The Benefits of Retreat

The Benefits of Retreat

Last summer my writing group visited my parents’ cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We scattered around inside and out in the mornings to work on our writing projects; in the afternoon we went on an adventure. In the evenings we talked and laughed.

What a wonderful time away in a place that demands relaxation and retooling thanks to no television and limited cell service. And how fun to spend that time with dear friends.

img_1262Last week I was on a retreat in Florida, far from Michigan’s gloomy skies. Far from the obligations of house and pets and family.

Here’s what I’m discovering about retreat.

  1. Day 1: It takes time to unwind. My first day here I’m still thinking about answering emails and texts and sending pictures and deadlines. A story I covered several years ago for a major magazine is breaking news at home and around the publishing world, but I’m not writing the first stories. It’s OK. I’ll do stories when I get home, but now I’m on retreat and beginning to wind down.
  2. Day 2: Take some down time. Today was a slow start and that’s OK. It’s OK to read and stare at the ocean. I worked—this is a writing retreat after all—but I also went out to dinner at a lovely seafood restaurant.
  3. Day 3: Face the future. I could live like this for another two weeks, but it’s my last day and I’m starting to miss my family a little. I need to address the huge writing project that looms. Remember that line in “The Devil Wears Prada” when Miranda is on her way up to her office and Stanley Tucci’s character yells, “Gird your loins!” That’s how I feel about the next three months.
  4. Home: Reenter slowly. I was gone Wednesday to Sunday. I don’t count Wednesday and Sunday as part of the retreat because of travel. Taking time to rest, relax and prepare for the days ahead is necessary. No need to rush back in immediately! Take it slow and easy for a day or two, then get back into the crazy, hectic days of deadlines, writing and caring for those around you.

I’m posting this from home and remembering the warm and sunny days, the ocean breeze, the little community I entered for three days at my 1950s-era motel. What a wonderful time away and what a fine collection of memories.

Please consider a retreat of your own. The time away is relaxing, the unstructured time is remarkable, the mind space is revealing. Enjoy!

Overhaul: Necessary for the Writing Life

Overhaul: Necessary for the Writing Life

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I’m sitting in the beautiful Icons Cafe in Alger Heights, a neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Mich., that is seeing renewal. My husband grew up in this neighborhood and his parents still live here. They have seen the small business district as a vital neighborhood hub; have seen it fall into disrepair and disuse; and now see the neighborhood attracting new business and renewed interest in its walkability and small-town feel.

The area has reinvented itself thanks to investment by local businesses and the people who choose to frequent those businesses. It takes effort and long-term thinking.

The writing life can do with the occasional overhaul as well. We can invest time in thinking through where we want to go with help from others and our own questions and honest assessments. We can invest resources in additional training via books, writers conferences or classes. Thinking through where we are and where we want to go shouldn’t be a bad thing, though it may be scary.

I’m doing some of that these days via questions like these:

  • What do I love?
  • What am I good at?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • Have I committed to doing too much?
  • How can I streamline my professional life?
  • Where do I need to adjust my priorities?

Which questions ring true for you? I’d love to hear how you have readjusted your priorities and actions to create the writing life you dream of. It’s hard for me to do and may mean some tough decisions in the future. But it’s necessary and useful. I’ll say to you what I’m saying to myself: be honest; be careful; be courageous; just do it.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy sitting in this cafe whose owners and workers have turned empty space into something usable, beautiful, and perfect for the area.