A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary

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Say you want to write.  Say you dream of  a cabin in the woods like the one in this photo. With a little creek running through. A vegetable garden. And a writing table. No internet. No phone. A fireplace and a screened porch with a comfy bed and lots of pillows. If you looked at my Montana home, you might think my life is already pretty much like that. And if I put my house on VRBO and wrote: “Writer’s Cabin in Montana,” I would probably get some renters who are taking a break from their lives to write in just this dream I dream.

Real life houses, however, usually hold too many of our responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand our attention. And often, too many people who need us. Bottom line for me right now: my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this life and I wouldn’t wish away one drop of it. To everything there is a season, and in this season of my life I am writing three books on top of preparing my son for college, and his typical baseball rigor. Add to that the full time job of running my Haven Retreats. Enjoying a little summer in Montana on my horse and on the hiking trails would be nice too!  But how to find the time to write?

So rather than complain, or become resentful, or run myself ragged and end up flunking in every pursuit…I’ve developed a plan, and so far, it’s working. No matter what you’d do in a cabin in the woods alone this summer, regardless of what your life’s responsibilities are like…see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule (or maybe on weekends)  in the way of weaving dreams into realities, right where you are.  Some of my method might surprise you.  And what might not:  there’s a lot of writing involved. Writing grounds us, and a personal regime like this begs you to put pen to paper, and heart to words.  A personal writing retreat might just be exactly what you need, whether or not you are a writer.

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Daily: (when possible)
1) Sleep in. And I mean late. Like til 10:00. You’ll likely wake up around 7:00, but challenge yourself to stay in bed for a few more hours in a sort of wakeful trance. Eyes closed. Mindful of your breathing. Letting the thoughts come in, but not land unless they feel natural and part of the pure flow that is your true nature. Breathe into them. It’s okay if you fall asleep. You’ll probably work with those thoughts in your dream state and wake up with a clean, whole, gumption of some sort. Take this gumption and write about it. I swear, this morning meditation is where all the good ideas are.  (Of course you may have something called a “day job” or children…but at least take a day a week if at all possible, and give this morning meditation a whirl.   Consider it an essential part of your personal retreat regime.)
2) Still in bed…once those ideas come, and don’t force them, take in a deep breath, write the first line in your mind, (but not the second—trust that it will come and you’ll want to be at your writing desk when it does), grab your bathrobe, and go directly to your desk.
3) DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Not for one itty bitty second. Or God forbid, Facebook. Do not poison what must be pure, and what you have just hatched by your morning meditation.
4) Write the first line.
5) Then go make a smoothie. I have a Nutra-bullet, and I love it. I have on hand: frozen organic fruit like mango, blueberries, peaches, pineapples, coconut milk, flax seeds, fresh baby greens, and a banana. The banana makes it. It’s a green drink that tastes like heaven. Keep that one line working in you as you make your smoothie. I timed myself this morning: it took six minutes. No good idea will disappear in six minutes. You absolutely must nourish yourself.
6) With smoothie in hand, (and maybe tea or coffee as well), go back to your desk. Then give yourself two hours. At least. Two hours at your desk, writing. I repeat…do NOT go on the internet. Not for one nano-second. Even to research something for whatever it is you are writing. You do not want to end up buying boots when you are supposed to be working that meditation-hatched gumption into form!
7) Noon-ish. Now take a break. Make lunch. Sit somewhere and let go of the thoughts. Notice the world around you. Sit outside if you can. Watch birds. If your head is busy, start counting the birds you see to keep the thoughts from taking over. I’ve counted a lot of birds. Amazing what you notice when you break life down to winged things.
8) Now take a walk. This is the best way to let everything you have experienced today work through you. Something always happens when I take a walk. Allow something to happen. Maybe you come up with a new idea. Maybe you decide that what you wrote this morning is really just a warm up for something else that is more white hot inside you.
9) On your walk, if you really get cooking, try this: Interview yourself, as if you are on a national morning show like the Today Show. Ask yourself driving questions about the thing you wrote this morning. Things like: “What is your piece about?” “What’s at stake for your characters?” “What made you want to write it?” “What’s in it for the reader?” “What’s in it for you?”  Answer your questions using honed responses like you’d hear on TV. These are your talking points. Once you get them, go home as fast as you can and write them down. Or, in anticipation of this, bring along a notebook or a pad of paper. I don’t like to do that because it puts pressure on what could just be a perfectly good walk that doesn’t need to get all white hot. More of a processing walk. But mine usually run white hot. (Dirty secret: I have been interviewing myself for the Today Show since I was a little girl. That means I’ve been interviewed by Jane Pauley hundreds of times!)
10) Now return to what you wrote and read through it keeping those talking points in mind. They will be your guide in the progression of this piece, wherever it may go.
11) Or maybe you nailed it in two hours this morning and it’s ready to put on your blog, or pitch to a magazine or newspaper. But if you’re like 99.9% of the rest of us writers, you likely have more work to do. And that’s good news. Because you can control the work and just about nothing else about the writing life. With the exception of the last 10 ablutions.
NOW…plug in, do your laundry, pay your bills, go to the grocery store…
Bonus ablutions:
12) If you want to write more and you have the time, go for it! But set yourself up for completion by starting small with those two pure hours.
13) Print out what you wrote at the end of the day, draw a bath, and read it out loud to yourself with a good pen. Mark it up.
14) Start the next day the same way, only now you can meditate on the piece you started and take it further.
15) Begin by plugging in your edits from the night before and you…are…IN!
16) Have fun! In the words of Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

17) Rinse repeat…

Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness. And creating a “room of your own” right where you live is entirely possible.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

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12 Comments

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12 Responses to A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary

  1. Reading this makes me want to dive right in! Thank you for sharing your writing wisdoms!

  2. Jan Myhre

    Damn and blast! I’ve way too much on my plate. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder is the bane of my existence. I firmly resolve to kick everything to the curb except the memoir and follow your excellent path to successful daily writing. My grammar editor just gave the first draft back to me and I’m putting in the corrections in the morning. Ready or not, here I go.

  3. I love this guide to a writer’s day! Very do-able. Once a week sounds like heaven. Or is that Haven? ;-)

  4. pamela price

    My dear Laura,
    Thanks for the details of a writing day. It inspired me. I had some unspoken for time this morning and instead of cleaning out closets, I chose to write. Now if I could only find time and inspiration to do BOTH. I loved your former post on closets! I know how to do that so I think I chose wisely by practicing the writing.

  5. Dear Laura, Loved this inspiration for a DIY Writer Retreat. I’ve done it several times, have a perfect situation for it, and am launching a week of my own retreat. I structure mine a little differently, but the general idea is the same. I’m blogging about it and linking to your fine article. Thanks so much for the inspiring thoughts and ideas! ~ Best, Rachel

  6. Jennifer Revill

    Laura, this is gold. That morning meditation in bed is powerful! I do something like that already. Immediately upon waking up, I make sure my head is perfectly clear, and I wait. And something always comes in! First line of a haiku, something I need to do for a friend, an irritating koan…something. So far nothing that prompted me to write, but I have not tried to manifest that. I will see what happens when I do! Thank you for encouraging us to bring the delight of writing into our lives.

    • I’m so glad you are doing this too! Haven misses you! Love to your muse from Montana. Come back! ox Laura

      • I took the time this morning to reconnect with you and your writing. I am so glad I did. I feel like we picked up winter we left off. Love to you. Thank you for your continued support for writing-even to those of us who have allowed life to get in our way.

  7. Truly

    Your fantastic post resonated on sooooo many levels…I’m actually one week and a day into a staycation (I’m a full-time social worker), and I instinctively set my clock for 10:am a couple days ago…and, I’ve recently begun writing in my (unfolding) writing room. The writing isn’t recent…the writing room is–it has a desk and blankets for my dogs to lie on, but not much more yet. And, I instinctively knew to make a cup of tea, or a smoothie…and, after engaging in spiritual practice for 30 minutes (and that includes reading or viewing something growth-inducing, mindful breathing etc), I do write first thing in the morning…
    Anyway, enough rambling….thank you so much for the validation and inspiration…you are a light.
    Sincerely,
    Truly (that’s my name, not repetition :) )

    • Good for you, Truly! Sending great vibes to your muse from Montana! Come on a Haven Writing Retreat out here one day when your muse needs a trip to the mountains!
      yrs.
      Laura

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