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The Write Life: Scheduling a Creative Retreat

The idea of a solo writing retreat has always intrigued me. I excel at self-directed work, and I’m fairly productive while working independently, but stripping away all my distractions and responsibilities to focus on creativity felt indulgent. Or more specifically, like something other creatives were allowed to have, and I wasn’t. (Spoilers: that is a lie, creatives are allowed time and space to create.) I also wasn’t entirely convinced I wouldn’t veg out a little too much away from the pressures of my daily life. Given no other responsibilities, would I really choose to buckle down and write?

The answer to that last question is unequivocally yes, but not without a little work.

The trick to making a solo writing retreat a success is absolutely in the preparation.

In early December, as part of UCF’s MFA winter retreat, I headed to the Atlantic Center for the Arts. As I explained previously, the ACA is an artist retreat with creative studios for many different disciplines, including writing. While I was there, I had access to the Writing Studio and Library (pictured), as well as my private room and a cottage with a kitchen and dining area. It turned out that due to the retreat dates conflicting with school schedules, I was the only writer in residence the few days I was there (also pictured). Which worked out well for me! (I enjoy a dollop of solitude and writing in the quiet.)

Anything self-directed needs some, y’know, direction. So, to ensure my solo writing retreat was more than me sitting alone in a room with full autonomy and no one to blame if I didn’t do anything, I made a list of the projects I needed to work on, the projects I wanted to work on, and the status on each project.

I narrowed my focus to three projects: one I needed to work on and that required some research, one that I wanted to work on and was at the planning stage, and another that I wanted to work on and was at the drafting stage. I quickly decided to spend most of my time on the project I needed to work on, but to warm-up or cool-down on the other projects.

Once I had my focus figured out, I made a schedule for each day to determine—realistically—how much time I would have to write. I included everything on my schedule from when I would eat and shower to when I would take a break to read or walk around the campus. Because while this was a writing retreat, it was also meant to give myself time to unwind and refuel, which meant ensuring I had time each day to eat decent meals, get to bed at a reasonable hour, and read a large chunk of a book.

Creating a schedule prevented me from wasting valuable retreat time figuring out when I needed to do something. I’d already made the plan, which meant all I had to do was look at my phone to figure out what to do next. And if a writing session was going great, it was easy for me to extend a half hour and adjust my schedule to accommodate inspiration and motivation. But I never had the stress of feeling like I was running out of time to do everything I wanted because I’d already accounted for my needs and my work time.

Writing sessions were similarly easy because I’d already planned what projects I would work on during each session. It turned out that I wound up mostly working on the needed project—because once I got started, my brain latched on to it and it was easy to work on—but during my morning and evening sessions, I had the option to check in with myself and see if I felt up to the more grueling task or if I wanted to relax with something easier.

Whether you’re heading off for a writing retreat outside the home, or just planning a long weekend focused on your work, I highly recommend taking the time to prioritize and make a schedule beforehand to get the most of your specially focused creative time.

 

 

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The Write Life: Shaking Loose

Unsurprisingly, I spent the majority of my writing time and thoughts in October looking ahead to National Novel Writing Month. As a municipal liaison (that’s one of the volunteers responsible for creating events at the local level), my focus tends to be on others, rather than on myself. I spend my time scrounging up volunteers, scheduling write-ins and other motivational content for the month, promoting our events and NaNoWriMo as a whole, and encouraging everyone to prep their novels so they can put their best foot forward on November 1st!

But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for my own preparations.

Those responsibilities are collectively one reason I tend to take the rebel route during NaNoWriMo and rarely work on a single project, and never work on a new project. All the projects I tackle during the month of November tend to be an already in-progress novel or a collection of smaller works.

This year I’ll be spending time drafting new scenes and revising old ones in Gay Airship Pirates, continuing to draft a course I’m teaching in February on punk subgenres (links for that as soon as they’re live!), and bouncing around between fanfic, blog posts, and whatever other topics happen to catch my heart strings.

I have been having a lot of difficulty clearing the mental clutter of late, so I’m also going to be working on a semi-daily project where I take a prompt and write for 15 minutes. The prompts I’ll be using will be gathered from a range of places, including some resources I’ve mentioned in Writer Resources posts on Patreon (and a few I will be sharing soon). I’m hoping that engaging creativity in a multitude of ways will keep the prompting fresh and shake loose any mental blocks I’m having around creativity so that when I hit my designated noveling time, I’ll be ready to get to work.

What do you do to get yourself ready to write? Do you have any tips you want to share for anyone tackling NaNoWriMo this year?

 

 

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The Write Life: Getting Scheduled

July began with a desperate plea for help reprioritizing my life. Thankfully, my friend Jennie Jarvis stepped in to provide some structure to my internal flailing and give me a very simple method to prioritize my time and projects: does it make money or not?

I have a generous, but ultimately unhealthy habit of volunteering my time and energy in many unpaid ways. I love helping other writers—and some volunteer opportunities just sound like so much fun—so I’m not surprised I volunteer over and over and over. But when I’ve done that too often, or overlapped projects too much, I end up stretched thin, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even though I’ve been working to say “yes” less and to only volunteer when I honestly have extra time and energy, I’m still spending more time on unpaid activities than on paid activities and badly bungling my time.

Which, uh, is a problem.

So, Jennie’s earth-shattering reprioritization system is as simple as categorizing projects as to whether or not I’m getting paid for my work, and then making sure I schedule my day to spend more time on paid projects than unpaid projects. Her strategy also allows for projects that are not currently making money but should in the future, such as developing websites, podcasts, workshops, and writer tools.

Writing time on personal projects (which would be projects unrelated to paid work) is kind of a third category, since all short stories, novels, and anything else we write for traditional publication is kind of a question mark as to whether or not (or when) it will sell. I’ve been regularly dedicating an hour and a half daily to writing, so I kept that time set aside (and still sneak in five-minute chunks here and there as time and ideas allow).

Honestly, this whole process is so easy to figure out I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. (I mean, I do. It’s something about missing the forest for the trees.)

I’ve been using this new system to restructure my time and reprioritize my projects for the last month, and while I had some difficulty adjusting (and had to make some tweaks for real-world application), I’d say overall I feel more confident in my ability to keep up with my workload and more balanced in the choices I’m making. For someone who struggles so much with mental health, getting my schedule under control has been a HUGE help. So, thanks, Jennie!

If you are struggling with your projects, responsibilities, and how to prioritize your time, I recommend taking a look at your list to see if anything I’ve described here might help get your life under control.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Fresh Start December

Normally at this time of year I do an end-of-year assessment on the goals I set in January, or do some kind of wrap up to talk about what I achieved. But 2020 was so wildly unpredictable that most goals I set for myself quickly morphed, and I came to accept that writing things that made me happy was more important than anything else.

Even so, in this last month, I finally started a project I’ve been putting off all year.

The last time I re-submitted revisions on my agent pursuit, I came up with the wild idea to split my finished novel into a novella trilogy. I decided to wait through one last round for agents to respond, then a publisher’s open call, before dedicating myself to dividing the novel for self-publishing.

…And then I waited two more months because who wants to do all that extra work if you can just keep waiting???

But as I waited, I thought more about what the revision from novel to novella series would look like, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it (even if I kept procrastinating on making a mess out of something that was “done”).

In December, I finally bit the bullet, split my Scrivener file, and started outlining each part as a separate novella. The original novel structure with three distinct acts means making the initial split was easy, but work still needs to be done to establish inciting incidents for each part and ensure each book resolves a major conflict. (Also, increasing the word count overall, or else I’ll have a short story and two short novellas.)

So far, the first novella is fully mapped out, and the existing parts from the other two have been structured so I have some idea of what’s missing. I still have some planning to go before I start writing, but I’m expecting these revisions (and prepping the series for self-publishing) to be my major project through most of 2021. I’ll be launching some new tiers and rewards on Patreon to support this project, so if you’re interested in reading more about the self-publishing process or seeing previews of the work-in-progress, keep an eye out for that announcement, likely in February or early March.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.