Retreat Reflections

If you’ve been following along with me as I reflect upon my personal retreat as it happens, then you will most likely have noticed a change to the ‘series’ title from ‘Notes from a Writer on Retreat’ to ‘Retreat Reflections’. 

I suppose that part of the beauty of time set aside to be creative like this is that it often organically moves beyond definition. I have had personal retreats before, and as in my blog post from a few days ago about preparing your own personal retreat, these at times have varied in their central focus or purpose. Previously, I had a ‘staycation’ which was really about rest, relaxation, exploring my surroundings, taking care of myself, general creativity, and most importantly to me, my relationship with God. 

I also once had 9 days in total, including weekends, set aside specifically for writing my novel and I was able to make progress and inhabit that creative time and space for writing. I have taken time to be still in nature, and connect with God and to seek healing and meaning to certain life experiences, as well as for the purpose of rest and relaxation. Last year, I encouraged a friend to join me on retreat as we are both very creative people, both fairly quiet and reflective in nature, and also both sisters in Christ, so we had a lot of fun exploring a variety of arts, crafts, inspiring readings, picnics in the park, a musical event all of which was underpinned by the focus of exploring and strengthening our identity in Christ and as Christian women. 

For this retreat, I really wanted to set aside time specifically to write, to work on my novel, to work on a photography project I have started, and to have the chance to reflect, work through some things, rest, relax, be strengthened and more connected with what is important to me in life, so that when the time comes to ‘re-join the world’ in a couple of days, I will feel refreshed, satisfied creatively and with a better perspective going forwards. 

I am so pleased and thankful that I set a goal to write at least 3,500 words in the first day, and I feel that this discipline really enabled me to re-engage with my novel, press through to discover certain thought processes and meanings to me, and to gain some forward momentum. As I said previously, I exceeded this target and wrote 3,720 words today. And despite a bit of struggle mid-way through, I am so glad I did. 

There was a real sense of satisfaction and rest afterwards, and I was able to put the novel writing away for the evening, and enjoy a pleasant stroll by the riverside near my home. I felt reconnected by being in the gentle sun, and feeling a fresh breeze around me, and gaining a sense of God’s unfolding purpose in my life, which also came through the writing process in discovering new ways of looking at things. I enjoyed watching the sun glisten on the water, feeling the breeze upon my skin, and taking some photos, as well as admiring a swan that was nesting, in a bundle of twigs, awaiting the time for her ‘babies’ to come. A lovely older lady came to chat with me having noticed that I was admiring the swan, as she had come to feed it, and a male swan nearby, with some bread. We chatted, enjoyed the life before us, and then moved on and went our separate ways, and the gentle ebb and flow of life continued on. 

I have a sense of rest this evening, having worked hard earlier and accomplished what I set out to do for that day. I am growing in the sense of awareness of myself in this time, and the importance of letting me settle in and simply ‘be’ and inhabit the creative space as well as take time to process certain thoughts and emotions and to grow stronger and to heal. There is a line from Max Ehrman’s prose poem, ‘Desiderata’ that advises us to ‘enjoy our achievements as well as our plans’. This also reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, where we are told that ‘to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven’. Writing helps us to realise this, but so too does rest. 

As satisfied as I am to have given myself writing goals today, I think I am in the process of deciding not to apply the same approach tomorrow, for there is a time and a season to each day, and while today’s purpose was to work, to re-engage, to accomplish, to create, I think moving forwards, the ‘purpose’ is to slow down, to savour, to inhabit the creative moments organically as they happen and as I engage with my solitude, in the Presence of my Creator, to find them, and to really truly enjoy the process. I can tend to lose focus, so I will need some sort of accountability with myself, but I think that probably won’t be in terms of word count or time spent writing as much as to just sit and write, and to connect deeply with the process and the unfolding lessons I too am learning through the developing narrative, which are life lessons that have been forming within me for some time, that I am slowly beginning to reflect upon. 

When I think of going back to work, I am aware that there are different seasons, even between and within our days and short spans of time. Knowing that this time and space is sacred and limited before returning to my usual work schedule, which has many benefits to it in and of itself, just not so much creatively, gives me a desire to really inhabit this creative space, even if that means thinking and resting rather than producing something, for creativity is of the heart and soul and mind, and often our stories are being written within us as we journey through our lives, before we even write a word.

So tonight and tomorrow I will slow down, enjoy the solitude, and allow myself to connect, with God and with myself, within this quiet space and time, which in itself is a rare and precious gift and blessing, and will let tomorrow unfold organically and uniquely just as it should. I do want to accomplish certain things, so I will keep in mind a looser ‘goal’ simply to do and to engage with writing and with my photography project, but without any pressure, or particular expectations, and allow myself to live authentically and grow through it. 

One last thing I have reflected upon that I’d like to mention before I conclude this post is the beauty of time and space that we so often seem to have ‘snatched’ from us in the busy-ness of every day life, of other people’s expectations and demands, and of even simply being around people so much, whether that be from work, friends, family, or strangers. I have tried to work into my daily life ‘mini retreats’ whether that be a walk in the park at lunchtime, slowly enjoying a hot cup of tea, or reading one of your blog posts during my lunchbreak at work. Unfortunately, however, I am only afforded ‘snippets’ of time to do such things in the ordinary busy day to day of my life, ‘as it happens to be’. Tonight, however, I am going to take my time, to savour one or more of your blog posts, to listen and hear from the person writing, who I have never met, but for some reason who I have come in contact with through this medium, and have been granted the privilege of a glimpse and an insight into your unique world, mind and life. I apologise that I rarely have the time and space to truly savour and engage my mind and heart with from other people’s blog posts – probably like a lot of us, I am able to ponder things for a few moments before having to ‘snap back’ into the real world, most likely the office work I have to do, or the tasks I have to do at home after a day at work. Perhaps today, it will be one of your blog posts I will read…and if so, I’d like to thank you for it. I will take the time to honour and engage with the insights you have allowed to traverse through space and time and come into my world. Goodnight for now, I hope that you find stillness to enjoy the space and moments you are living in right now. 

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 8

Well, it’s the final ‘writerly’ update from day 1 of my 3 day writing retreat. I’m very thankful that my prayers for this time have been answered, and I was able to push past any resistance within myself to not only reach my day’s target of writing 3,500 words of my novel, but exceeding that by 220 words to write 3,720 words.

I started well in the morning, but as the day progressed I toyed with the idea of going out for a walk or doing other things around the house while taking a break, and then I felt a bit of tiredness and resistance while sitting at the computer, but setting small goals (of writing for at least 15 minutes at a time) has helped me enormously to break down a task into manageable ‘mini writing goals’. 

I didn’t end up doing all of the other things I thought about doing, but I did reach my main aim for the time of making progress with my book, and for that I am very grateful. And once I pushed past my internal barriers, I was able to find new avenues for plot and character development as well as self expression, so all in all it has been a productive writing day. 

It is 5.20pm now, and I have been writing since late last night / early morning, so I think I will ‘down tools’ for tonight, and may even get to enjoy the rest of the day doing other things. 

Enjoy the rest of your day, whatever it finds you doing, and keep setting those small manageable goals, for each effort adds up to something bigger. 🙂 Thank you for reading. 

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 7 (Choose to use the time to meet your goal).

When is the write time? How about now. 

Well, my friends, the first few hours of this 3 day writing retreat have been a learning curve already. In my last update I wrote about finding balance when absorbing oneself in a creative project. However, I also need to qualify that with ensuring that in seeking balance we don’t forget our purpose, especially when our ‘set aside time’ is for a short duration, such as three days like mine.

I took a short break – I am now fed, watered, and a little rested. The sun is shining (which is not the most common occurrence where I live), the thought of sitting in the park or taking photos is appealing to me. I have dishes needing done, tidying up to do, exercise that I wanted to do, and my other creative projects to dip into. 

I am more than half way towards meeting my goal of 3,500 words for today. And yet…

During my short ‘down time’ while looking up writing retreat vlogs on YouTube, I came across one in which a young woman and her writer friend were on a 4 day retreat, and she failed to meet her goals, partly because she took breaks and treated herself to a refreshing visit to the nearby beach when she had only made inroads towards meeting her writing goals. She regretted not focusing on accomplishing her daily goal before treating herself to a longer leisure time. 

It got me to thinking just how important writing is to me, and how I don’t get focused time to do it often, and one of my goals / dreams since childhood has been to be a novelist, and now it is at least to write the one novel that has been birthed in my soul through some deep, painful and inspiring experiences that if I don’t write it, part of my ‘life purpose’ would have remained unfulfilled. By the grace of God I will accomplish the dream put upon my heart.

So I need to remind myself that while it is good, healthy and desirable to take breaks and find balance, the sun will shine another day, I will definitely spend time in the park again, the dishes will be washed and the house tidied and other little creative projects done, and I will find and make time to exercise and keep well. 

But for now, I will choose to honour the gift of this time and the purpose I have chosen for this time and get back to writing, and enjoying doing what I love. 

Which leads me to ask you, is there something, some dream, goal or project, however modest you might think it seems, that you would like to accomplish? And if so, are you giving it the time, care and attention you feel it deserves? Or are other distractions, priorities or tasks that can wait for another moment or another day keeping you from accomplishing your goal? 

Well, that’s my ‘post-break’ update, and as it’s 1.33pm, I am going to get back to it. 

Let’s stay on course, and accomplish our goals! 🙂

P.S. Apologies that these notes are fairly ‘rushed’ updates, I spend more time crafting the prose in my novel while here I can just share as things come to mind, and I am appreciative of that. Thanks for reading 🙂

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 6 (Finding Balance).

Quick tip: When absorbed in the creative process, don’t forget to save and back up your work – many a tearful moment will be spared if you do this. Don’t worry, I have been saving and backing up my work, but it’s always good to keep reminding ourselves of this as we go along.

As to a progress update, it is 11.35am on day 1 of this (at home) writing retreat. I have managed to complete my second stretch of writing time. My minimum is 15 minutes at a time (within an hour), and even if I write for more than this time I will still consider it as one segment of writing time. So for the second stretch, I managed to write for 30 minutes, and create some prose 446 words in length. 

As I said before, it’s not about word count, but consistency and using the time productively and being able to keep myself on track and accountable with my set aside writing time. So for interest, last night and this morning has me at 1,962 words, and an overall (10 + year) total of roughly 84, 000 words. This is because I have only been able to write sporadically over the years for short periods of time due to working full time and managing other commitments. So hopefully this set aside time will help me to progress with my novel, yet that being said, the progress of the characterisation and plot is directly linked to my own inner and outward psychological, emotional and healing journeys that are under the Sovereignty of God, so in a sense things are right on schedule! It all depends on how we look at things I suppose. 

To give myself an idea of what I should be aiming to accomplish during this three day period is quality of work, but in terms of something tangible and measurable, if I say roughly 500 words give or take for each 15 minute stretch, 7 times a day for 3 days would have me aiming towards 3,500 words per day, and 10,500 words over the total writing retreat. Perhaps this seems a little ambitious, but breaking it down into shorter more manageable ‘bursts of creativity’ and focus does help me see that it is in fact achievable, and also provides time to think, and really engage with the creative process.

So, am I on track for day 1 so far? I should be aiming towards writing at least another 1,538 words by the end of today, which does seem manageable. 

However, remember writers, as contradictory as it may at first appear, sitting down and writing for a long time can actually be quite tiring, especially if like me you have to manage health conditions such as anxiety, fatigue and low mood. Which means, a writing or any creative retreat should also be a time of ‘self care’, rest and reprocessing. Having creative time doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t at times find it challenging. The idealistic view is that you will feel rested, rejuvenated, relaxed, productive, in your creative ‘zone’ and overall it will be an amazing experience. It can be, but we need to manage our expectations and look after ourselves throughout the process. Creative writing, especially when it involves expressing a deep part of ourselves, can be challenging emotionally and mentally, as well as enriching and satisfying. 

Yet no matter how enriching the creative process is, it is worth bearing in mind that sitting at a desk or at a computer for hours at a time without a break isn’t good for anyone. So remember to stay hydrated, nourished, and take exercise and breaks so that you can enjoy your writing and creative time and not feel exhausted by it. 

As I’m reasonably ‘on track’ today, I think it is definitely time for a break – and please do give yourself permission to take breaks (but not to procrastinate or become distracted!), as this will refresh you and help you to produce a richer quality of work when you do sit down to write / create. Perhaps I shall return in a couple of hours, or maybe even later this afternoon. In the meantime, some self and home care is called for which includes exercise, a little bit of tidying up, maybe a walk in the park, some lunch, and some lighter creative activities, and a YouTube video or two and reading some of your lovely blogs for inspiration. 

Keep well on your creative journeys, as you find your own balance of inspiration and productivity. 

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 5

It’s 10.05am of day 1 of my writing retreat, and so far the morning has been reasonably productive. I have written 355 words of my novel since 9.40am, and although this may not seem much I am pleased with it, and have felt content inhabiting the time to think and to focus. So far, cumulatively since last night I have written 1,485 words. 

For me, progressing with writing my novel is not about word-count. However, that being said, I do realise the need to hold myself accountable and make sure that I use my time productively. Having taken 3 days unpaid leave from work is another additional reason for me to be disciplined with my time, and especially as focussed writing and creative time is a rare opportunity for me, other than blogging and business writing for work. I am finding that blogging in little ‘snippets’ about my retreat experience also helps me to stay focused, productive and accountable. 

I have set myself a minimum ‘target’ of writing for at least 15 minutes at a stretch within one hour, and to do this at least 7 times each day for the three days. Personally, this really is helping me as when I sit down to write, I feel a lot more focused, I am not overwhelmed by the thought that I *have* to write for an hour or several hours, and therefore, I am finding the creative process enjoyable, satisfying and productive, which really should be a central component to creativity, rather than any pressures we or others impose upon ourselves. We need to linger in our creative space and explore the internal dynamics of what it is to be human, and somehow to translate that into what we create. These relatively small targets feel very manageable at the moment, and it also frees me up to stay within the creative space while affording myself the opportunity to do other things, the variety of which I feel will help maintain the creative ‘flow’ and interest. 

As such, I know that I can intersperse writing my novel which is the focus of this creative time, with other ‘lighter’ creative projects that I have going on, including some adult colouring in and working on a photography project. Personally the variety keeps me from feeling ‘stifled’, stuck or overwhelmed. 

I wonder if you have gained insights you can share about your creative process? What works for you? What doesn’t? Does this change with circumstances and opportunities, or have you established a set pattern that helps you with both your creativity and productivity? 

For now, I will aim to write for another stretch of 15 minutes, and then take a break and do some exercise, so that my body and brain will be in ‘tip top’ condition and keeping those ‘creative juices’ flowing! 😉 

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 4

It is 8.58am, and having committed my time into the Hands of my Creator, I am ready to create, to think, ponder, imagine and write. Hopefully as the morning progresses I will settle in and continue in a creative flow. However, first….breakfast, and caffeine! 🙂 Enjoy your day, and more to come later…

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Notes from a Writer on Retreat! 3

It is morning, 8.15 am, and I have been up for around 45 minutes. Last night at around 3.30am I was able to do some more writing, which has brought me a little further along and left me feeling excited as to how things will develop for my characters. I only wrote an additional paragraph, so my word count over the past evening and early morning is a bit over 1,000 words. Thank you for reading my earlier blog posts about preparing for this writing retreat, I am encouraged to share this journey. I have been working on this book on and off for just over ten years, and it is an expression of a deep place within my soul. 

I am blessed to have this time off from work, even ‘just’ three days, to savour the creative process and take my time with things. 

This morning, the sun is shining and there is a cool, gentle and crisp breeze in the air. It often rains here, so a day like this is a gift, and I am thankful. I can hear the chatter of birdsong through my open window, and I can also hear the rush of traffic over the motorway bridge as commuters make their way to work. I am both cocooned from the world, being on the 10th floor and with my windows laced with tulle to ‘keep the world out’ but also to allow me to observe it. My view overlooks the city, but in the distance I can see hills, trees, a few fluffy clouds, and a pastel blue sky. I awoke with thoughts running through my mind of things I wanted to write, which is lovely, to have that creative flow so early on. I am ‘half ready’ if that makes sense, having prepared myself for the day and got changed into some light and comfortable clothing, but I am not ready enough to go outside. After some refreshing water, I didn’t go straight to writing, but I spent the first 40 minutes or so in prayer and worship and committing my time to God.

Music helps me to quieten myself and be still before God and the lyrics help focus my thoughts and intentions and allow God to guide my heart and purpose. 

If you are interested, this has been my morning worship playlist today. The lyrics are beautiful if you take time to listen, and the final song is really a prayer and offering to God and a request for Him to establish the work of our hands, for His glory, for without Him we can do nothing.

I also came across in my ‘reader’ feed a beautiful blog post which inspired me to reflect and I will share a link to that post below. It talks about being humble in our attitudes and what we do, in response to Christ’s humility, and God’s view of those who seem ‘less’ in the eyes of the world. This links to a central theme in my book regarding the transformation of people who have been crushed and downtrodden, to be used mightily as part of a bigger purpose. I will not give too much away, but I was pleased to see this post and the connections that God is leading me to think about. 

I recommend that if you are embarking upon a focused time of creativity to begin in quietness and reflection and inspiration, remembering the purpose of what you are doing and the reason behind it. For me, I remind myself that all I do is because of the Love and Sacrifice of my Creator, so to Him I commit this writing retreat, and trust that He will glorify His Great Name and establish the work of my hands. 

This morning’s worship playlist: 

 

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