tulips is a favorite way to treat myself 
A friend just texted me that she is on her way to her own do-it-herself writing retreat. She rented an air b & b by the water and was happily anticipating writing for the next week. So is a self-generated retreat as good as one those that some organization awards you?

Yes, maybe better.

I have been "awarded" several lovely writing retreats across the country and even internationally (Ireland, Spain) and I have "awarded" myself many self-generated retreats as well. In recent years I have chosen the do-it-yourself type. Here's why:

1. At my own writing retreat there's no social pressure to have dinner with the group at 6:00 pm. I am my own group. If I am really working than I can simply keep going. I am not tied to a schedule. At one writing retreat I attended we were expected to show-up at the same time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It didn't leave much time for deep contemplation.

2. At my retreat, I claim the best room! Place is important to me. I love a room with a view, most preferably, of water. I can choose the exact location of where I want to be. Usually, I choose a place that's an easy day's drive from my house. I can throw everything I might need into my car (favorite pillow, coffee cup, yoga mat...) and not have to worry about airports or luggage constraints.

3. My retreat allows for no awkward social interactions. I don't have to worry about the resident on the verge of a nervous break down or listen to the resident at dinner who never stops talking (or singing or crying). This might sound a little harsh but at a residency, my only job is to write and to read and to dream. When I am on retreat by myself I usually can spare myself a good deal of drama.

4. Here I am the only one responsible for my happiness. I'll be honest, some days the writing sucks and I really just want to go back to bed. Am I wasting my day trying to get words down on paper? For every three words that I write, I cross out at least two. But there are other days when something magical happens --- and most times --- I get one day of struggle to one day of magic. I have to show-up and be present for both. It's up to me to find my own rhythm. No distractions.

5. The false gods are gone! Too many times I've heard dear writer friends lament not getting into a residency that they've set their hearts on. And the not getting in becomes symbolic of something much larger in their minds.

Yikes---that's so many different kinds of wrong. I've been part of several editorial boards for residency programs, book awards, etc. And here is the truth: The "winning" writers are luckier --- that's all! Their work matches the tastes of the readers / evaluators. I once worked with another judge who discounted all applicants that were academics (why do they need more time off for a residency was her view). The writer could have been the next Sylvia Plath but if she was an academic, nothing else mattered.

Now in my 50's I've learned that life is so horribly short. I don't want to give anyone else the power to decide if I am going to take the time and space to do my writing. No one should have that much power. My advice to you is rent a cheap hotel room in Vegas (yes, writers do this!) or find a modest beach house --- but give yourself this time out of time. A writing retreat is not a privilege as much as it is a necessity for getting deep work done.

And with winter coming, the off-season rates are here. Take a look. Right now.

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