Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 2

Well, my friends, I have successfully traversed from Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning. It is currently 12.07am, and as such my ‘official’ set aside retreat time has started. 

I was able to settle in on Sunday night and do a bit of re-reading of the last section of my novel. This was followed by distraction and procrastination by way of looking up vlogs on YouTube from other people who have been on writing retreats. I haven’t actually ‘gone’ anywhere, I’m being cosy and reclusive in my own home, but I have taken time out specifically to write. 

Procrastination was followed by cups of tea, a snack, cooking and eating pasta (with fried mushrooms, sweetcorn and red pesto) for dinner, and more re-reading. I finally got caught up with reading the last section of my book, and was able to settle down to write. 

I managed to write 528 words, and reach a significant point of development with one of my characters, introduce a new character and establish an unexpected and new part of the plot. 

It was a little emotional to read over some of what I had written, but these new developments see some positive changes, so I am excited to see where it all leads tomorrow (or, I should say ‘today’ as it is now technically the very early hours of Monday morning). 

I am pretty tired now, so this may be a bit incoherent, and apologies if so! 🙂 

I think I shall settle in, have a hot chocolate and wind down, and maybe watch something or do something creative before I go to sleep. 

Lesson from this note are if you are going to have a creative retreat, make sure you have snacks, caffeine, inspiration and focus – and most of all enjoy doing and creating what you love. 

Goodnight …thanks for reading. 🙂 

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 1.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I am taking a few days out of my work schedule to continue writing my novel. I’m ‘on retreat’ in my own home, and although the days I set aside for this are Monday to Wednesday, this Sunday evening I have been settling down to re-read the most recent portion of my book and to reengage with it.

This is my first novel, and it comes from the deepest part of me. I am also writing a light-hearted piece of fiction, but that is really just an imaginative journey with fictional characters, whereas the novel that has been birthed in me through painful experiences, hurt, perseverance, faith and hope is what is most important to me out of anything I am writing.

Coming from this place, my notes to you (Hello world! 🙂 It’s nice to not have to be a complete recluse on retreat and still have some semblance of contact and connection with the outside world) are that writing is more than creating sentences from finely chosen words to create meaning and story. It is SO much more. For me it is an expression of my soul, a cathartic journey, a making sense of traumatic experience through allegory and story, a process of growth through gaining insights into the human condition, mind, psychology and heart, and an expression of praise and worship to my Creator, and a hopeful offering that something of my soul’s journey will touch and help someone else someday. 

There is depth to such writing, when we write from our hearts, that goes beyond prose on a page or a screen. I have felt so reengaged with what I have written, and also quite emotionally touched by it too. This is perhaps why we ‘creative types’ need time, space and solitude to assimilate and allow what is within us to take shape and find an expression to share with the world. Part of writing is sharing an intimate glimpse of your soul, and even though nobody is reading my novel except myself, there is still power in this process. 

It is hard to grasp the wonder and necessity of creativity in our lives, especially in a fast paced world that does not allow us the time for lessons to simmer within us and for us to more fully process, be changed by, overcome and experience growth through our life’s experiences. And yet there is power in authentic creativity. I know you have something unique to share with the world, even if it takes time, many that have gone before us spent their lives crafting something that would only be completed, acknowledged or understood after their time on earth. Yet, isn’t our human experience so much more than fast paced ‘clicks’, ‘views’ and ‘likes’? Take time to develop your craft, and to share that unique part of yourself with the world in a way that allows you the opportunity to authentically experience the lesson for yourself, and then in some small part share a glimmer of that deep humanity with the world. 

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You have to start somewhere…

I’m sure you’ve said it at some point in your life: “The view from the top was amazing!”. But how did you know? You climbed that steep staircase, you took on that mountain, you put feet to your vision and you did something to get there.

At the top, you took a moment to steady yourself. You looked down from where you came, and then ….then you saw the view that took your breath away. The view that touched you and changed something within you. And that experience meant the person who descended those heights was different, more alive, than the same one who had only just embarked upon the journey.

You know what I mean, right? There was a time when that experience was a distant dream, an unreachable horizon, and then the dream became a vision, the vision a plan, and eventually the plan became action. You enjoyed the view that changed part of you for the better, because you took action…you did something about it, you took the first step.

And you did it again, you took on a new adventure, you pursued and reached that next goal, you wrote that next blog post….and all because you started somewhere.

Whatever it is that seems out of your reach and a distant dream….how does it compare to the dreams that you have turned into visions, plans and eventually accomplishments before?

You have accomplished so much in your life already, that you tend to forget. You become a little ‘short-sighted’ and uncertain about the road, or mountain ahead of you. But is that dream, really an impossible dream? Did the views that became part of your life’s journey and experience not begin with that first step?

What is that hope, dream, plan that you are thinking of today? Just take the first step. Start at the bottom, everyone has to start somewhere, and keep going, and once you reach the top, tell other people how incredible it is, inspire them, and keep believing, dreaming and achieving, helping others up on the way.

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Writing Retreat

Following on from my recent blog post from a few days ago, on Planning a Personal Retreat, which you can read here: https://livingfully2017.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/planning-a-personal-retreat/ 

I am embarking upon a three day writing retreat. 

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Ok, so I’m not actually going to be staying in a cute and cosy log cabin in the woods, but I did feel that in line with my teenage dreams from years ago a picture of a log cabin was a necessity – don’t you agree? 🙂

As per my earlier post on planning a retreat, I have carved out some space and time for myself to focus on a couple of projects that are important to me. I am fortunate enough to live alone and have a cosy flat which affords me the opportunity for creativity and solitude. I have also taken three days off work so that I can focus more seriously on my writing, and also intersperse that with a couple of other creative projects, and taking that time off means that I have given myself a sense of accountability to use it well. I had tried to plan working writing time into my after work time in the evenings and at weekends. However, this didn’t quite work for me. There would be days when I’d feel particularly productive, creative and motivated and I could use the time well, but on the whole that plan and intention just seemed to slip by the wayside. After work I’d come home and would have to organise dinner (however quick and simple that might be for a bachelorette! 🙂 ) but I’d also want to use the time just to unwind, or on a good day maybe go for a walk or do some exercise inside, and of course I’d get caught up in frittering away my time online. Additionally on one night of the week I’d attend a Bible study and prayer group, and throughout the week I’d also make time to pray, so really the writing after work plan wasn’t fitting in with my lifestyle and concentration levels after work. I have in the past taken time off, 5 days I think which in addition to the weekends gave me a lovely 9 day stretch of time to focus on working on my book. I don’t know about you with your creative or other pursuits, but I feel that with creative projects you can’t merely schedule in a little bit of time every day to really do your best work. Blogging helps me to write regularly, and it doesn’t require the same amount of emotional and mental concentration as writing my novel does, but it is so helpful in keeping up the practice of writing on a reasonably regular basis (although I apologise for the times when I seem to go ‘AWOL’ due to life getting busy). I also write regularly as a part of my role at work doing policy and research work, but that involves formal business writing, which although I am quite proficient in, for the most part it isn’t such a passionate affair for me as creative writing is. 

For me, setting aside focused creative writing time involves a build up and a cool down in a sense. The build up, or preparatory time is moving out of the zone of my Monday to Friday work schedule and easing myself into a more creative ‘space’. Over the past few days, since Thursday (it is Sunday as I write this) I have been gently easing into this by blogging about preparing a personal retreat, and then getting my home organized a bit so that I won’t be overly distracted by pending housework (although there is still some stuff needing done, but isn’t there always? It’s important to have some set aside tidy space to be creative, but at the same time to ensure we use the time fully even if that means we need to attend to other less pressing ‘chores’ in other rooms at a future time. Boundaries need to be drawn around our set aside time so that we can pursue our dreams and not lose them in the midst of the day to day of our lives). I also spent some time sitting quietly with my thoughts, processing some emotions including difficult ones, and I have been spending time in prayer and resting, walking outside and engaging again in adult colouring in. These things may seem unrelated to the task at hand, but it sometimes takes a little time to allow our minds to inhabit a focused creative space to engage more fully in a specific project. 

However, I also realise the importance of not allowing ‘preparation’ – both internal and external – to become a distraction from what I actually want to use the time for. And it can so easily become a distraction, because for some strange reason we can tend to find reasons to not focus on the things in life we love to do and create. 

So, all in all, this blog post is me giving myself a bit of accountability by sharing it with you. This is ‘life as it happens to be’ for me right now, and you are all an important part of that journey. So hopefully this will allow me to move more determinedly out of the preparation space and into inhabiting a focused creative space. I may or may not leave my home over the next three days, we’ll see, and hopefully if you don’t see much from me on my blog over the next few days that will mean I am being productive and creative elsewhere, and will have more to share with you on my ‘return’. If however, you do see more of me here, feel free to give me a sharp reminder to stay focused and stop procrastinating, and get back to it! 🙂 

So, over to you  – do you have any creative projects or ventures planned this year? I wish you all the very best with them, and with your reading and blogging. xx

 

  • Writing Goals: For the sake of keeping myself accountable, I think I should specify some writing goals to achieve during my time. As much as I’d love to say my goal is to write for, say 8 hours a day for the next three and a half days, that may be a little unrealistic and discouraging if I don’t meet that. It takes time to read over what I have already been working on (for the past several years!) and quality is important, not just quantity of time or words. So instead, I’ll set a minimum standard and aim for writing (not including re-reading time) at least 15 minutes every hour for a minimum of 7 sessions a day. I hope and intend to write for a few hours at a time, but at least this way I am not adding extra pressure to myself during the creative process, but am setting goals and boundaries to ensure that I don’t just fritter away my time and not get anything done. Here goes….wish me well 🙂 x

Do you keep (mentally) fit?

It’s easy enough to talk about physical fitness. Even if people have issues around their health, weight, diet, conditions or lifestyle, there is such an open platform to talk about bettering ourselves physically. There is no shortage of diet plans, exercise programmes and encouragement to keep fit, physically. For people who have never exercised, there are initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5k’, there is a lot of talk about nutrition, vegan diets, making sure you get your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, keeping active and training physically to look and feel your best. So, even if one isn’t particularly fit, there are plenty of resources available to help them to make changes and talking about fitness is seen as a positive thing in most cases. 

But what about mental fitness? We train our bodies, but do we train our minds? Do we make sure we get enough mental rest and exercise, and linked to physical health, do we supply ourselves with the correct nutrition, fresh air and exercise to help us to stay mentally well? Mental health is often viewed negatively, or as a ‘problem’, and even with things being more open nowadays, there are still societal taboos around talking about mental health. However, just as everyone has physical health that can be either good or poor, so too does everyone have mental health – which can be generally good, bad or variable.

Do you think of your mind in this way? Just as you would exercise your muscles to keep in good condition, do you also explore what are the best ways for you to exercise your mind, to stay mentally fit and healthy or to recover from ‘injury’? 

Chances are that most of us know that we need to pay attention to our mental health, but aside from seeking professional help, we don’t really know how. Staying mentally fit and looking after your mental health does not only apply to people with conditions, such as myself, like depression, anxiety and C-PTSD. Even if you have no diagnosable mental health conditions, you still have a mind, and you need to keep it healthy. What the mind is, is a more nebulous topic for discussion, but the way we think affects almost every aspect of our lives, including our physical health. 

Of course, seek professional help and support for mental health conditions or ‘mental illness’. But even if you consider yourself to be ‘fine’ mentally, you still need to stay in training on a daily basis. This doesn’t simply mean ‘brain training’ or doing things to improve your cognitive abilities, it also means giving your mind what it needs. 

So what are some of the things your mind needs to stay healthy?

  • Rest – just as our physical bodies need rest, we also need to rest our minds in order to stay well and to help process the multitude of information that we encounter on a daily basis. As well as good sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise, our minds also benefit when we take time just to be still, and if you like to ‘meditate’ and allow yourself to be quiet for a while, free from distraction, noise, busyness, technology and external input. You might like to meditate on a Truth, a verse from scripture, or simply try to rest and allow your thoughts to come and go and settle.

 

  • Journaling  – our thoughts and emotions are intricately linked. Expressing ourselves through writing can be very helpful to externalise difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way, and can also help us to identify what we are thinking, how we ‘talk to ourselves’ in our minds, and to see whether we have any particular negative thought patterns that we need to address.

 

  • Talking – our minds process information received in a variety of ways, and this includes through narrative and through verbalising and sharing our thoughts with someone else. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other ‘talk therapies’ can be so beneficial for addressing thoughts, and the consequent feelings, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that result. Talking helps us to process our thoughts, put them in some sort of order, as well as receiving input from someone else who might be able to provide a healthy perspective or to offer constructive advice.

 

  • Close some ‘tabs’ – we live in an age of information, and just as technology can suffer from information overload, so too can our minds. We seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to ‘switch off’ and to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and apply all of our focus, energy and attention to that thing. Some of the most satisfying times spent whether at work, playing sport, or doing something creative, occur during ‘flow states’, when we are so absorbed in what we are doing, that time seems to pass effortlessly, we are fully engaged in what we are doing, are present and cease to worry as much about the past, or the future. If our minds are constantly having to flit from one ‘tab’ to the next, and if we have to filter and process several pieces of information at once, then we really aren’t allowing our minds the chance to get fit, strong and healthy. When you workout in the gym, you don’t hop from one machine to another and back again every few seconds. If you did, you probably wouldn’t stick at it very long, and wouldn’t be in great shape as you wouldn’t have allowed your muscles to train. Just as with physical training you require focus and planning, similarly with mental agility you need to exercise particular thought processes in order to form and strengthen healthy patterns of thinking, and behaviour. ‘Closing tabs’ doesn’t just mean on your computer, but also on your ‘to do’ lists, and minimising noise, distraction, and sensory input. Let your mind have the chance to rest and grow strong.

 

  • Be grateful  – our mental agility will increase as we intentionally practice looking at situations in a healthy way, and learning to problem solve and identify opportunities rather than just problems or barriers. Gratitude helps us emotionally, physically and mentally to stay well.

 

  • Create and play – engage your mind positively through creativity, and allow yourself to participate in an activity rather than passively absorbing information. You could colour, draw, paint, do a puzzle, word-search or crossword, play chess, play an instrument, design something from scratch, write a story, make a puppet, invent something, and so the list of endless possibilities goes on. Exercise your mind to not only take in information but to assimilate information, create new ideas and to engage actively in what you are doing in the present.

 

  • Read a book – reading stimulates the imagination, engages our thinking, provides a single point of focus for our ideas rather than the multitude of articles, clips, videos, images and posts that pop up on social media to vie for our attention.

 

There will be many more things you can do daily to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing, and if you have any ideas to share and inspire others please do comment. We cannot neglect the need to keep our minds fit and healthy. For without healthy minds, what good will healthy bodies do? xx

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