January was a very busy thesis related month. It's probably the most tired I've ever been (with regards to thesis work) and it's probably the most tired I'll ever be (fingers crossed). I spent a lot of this past month writing (I've talked about my writing process in the past here) so this time I thought I'd share a little about the writing retreats I create for myself.
Unlike my academic husband, I'm more open to learning about different writing techniques and trying them out. Patrick really isn't open to these things, he has his way and even if it's not the most effective way, he'll stick to it. Though he points out that his way, as ineffective as I think it is, has got him a PhD and numerous publications. Anyway, the point being I'm happier to try new things.
A year or so ago I went to a writing retreat, it was two days long and held on campus. I didn't think it was for me, but I thought I'd give it a go. I loved it. Since then I've been creating my own little writing retreats and tweaking them as I've learnt and experienced different things. I thought I'd share some of these things with you...
1. You don't need to go away but... I do writing retreats for myself at the library or at a coffee shop - I don't do them at home or at my office. I like the change of scenery but the point is you don't need to take a trip. It helps if you can go somewhere different from your usual work space. I like to go to places where I don't have access to all my books, my data and stacks of notes. Now, you don't need to go away but if you can, it's great!
2. Getting away... it doesn't need to be expensive. And it doesn't need to be far. In January we packed up and headed to a heritage cottage in a suburb about 8km from the city. I'm smart about these things though. I booked the cottage on a deals website, so I got two nights for the price of one. It was self contained, away from the city (but not too far), on a farm and had all the mod-cons - leaving internet. Perfect.
3. The timing of the writing retreat. Because I refuse to do anything other than write at my writing retreats (no reading, no editing, no fiddling with references) I have to be on top of my material. It means I would have had to organize my reading time before hand to make sure that when I was on my retreat I knew what I needed to do. I read and created a structure (for the chapter or the essay) before the retreat. I would never schedule a retreat until I was on top of the reading and the structure.
4. Only take what you need to write with. It might only be a notebook and a pen for you. I need my laptop. Regardless of where I'm doing my retreat, I only take my laptop and a working document. I don't take books, I don't take print outs of anything - I don't take any distracting material. The writing retreat is a time to WRITE. Not a time to read. There are some exceptions, on this writing retreat, I took a folder with my interview transcripts. I was working on a findings chapter and needed to incorporate the quotes from the interviews into the chapter. But I only took a few interviews that were related to the chapter I was writing. The point here is not to take things that will distract you from what you need to write.
5. Have a plan. How long have you got? Have a plan for the whole retreat (three days in my case), plan each day and then plan each writing block (I'm not usually a planner when it comes to my writing, but I do this for my writing retreats, I feel like it helps me monitor what I've done). I took three chapters with me to work on. On the first day, I planned to only write for half the day. I focused on writing the introductions and conclusions for each chapter. Then in the evening I looked at the text I had written previously and inserted the appropriate quotes. I then revised my plan for the next. There where two sections in Chapter Five that I wanted to work on and one section in Chapter Six. In the morning I used the pomodoro technique to get me into the swing of things.
6. Have an activity to get you started. Perhaps the Pomodoro Technique. I don't use the pomodoro technique on an everyday basis but I find it helps get me into 'the zone' when I have to write on 'demand' or on 'cue'. On the morning of the second day I needed something to get me going (I'm not a morning person). I set aside a two hour writing block and did four pomodoros. The result? I wrote over 2,000 good words in two hours. By good words I mean actual sentences, well developed paragraphs and words that wouldn't need a lot of editing later. Once I had done that, I felt so good and motivated. I carried on for the rest of the day without using the pomodoro technique. It's useful to have an activity like this to get you started and then carry on in a manner that you're comfortable with. You can read more about the pomodoro technique here and here or download the book in pdf form here
8. A clear work space. Just having my laptop and a notepad and a pen really limits distractions. All I can do is write. I'm not wasting precious writing time looking up sources and I'm not sitting down and thinking I should organize my table before I write...there goes 15 minutes that I should have actually spent writing!
9. Get dressed to write. It seems like a lot of effort but I found getting dressed properly to sit and write got me in the mood. Especially if I were writing at night. Instead of having a shower and getting into my PJs, I got dressed properly and even put on some shoes. I found that I sat at the desk longer compared to when I have my PJs on - I guess the PJs signal that's it's time to sleep. I got a few extra hours of writing done at night then I normally would at home in my PJs. I make an effort to look nice (be comfortable but still look nice) even if it's just a trip to the library to write.
10. Reward yourself. After writing about 4,000 words, I actually stopped and watched a movie. After the afternoon writing session we went for a long walk. And because the writing retreat was in a beautiful location we even managed blog outfit photos (the first and second lot are here and here and there's still more to come!) I would do the same at the library, take a break and go somewhere nice for lunch. Or pull out a book you're reading for leisure/pleasure. Something that makes you happy.
Finally: I now try to work writing retreats of varying lengths and at various locations into my writing process. I have one more writing retreat in mind and then an editing retreat a little later down the line.
Have you been on a writing retreat?
Is it something that worked for you?