My Self-directed Writers’ Retreat

Part of the joy of being self-employed is setting my own schedule. I’ve managed to arrange all of my nonprofit client coaching sessions on Mon-Wed, enjoy Thursday as a mutual day off with my husband, and address administrative issues and reschedules on Fridays. This allows me to focus on writing, editing, tutoring, and relaxing on Fridays and weekends. This also affords me the opportunity to NOT schedule any clients during the 5th week of any month that has a 5th weekday. I reserve these as my mini-vacations.

A few months ago, I decided to designate any 5th-week of more than one-day as a mini self-directed writers’ retreat – with the hopes of completing several works-in-progress.

July 26-31 offered one of these glorious goldmines — and I agreed to drive my sister and her daughter to California on that power road trip I wrote about. I have no regrets!

This last week – August 29-31 ran into the glorious 3-day weekend – providing almost an entire week (6 days) to focus on my writing. Visions of complete manuscripts danced through my head!

I thought today I’d share with you my progress – (or lack thereof):

Wednesday – took last steps to ‘clean up’ my space, putz around with creating lists, prioritizing efforts, and flipping through the various manuscripts and files to decide which one to work on first.

Thursday – fiddled with the formatting of one manuscript; helped a young lady from California (daughter of my sister’s friend) get from the airport and moved into her apartment (with a few hiccups); waited an extra hour for my daughter when picking her up from her internship (proud of her growth!); monitored the work of the plumber; managed about 3K steps.

rainbow-cone1.pngFriday – guided said young lady from California and her roommate on a grand tour of Chicago – amidst UGLY traffic; biked 5 miles and walked 11K steps!

Saturday – drove my daughter to her tutoring job; completed some client work that was hitting a deadline; wrote an upcoming guest blog for a fellow blogger; did a few loads of laundry; began watching a Netflix show – Season 1 (Life Sentences) – good for passing time but nothing too write home about; managed about 3 miles walking.

Sunday – drove my daughter to her tutoring job; monkeyed with my computer/printer problem while watching a few more episodes of said Netflix show; read a little; joined a high school friend I hadn’t seen in about 35 years – for lunch and drove her to the airport; managed about 3K steps.

Monday – cleaned up all of my computer files and folders; updated my professional website and set up professional blog-post drafts and editorial calendar; looked into issues between my writing blog (wordpress.com) and Mailchimp and Pinterest; last minute 2-hour tutoring session with my student; managed 10 miles on my bike.

My Insights:

My lack of writing progress has NOTHING to do with not having time!

I have completed all my summer house projects to-do-list, cleaned up and decluttered my computer files, and will take my daughter back to school this week – leaving me with NO more excuses.

I thought about what drove me to finally complete the two manuscripts I did self-publish. The first was a project my daughter and I put together after she raised butterflies for a summer. I decided to self-publish to ‘test’ the process and decided if I wanted to take that route for my future bigger projects.

Then, after about 7 drafts and 15 years fiddling with my memoir, the words of someone I’d thought of as a friend kept coming to mind. She wasn’t speaking specifically about my writing but said – “You never really get anything done. You just talk about it.” I couldn’t allow her words to crush my spirit – but felt like I needed to ‘finish’ this memoir to move on. So – without even reading it through once or asking anyone else to read it, I packed it off and sent it through CreateSpace and KDP on the 34th anniversary of my convent entrance date – and just shy of 22 years after leaving.

I’ve realized that none of my other projects have anniversaries or deadlines. I have no accountability. I need to turn inward to figure out why I am avoiding what I’ve always dreamed of. No answers yet.

Perhaps, by the time my next 5th-week writers’ retreat rolls around – October 25 – November 1 – which also happens to be the week of my 55th birthday I’ll have figured something out. And perhaps, I’ll be more productive.

Stay tuned…and please let me know if you have experienced and/or how you’ve overcome similar procrastination/avoidance issues.Β 

35 comments

  1. I am working on my first novel, which is based on the trauma I went through over the past year (and the support I received from my 6 am yoga class). I am writing it as-is, then I will go through and change all the identifying details and publish under a pseudonym. I’ve found that I write in spurts, and if I force it when I am not feeling it, it isn’t good. And due to the nature of the subject matter, I have to take lots of breaks for self-care. So in my case, there can be no deadlines.

    I once had a friend who would go to air BNB properties for her writing retreats. I think this would make focusing easier. I have to admit that I was a little jealous…

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    • Bethany – thanks for sharing your struggles with writing – I know that I can sometimes focus much better when I sit at a coffee shop rather than at home where I can be distracted by dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc. I think your novel sounds very much like my memoir — I hope that your process is as therapuetic as mine was! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  2. I love the idea of your schedule, Janet and I find that I need structure if I’m to achieve anything. Sometimes we just have to press that ‘send’ button, don’t we and then let life take it’s course. I’m a list person as well so making lists and checking them off keeps me motivated. Well done with your writing you are inspiring! Have a great week and thank you for sharing with us at #MLSTL. xx

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    • Sue – I just found your comment in spam! While I feel I get more accomplished when I make a list, I also get more frustrated when too many things interrupt my list! I’m currently waiting for a flight having dropped my daughter back at school – so the next few months should have fewer interruptions. πŸ™‚ We’ll see if that translates to progress!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m an indie author with a 4 day a week day job. I’m about to publish my 4th novel and the only way I can get my writing done is to set self-imposed deadlines – and book dates well in advance with my editor. I have a draft due to my editor for a structural look through of my 6th manuscript in just 2 weeks and am nowhere near finishing it. It’s the first time ever. I’ve realised that I’ve been using my blog, my day job, cleaning the house, baking, having a cold all as reasons why, but in honesty, it’s because I don’t know well enough what my character really wants. So she and I are sitting down later this afternoon to have a good chat.

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    • Jo – wow, how wonderful you are so prolific! I too have a sense that my obstacle with my novel is the characters – -I have far too many and I also have not pinpointed what they each want. I think I haven’t sorted out which ones story will be first. Thanks for sharing your story — I’m feeling more motivated!

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  4. When I feel I’m procrastinating on completing something, I reduce the scope or duration of my work into smaller chunks (e.g. clear one box of clutter two times a week, as opposed to all boxes in a week). Once I start tackling the small chunk and see results, I feel more motivated to continue. Look forward to your next progress update.

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    • Natalie – I’ve been wondering if it won’t be better to try making a little progress each day between now and my next writers’ retreat for that very reason — that maybe the big chunk of time felt a bit too daunting! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  5. Putting off writing…. who me? Yesterday I ended up coloring mandalas instead of dealing with editing my book. OK, I went paddle-boarding with hubby as well, and that was a lovely 2 hours. But editing the book was on the “do this today list, exclamation point”. Today, I read a basic-romance novel. Nothing mind-opening at all. And not even any steps, unless you count the 3 times to the kitchen for snacks. If I understood procrastination/avoidance, I’d really let you know!

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  6. I identify with you and everyone who commented… Let’s make a pact that who ever figures out why we procrastinate with our writing… we’ll let the rest of the group know. Deal? #MLSTL

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  7. Hi, Janet – I dearly wish that I had words of wisdom to share here — but sadly, I don’t.
    Natalie’s advice of breaking tasks into smaller chunks often is helpful for me.
    I love the idea of your Writer’s Retreats — and have a good feeling about your next one!

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    • I have been thinking about trying to focus on making small bits of progress each day rather than all at once — hopefully between now and my next ‘retreat’. Thanks so much for your vote of confidence in my next ‘retreat’. I’ll keep you posted.

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  8. This is why writing a novel has never seriously crossed my mind Janet – all that self-discipline, writing through the blocks, editing and re-editing, prioritizing, introspecting, second-guessing…..it does my head in and I leave it in the too hard basket. At least you know where you’re going and how to get there – when the time is right you’ll put your head down and tail up and produce something quite amazing I’m sure. #MLSTL πŸ™‚

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    • Leanne – thanks for your words of encouragement! I certainly agree with the ‘time is right’ idea – I’ve begun to carve out the physical time/space this summer, now I wait for the emotional/spiritual time/space to arrive. I’m ready!

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  9. Hi Janet! I can’t offer you any advice about the procrastination other than when the time is right it will happen. At least that is what I am telling myself. I too have been working on another blog-to-book compilation for the last 6 months and it isn’t any easier when most of the text is written either. When the mind, heart and soul aren’t ready, it doesn’t happen (at least for me.) There is an Al Stewart song that I love that has a line in it that says, “Nothing that’s forced can ever be right, if it doesn’t come naturally leave it.” Remembering that line always takes the pressure off me. I know I’ll get around to it when the time comes. Just not today. πŸ™‚ ~Kathy

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    • Kathy – I totally agree that the mind, heart and soul need to be ready – Your quote from Al Stewart reminds me of a post I wrote about knowing when the timing is right – when I am no longer agitated. I didn’t get frustrated with my lack of progress – which I guess is progress! Thanks for your encouragement!

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  10. Well, based on the comments here, you aren’t the only one that struggles with keeping your writing project moving forward. Include me in that group. For me it’s a fine line between waiting for the time to be right and just plunging in. One thing I have found is it helps to prime the pump. Set aside a designated time for writing–schedule it like you would an important appointment–and then sit down and write. It doesn’t have to be good. Just write anything that comes into your mind for the first 10 minutes. That may help you get warmed up for the more serious writing. Good luck!

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    • Christie – thanks for your words of encouragement. I totally get what you’re saying about setting a time in the calendar and just writing. I got the ‘calendar’ part right – hence the ‘writers’ retreat’ but then allowed too many distractions. I’m thinking I need to commit to daily practice — just like physical exercise! I’ll keep you posted…

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  11. I’ve got no new advice except to say sit down and just write every day even if it’s crap. It doesn’t matter, it’s the editing process that makes it better. But you can’t edit anything if you don’t write some crap first. After coffee, writing is the first thing I do in the morning. It’s a habit created by years of doing Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way.

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    • Jennifer – I totally here you – sit, stay, write. Hey – sounds like the title of a book! After so many years of a very regulated life, I have difficulty commiting to doing anything the same way every day. That said, I am beginning to sense a few patterns emerging for my exercise, reading, and writing. Hopefully these will settle in over the coming months….thanks for your encouragement.

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  12. Great post! I enjoyed reading it – about your progress, lack of progress, and all the things that end up taking up so much of our time. I LOVE the idea of your 5th week mini-vacation days!
    Sharing for MLSTL (and now following you so I don’t miss more of your posts!)

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  13. Have you heard of Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art? He basically states that all creatives must learn to deal with resistance (what some call writer’s block and others call procrastination). I certainly have no definitive answers but I do find his books helpful πŸ™‚

    On another note… I downloaded Surviving Sanctity and am about half-way through. It is fascinating, Janet. I’m so glad you chose to tell that portion of your story with the world.

    I’m curious, do you find fiction or non-fiction easier to write? I don’t seem to struggle nearly as much with non-fiction … but writing fiction is painstakingly slow for me.

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    • Molly – thanks so much for your suggestion on the book and for sharing your thoughts on mine. As for writing fiction vs non-fiction — I can say that I know I can write well – grammar, syntax, structure, development of a thought, etc but I’m not quite sure I can tell a good story. So, non-fiction is much easier for me.

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    • Christine,
      I tried the April Nanowrimo camp but ended up focusing on the AtoZ Challenge instead. I’d love to attempt in November. This gives me time to clean up my current plot and character messes and give time to writing instead of thinking and rethinking. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  14. You have a great schedule and seem to maintain it! I’ve had to put my next non-fiction book on hold again, thinking I had more summer days when I am not teaching to write. I did manage a couple of days but I caught up in technology issues at the university with a video program. I have a fairly rigorous schedule which includes workouts, blogging, household projects and my new love…Netflix! Apparently we have a lot in common! Every weekend I pack up an ice chest and the dogs and meet my hubby at the delta where we windsurf. No complaints, but now that I am back on campus two days a week teaching, I will get more scheduled! πŸ™‚

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