I mentioned last week that I was headed on a writing retreat in Crested Butte to finish my book. And now I’m happy to be back. Pam RuBert said she’d like to know more about such a retreat as she writes in addition to making her art. So, Pam, let me tell you about my retreat. I think it could be a loose model for anyone who needs to finish any big creative project.
First, I made this up. I didn't read about retreats anywhere, so I don't know if my way is the “right way,” but it worked for me. I had gone to the exact same place more than 10 years ago when I had three or four essays due for museum catalogs and other publications. At that time, I drove from Oklahoma to Crested Butte to write. I must have snagged a laptop from the museum as I didn’t have one of my own at the time. Or was I writing (gasp!) in longhand? In any event, I got the essays done and it was a success.
With my deadline (Wed., July 25 is D-Day) looming, I decided last month that I would clear the calendar and go off alone to put the finishing touches on my book. This was a clear boundary. I had my online classes to check in with and occasional emails from clients, but I did not schedule phone appointments or check voicemail. (I’m really bad about the latter anyway.)
This family house in Crested Butte is old. Very old. It’s so old that there is either a lot of cleaning and fixing up to do while you’re there or so much that you are overwhelmed at the prospect and choose to accept your surroundings as they are. I chose the latter.
I didn’t have daily goals like “I have to work on the book for 5 hours.” I went with my moods and natural rhythms. Arriving on Saturday night, I put in a couple of hours before going to bed and I think just 3-4 hours on Sunday. I took a number of naps and stayed up late. I had no cats to wake me up in the morning and no husband around to feel guilty about ignoring. (I sent said hubby flowers on Monday to thank him for his support and loving me enough to let me flee when I need to.)
In total, I was there four full days. Monday (which was a godsend–a rest day for the Tour de France and, therefore, no TV in the morning) and Wednesday were my most productive days. Without a doubt, those two days made it worth the trip. I accomplished what I went there for.
These were the things I felt were important for the success of my retreat:
- The boundaries I set before going. Next time I will even delay my classes a week so that I don’t have to worry about them.
- The support of my husband.
- Being in a new environment–different surroundings. And yet they were familiar. I know the town and sites. I didn't feel like I had to play tourist and visit all of the stores or see everything. (This last sentence, I think, is critical.)
- Tea. More tea.
- Having dial-up only. I had the coffee shop around the corner for high-speed access in an emergency, but I only used it once. A slower Internet connection meant more focused time offline.
- Being responsible for relatively few household chores. I painted the front door (as I had promised my parents I’d do) and swept the sidewalk, but few other responsibilities. I mostly did these chores as breaks in my computer/thinking time. They honestly re-energized me.
I had to do it during the Tour de France, but this was hard. I feel compelled to watch the live coverage of the Tour first thing in the morning. This isn’t the best way to start a creative day. If given the choice, I would schedule it at a different time during the year.
I'd love to hear about other creative retreats and how they work for you.