Earlier this week I went on a writing retreat. It was held at an abbey. A monk-ery. With most people, it would have been a 6-hour car trip, but we managed to make it in 13 hours. (I picked up two writing friends, then swung by and picked up my daughter and granddaughter. Using a shoehorn, everyone was wedged into the car, and in Kansas City we stopped and had lunch. Then, we met up with my son, and my daughter and grandbaby left with him. The three of us who remained headed to a grocery store in St. Joseph--a town that was on the way to Conception, Missouri. It was the stinkiest store I've ever encountered. After quickly exiting, we found a different (and better-smelling) store. We then made our way to Conception.
Some time to write. Some time in a different place, with a different routine, which often makes a big impact on writing. Some time that's full of nothing but quiet and blank pages (or a blank screen).
As I wrote, I took occasional breaks to read. I also went on some short walks. As the time passed, I thought about what makes--for me--a productive writing retreat.
Begin the day with something bright. I did some reading (a John Irving novel) that jumpstarted my creative juices.
Don't bring too much baggage with you. (I only brought this small bag because it was five people--and one was in a booster seat--in a Prius. Since we were wedged in like Europeans, I also packed like a European--lightly--and everyone smoked thin French cigarettes on the way to keep with the theme...even my seven-year old granddaughter.) Leave your self-doubts and your destructive inner critic at home.
Be aware of the "extra" things you need. Research material. Post-its. Hand-written first drafts. Be sure to bring what you require in order to keep the writing flowing. (I only ate half of the box of Cheezits. I swear. The rest I gave to a grateful son, who has two hollow legs.)
Surround yourself with inspiration. Bring something great to read, so you can take an occasional break from writing. (The abbey has a huge library--three floors of books--and although most are academic-type books, I did find a good-sized section of novels and poetry books.)
Be prepared for changes. You may go on the retreat with certain goals in mind, but things might change, and you have to be flexible. (There are lots of farms in the area that "grow" electricity instead of corn. If you've never stood right under one of these giant windmills and embraced it, you should. It's quite an experience.)
Stay grounded. Don't set goals that are too lofty and also avoid setting goals that are unattainable. (I originally planned on revising a manuscript, but that wasn't possible, so I worked on a couple of submissions for an anthology. This is the front of the church at the abbey.)
The trip back only took ten hours--a record-breaking time. (We stopped at Half-Price Books in Kansas City--a huge used book store--and shopped for a couple of hours, and then had a late lunch before heading back to St. Louis.)
What are some of your favorite places to write--or some of your favorite retreat spots--and why are they ideal for you as a writer?