Tuesday, June 25, 2019

creating the weekend writing retreat

I'm not the sort of person who travels well.  For one thing, there is always a shortage of money, and its sibling, time (I have limited vacation hours used for other purposes and mostly get stir crazy anyway if I am away from my home more than 3 days or so.)  Thankfully, I am able to live alone (except for a few cats) so the distractions I have at home are not other people or kids, but more so unfinished housework, the internet, random errands that eat up my day.

Over the past few years, I've gotten highly proprietary about weekend time, and unless it can't be avoided, I rarely schedule or make plans for these days.  I spend all week working, either at the library or in the studio, so also  try to any social things during that time, whether spending time with friends or my boyfriend,  errand running, etc. During the academic year n the library, we switch off weekend duty, and so I try to cluster mine together as much as I can.   Summer weekends however, except for a handful of trips to Rockford, are my own.

Over the past couple summers, , I've been working in increments on perfecting my own little mini-retreats. Some weekends are more successful than others.  Some end with something to show for it, others not so much.  Sometimes I sleep way too much and binge watch Netflix and get very little art or writing-wise done. Some weekends still end up devoted to too much household work like laundry and dishes if I haven't had the energy to do these tasks during the week when I get home at night.  Occasionally a sudden social or work thing will pop up that interferes.

It's an imperfect pursuit, but I am working toward something good, the perfect writing weekend, so I thought I would share my notes.

{The What}

Perhaps the first thing is to figure what you need and what you hope to accomplish.  Sometimes, I devote weekends to editing or spending time with a certain project--more time than my daily writing allows. Sometimes, I need to plot out something new, or do more research, or compile research I've already done.  Sometimes they are generative, in which case I turn to spending that time with inspirational sources or just thinking about a certain idea..

{The When}

Weekends are a good stretch, but if you have the option, you can always  take longer.  There is a certain unwind and wind period that benefits from a bit longer or a stretch if you can swing it.  Sometimes, it's catch as catch can, so any weekend you can make it happen works, ideally cleared from all the detritus. Two days is actually a lot, especially if you begin your wind down time on Friday night (making plans, schedules, preparations, disconnecting) and get up Saturday raring to go.

{The Who}

Many writers love involving other writers & artists and working toward the synergy of something like larger retreats or colonies. There are many things to be gained here--comraderie, accountability, other people sharing in your work.  I think there is room for both those sorts of retreats that involve others and the benefits of solitude, so maybe you can aiming for a mix of both.  Simply doing things like having lunch or dinner with other writers, or going to a reading or book club or workshop can satisfy the need for these things while still granting you some alone time during your weekend.

{The Where}

I like working at home, but if you don't have the gift of solitude, other places can also work.  Housesitting, cheap hotel rooms, vacation rentals.  If you can't leave home, but would prefer to work elsewhere, there are other options that offer an escape from home, but the ability to go back as needed.  Coffeeshops, bookstores, and of course, libraries.  Anywhere with work spaces, staff that don't mind you lingering,   and maybe coffee or tea readily accessible.  I managed edits on my first book an entire summer sitting for a couple hours nightly in the cafe at a Barnes & Noble downtown (my sister was staying with me during that time, and we always were having too much fun at home,  so I needed somewhere I could work without distracttions)   So anywhere that meets a few requirements can work.

{The How?}

Ideally , wherever you wind up, clearing yourself of other obligations is key.   Ideally, you will amass beforehand everything you might need during--food (simple or already prepared food is good, takeway of you can afford it, or you might want to make your own meals as part of your daily routine,)  Just make sure there's no need to go shopping and that everything is there at your fingertips.This is not to say outings are strictly forbidden, but aim to have outings be condusive to artmaking--go for walks, or picnics, or to readings, performances, museums with the intention that they will feed your creative impulses.

Prepare by having other things you need close at hand--pens, papers, supplies.  Materials that inspire-books, podcasts, movies (a friend swears that she loves to stream horror movies in the background while she's drawing and working on projects).  I like to do some reading, both with craft in mind and totally escapist, which helps me connect to work that is not my own. Read interviews and features on other wirters and related materials. Look at art that inspires you. Since my process is both written and visual, I vascillate back and forth between mediums sometimes.

I like to start the day by looking at some older work and reconnect with it.  Sometimes, the world passes so fast and once something is published, it's near forgotten and on to the next thing.  Reconnecting helps me see where I've been and where I might want to go. It also helps, even in fallow periods to remind myself that I have put something into the world and I will yet again.   Even re-reading an old chap or poems online from years ago can be valuable for this reconnection.  This weekend, for example, I spent some time with my very first chapbook, The Archaeologists Daughter and how foreign, yet prescient some of those poems seem nearly two decades later.

It also might be helpful to think bout how much you like structures and schedules.  Do you have a goal of pages?  Of time spent? Is it more free-form?  Can you unplug completely or do you find things like the internet useful to your process.  In which case adjust accordingly.  Do you prefer dogged pursuit or a whatever- happens happens approach?  Both can work and your goals and process will determine which is appropriate for your needs. I allow for sleeping in and ample napping since those things help me be more productive when I am awake, and then usually work into the night.  But you might be an early riser who prefers to be up and productive before the rest of the world wakes up. Figure out what works for you.

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