Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Writing Retreat Reflections and Advice- Day 3 (Part 1)

Summary of Approach so Far – Has it been Effective? Yes:

Well, day 3 of the retreat has arrived, and this is the final day. My approach to yesterday’s writing was not to set myself specific targets as to word count, as I did on day 1, but to focus on engaging more deeply and enjoying the creative process. Later that day I adapted my approach and set aside a time frame within which to write, but with a focus on the process and no set word count to aim for.

It turned out to be a freeing and productive approach and I have moved forwards in my writing. In case you are interested, total words written of my novel over days 1 and 2 is 6,142 words. This is something I have been working on over a number of years already, so I wasn’t starting from scratch and therefore already had a narrative and momentum in place. However, if you are approaching a retreat with the idea of producing something completely new, it is helpful to do some brainstorming before hand, to sketch out some rough ideas of what you want to focus on and write about so that you start your retreat with inspiration and not feeling at a loss as to what you are actually going to create.

As to where those words have taken me – I have been able to develop the narrative, the characterisation as well as introducing new characters. I’m happy with the quality of my writing, but I do think that I may come back to refine a few sentences at a later point. More deeply, the development of one of my protagonists, who is an expression of myself, has helped me to change the way I see myself and circumstances and potential for overcoming challenges in my own life, so that is definitely an aspect of the retreat that will stay in my heart and that I will take forwards into everyday life.

Morning of Day 3:

Taking time aside for a personal retreat, laying aside many of the usual daily distractions and everyday ‘noise’ to focus on a particular task can be very beneficial on a number of levels. However, it can also be a time when in a healing sense, difficult things can rise to the surface of our hearts, that we might be tempted to ‘stuff down’, especially during our usual busy routines. This can be challenging but also in the long term freeing if we allow ourselves to work through things to come out stronger on the other side, rather than running from them. 

Final day, anxiety, and tips for maintaining momentum once you re-enter the ‘real world’

Anxiety issues are bothering me again, but I can choose how to think and react to these unpleasant feelings. I have suffered for many years from anxiety, panic and PTSD, but I am overcoming them. That aside, in general, people may feel a sense of restlessness, anxiety and even panic when their retreat is drawing to a close. 

Suddenly you are more aware of the shortness of time, you may not have accomplished what you set out to do, you may have a mess around you to tidy and have to prepare for ‘going back’ to your everyday world and routine, and after having been safely tucked away in your own creative space without having to contend with other people’s problems, thoughts, demands or chatter, it can be a source of anxiety to conclude a retreat well.

I realise that I am partly in this state, but I have found breaking things down, and blogging the process has been entirely beneficial and productive for me, and hopefully interesting to you in considering your own retreat needs, approaches and expectations. 

To keep from feeling overwhelmed, I am just approaching each bit of the day as it comes. This morning I had breakfast, spent time in prayer, and listening to Psalm 119 online as it sometimes helps me to concentrate on the Word when hearing it audibly.

It is currently just after 10am, and I am blogging this update, while listening to calming instrumental background music to help manage the anxiety. This morning, I have new thoughts and developments that I’d like to write more about in my novel, so I may spend a little time doing that. However, I feel like I am also in a good place with it in terms of ‘next steps’ having had this concentrated writing time, as there are some details that I will need to research and this will enable me to have a task in mind for when I do go back into my day to day life and have less focussed writing time – I can leisurely look into researching certain things that I am including in some upcoming scenes for when I do get another chance to sit down and write.

It’s good to have something like that so that once you move into a busier routine when you have other commitments to balance, if that is also the case for you, then you won’t just be left feeling like your project has come to a halt. Maybe there are aspects of your book or project you can research, talk to people about, take notes, prepare ideas and so forth without actually having to write about them at that stage. That will help you keep the momentum going and allow yourself time to think and ‘mull over’ ideas for when the time comes around again for more focussed writing. 

It’s now 10.18am, and I will spend a modest amount of time writing and laying down some ideas, and points for future research, that I can explore in more depth at a later point.

Update at 11.37am: I wrote an additional 227 words of my novel this morning, and as the new concepts and scenes I have begun to introduce are a little bit ‘bigger than me’ at the moment, I will need to spend time in prayer, reading, researching, thinking and seeking wisdom as to how to develop them further. So, with those exciting challenges ahead, I am concluding the novel writing part of the retreat, having written a grand 3 day total of 6,369 words, and feeling Thankful to God.

body of water surrounded by trees
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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. 

autumn autumn leaves beautiful color
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

An insight into my home and heart…

A WordPress writing prompt I came across goes as follows:

“Explore the room you’re in as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Pretend you know nothing. What do you see? Who is the person who lives there?”

So here goes….welcome to my world….

I find myself awakening in a room that is new, curious and unfamiliar to me. I wonder where I am and how I got here, and I feel a bit like ‘Goldilocks’ inhabiting someone else’s space. You can tell a lot about a person by the things they keep, the books they read for instance. I am seated on an olive green sofa that is covered with a fresh white throw. To the left of me there are books strewn, a photo album, a notebook and a beautiful cushion with the face of a doe eyed deer, with a mix of bright and inspiring colours. What did you say? The books, oh, yes, let me see. I love the smell and feel of books. There is a particular little treasure here. It seems to have been gifted by a friend, for there is a personal note written inside. I shan’t read it…the note I mean…wouldn’t be right….don’t you think? Anyway, one is told not to judge a book by its cover, however this cover is so lovely that I can’t help but judge that the contents must be beautiful too. Let me describe it to you….it is a hard back, almost square book, just over half the size of an A4 page, nice and compact, but not small. It has a ‘dust cover’ (is that what they’re called?) with the same distinct illustration on it as the hardback cover. It is a very unique illustration, by a person named Jago. At the top is a strip of colour: purple fading into dark blue, into green, with a crescent moon in the corner, bright white shimmery stars and brown clouds that nicely lead the eye downwards into the main part of the picture which is that of a rising sun, mountains, a tiny horse galloping, three tiny pink flamingos by the water’s edge, an even tinier zebra in the distance, a little giraffe, and what looks to be an eagle soaring in the sunlight. The title of the book in beautiful brown font is: “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing!, and just underneath the flamingos is a river with two swans silhouetted, the author’s name, and then a strip of deep green giving home to a dark deep sea whale. I would not necessarily know from the cover straight away, but opening up the book it seems to be a beautifully illustrated devotional book aimed at children, but equally delightful to adults. What else? let me see….a rather hefty paperback the size of a brick….can you guess? “The Great Novels of Charles Dickens”, oh and one more: “Solitude – A neglected path to God”. Now isn’t that curious! It is no doubt a lady who lives here, the home is so very feminine, cosy and thoughtfully put together with something personal and unique, even at times ‘quirky’ in every nook and corner. There is so much to this space, modern and bright yet with beautiful wooden furniture like a tall sideboard, among other pieces. And it is so very hot in this room, the tall patio windows are open, and the gauze material billows softly with a gentle breeze. I should have told you….the view! Wherever I am, it is quite high up….ten floors up I would imagine…not up in the clouds, but I can see birds fly and swoop and soar, in the distance there are mountains and trees….but this is not the countryside…not by any means….there is a motorway bridge, and cars slice seamlessly over it, gliding home or to wherever they are going. There is a river in front, and a hotel that is lower down than this building….this is the city! and yet, I don’t feel far from the things of nature, although this is far from being away from it all, and yet, somehow this little place in the sky does feel a bit like a retreat. She has plants…flowers, three of them in little pots, gently vibrant, one is flowering yellow, the other orange and a third light pink. A violin….a bag….cherry blossom decals on the wall, a string of fairylights surrounding the windows, draped artistically over the sideboard, oh, and there’s more in the cosy kitchen area, I can just glimpse into as this is an open plan space, but she has divided the area nicely to feel like two separate spaces. I feel like there is so much to explore, so many personal treasures to discover…but perhaps I have had too much of an insight so far already…what do you think? Would you like me to investigate and explore further and tell you of what I find? There might be mysteries in this fascinating little home, like Narnia, just waiting to be discovered! ……

Daily Prompt ~ ‘Restart’.

Daily Prompt: Restart

You think it is not possible, because your mind has crowded out the possibilities.

How familiar have you grown to the familiar, the known?

Deeply etched tracks threaten to derail you.

Your engines are failing as the station ahead signals ‘Burnout’ and ‘Breakdown’.

As you hurtle past, a helpless commuter of your own life, weary, older than your frown, you catch the glimpse of an enthusiastic wave from the little hand of one transfixed, mesmerised, inspired, standing at the station platform.

Sunlight flashes in your eyes, a spark, a memory, of the familiar, the seen before

The scene before.

Who was that curious soul, young, knowing, familiar, unknown.

Was it, Is it YOU?

A sudden halt,

The threatening shudder

Of breakdown

Engine failure

Failure

You think.

Yet, in the blink of an eye,

The train rewinds,

The child at the station, inspired,

Redirects the tracks,

Points you in the direction of new thoughts,

New horizons

Destinations with

New names

Like

‘Adventure’

‘Possibilities’

‘Dreams’

‘Opportunities’

‘Positive Thoughts’

‘Enchantment’

‘Wonder’

‘Timeless’

‘Beauty’

‘Inspiration’

‘Fun’.

Effortlessly,

The train slips onto new tracks,

You are the driver and not the passenger

Of your life.

A sharp inhale, anticipation of the adventure,

You put your hand to the control,

Look up into the bright cloudless sky,

Put your Trust and Hope in that which is Greater,

Far Greater than those old, lost forgotten thoughts,

You envisage your destination,

Restart,

And begin life!

Daily Prompt ~ ‘Dim’

Inspired by the Daily Prompt word ‘dim’

I braced myself against the chill wind. I had to stop intermittently to remove hard packed chunks of snow from my boots. The snow, which I thought would simply melt from the pressure of walking, didn’t, and so the unexpected pain and nuisance slowed down what would otherwise have been a romanticised walk. 

I tried to leave a little extra time in the morning for my journey, but alas when I got to the small train station under the bridge I instantly noticed that the barrier ticket gates were all marked with red crosses. No green tick for me to pass this way today. The man at the kiosk tapped on the glass and beckoned me over. ‘Everything’s off’ he said, and apologetically indicated that there *might* be some busses going where I was headed, but he couldn’t be sure. He knew my weekly workplace destination, or at least the train stop that I travelled to, and I knew him by face, but we didn’t know each other’s names. Perhaps this was strange, but I was shy with strangers, and perhaps overly focused on my journey to work in the mornings to be able to think of much to say. I thanked him, and we exchanged goodbyes as I made my way back out into the cold. 

Everything was slower. Pedestrians walked more deliberately yet confidently through the mounds of brown white snow as they crossed roads, knowing that the cars, busses, lorries and other vehicles were merely crawling along as their drivers struggled to grip the road. The water beckoned to me. Normally I would panic, or at least give way to a measure of anxious thoughts and imaginings, but I had worked hard to get to this point, and I was proud of myself. What could I do after all? It is what it is, and everyone else was in the same position. There were no taxis at the taxi rank, and I couldn’t see any buses that were going my way, and even if there had been one or two eastward bound, I was sure that they would take so much longer than if I were to walk, and after all I had left myself an extra 10 minutes, so I might make it near enough on time. I had left my phone at work, and so I did not know what time it was, but I had a rough idea. And so the decision was made. I smiled as I watched tufts of snow fall and hang heavy from fir trees outside the hotel. This will be a beautiful walk, I told myself. Almost romantic – a time to enjoy the beauty of the inclement weather, time to think and to commune with the Creator of earth’s fascinating beauties as I went. 

And so I made my way to the riverside, leaving between me and the river a breaker of trees that did perhaps a little to shield me from the wind and the intermittent petals of snow blowing into my face and mouth. Clumps of snow gathered starkly against my dark hair, and with gloved fingers I brushed them down and picked out the clumps of cold white residue. 

Despite the resistance of the walk, I knew in my heart that I had made the right choice, for it was beautiful. Birds flew, unperturbed over the river, and a soft hazy sunlight dimly graced a picture postcard morning scene of white on green as the trees hung heavy, an almost untouched blanket of white covering the grass, and couples and friends taking pictures, throwing snowballs or holding hands as they walked. I delighted in the beauty of the morning and the gift that it was to experience this unfolding day, even as I trudged through the city, crossing roads, and on past the park. 

How much time had passed, I wondered, feeling like time itself had melted away. Perhaps half an hour, and hour, or two, who knew? I hoped that I would not be late. As I made my way tentatively and yet with an enchantment in my childlike heart, through the snow white covered park, I noticed school children laughing, trying to run, while others lay on the ground making ‘snow angels’. I could not see the path, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I reached my destination. As I passed through the park and back into the main streets I saw the clock tower in the distance, dimly as white flakes passed in front of my eyes, and as the brightness of the sun on pure white reflected back up at me. It was ten past the hour. Almost right on time, I thought. It was ok that I could not see the whole path, as long as I could see where to place my next step. I pressed on determinedly, with just a short way left to go. It had been a beautiful morning, despite the effort. A snow white beautiful morning, and a calm before the afternoon’s forecast storm. 

Daily Post ~ Dash

Daily Post ~ ‘Dash’

That one short phrase left me paralysed. I saw him emerge from the trees, at quite a distance, before (I hope) he had the chance to see me. I knew him. His stature, his gait, the way he was so absorbed in his music as he jogged through the park alongside the river, catching the breeze. It was freedom to him. His solitary pursuit, and he felt free. I could see it. I knew it. I knew him.

My face burned red as the gap between us gradually began to close. I worried that if or when he saw me he would think that I was a cliché, or a character of my own making, rather than me. My camera hung around my neck, and I fumbled with the pen and notebook in my hand. I had come here to slow down, to walk at the river’s gentle pace, to capture moments too inspiring to miss, that most of us sadly, in too much of a hurry through life, did miss. I was here to think, to ponder, but most of all, to write. This was my freedom. Did that ever really matter to him? Did he ever know me the way I knew him?

He was in his zone. I wanted to be invisible just to give me time enough to compose myself, to figure out what to do or what to say. I took a deep breath. Invisible or not, I would never be ready for this.

He spotted me. He raised his arm slightly in a friendly wave, and I could see him begin to slow his pace, turn his music down, and switch gears. He was always so much better at doing that than me. He could hide the way he felt so much more easily, and that frustrated me. Not that he could appear calm and composed, but that I could not, no matter how hard I tried. Surely he would be able to see right through me, my feigned calm, cool demeanour, to see that inside I was terribly flustered….and afraid. Part of me wanted to be an unfathomable mystery to him, composed, stoic, in complete control. Another part of me wanted him to see me just how I was, and in that to see how much he, how much all of this really meant to me, and in turn to care as much as I did. I wondered if he could.

The distance between us grew shorter and shorter, and then in a breath, he was there before me, hunched over, his hands resting on his knees, his dark hair flopping over his face, as he paused to regain his breath. As he straightened up, his smile disarmed me. He gestured that he would have hugged me but then pointed to himself and his shirt damp with sweat, as if to save me from the discomfort. I smiled, nervously. He was charming as ever, gentle, kind in the questions he asked. He did seem to focus on me, to show a genuine interest in what I was doing. The familiarity seemed to comfort us both. I could see what I couldn’t see in him before, or what I was too hurt to see, what perhaps he was trying to hide. He did care. He did see me.

For some precious moments it seemed as if time had stopped, and if nothing at all had changed between us. As we reconnected, I gently began to ask him about how he was, what was going on in his life, how he was doing. I had never seen him flustered before like this. He wiped his brow, laughed nervously, trying to hide his hurt, trying to protect himself in a way that I sensed he still wanted me to protect him from himself. Somehow, unwittingly, I had disarmed him.

He laughed again, that charming, genuine laugh, and shook it off. And then he said it. ‘It’s been so great to see you, but you know’, he paused gesturing to his sports watch, ‘I’ve really got to dash’.

I froze. I just couldn’t engage myself to speak or act. ‘Got to dash’. Was he in such a hurry to get away from me? Were we still journeying through our lives at such a different pace that even now he could not pause to take this in. Would he miss it yet again? Would I?

He paused just longer than he had intended to and I could see the hurt in his eyes. He really didn’t want to dash, but that was his way of coping, the way he thought he could be free.

And as he turned away, I let him go. Life was too important to me to live at that pace, and he knew that that held true for him too. Perhaps, in time, at a gentler pace our paths would cross once more. But in the meantime, we both had our own journeys to make.

Daily Prompt ~ ‘Passenger’

Daily Prompt – ‘Passenger’

Today’, I told myself. ‘Today will be the day’. I held this thought for a moment, then let it drift from the forefront of my mind. I wondered if I had everything that I needed. I was sure that I had checked and checked again, but still it was best to make sure, again. Papers, money, tickets, my bag. Yes, I was fine. ‘Just try to relax. Sit back. Enjoy the view. Just breathe, ok. You’ve got this’. I hoped that nobody around me could sense the pep talk I was giving myself, so I looked away, just in case.

For a while I was away from here. Perhaps it was just what I needed. The enforced rest that this journey seemed to bring. Only, it was more like an interrupted sleep. I was lost in the blur of trees and train tracks, of riverbeds and fields and animals grazing. Of city and country intermittently giving way to one another.

I tried to close my eyes for a while. Tried to sleep, or at least to rest. But I was a note in the middle of a symphony of crackling newspapers, wind whistling through the windows, conversations in unknown tongues, the sounds of coughing and the shuffling of feet, as well as metal upon metal and the rhythm of the tracks.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t rest for thinking about, imagining all the possibilities of this encounter, and it made me wonder were the people around me travelling to someone, or were they simply traveling to a new place, or perhaps an old and familiar one? Were they solitary in their pursuits, or like me, was this day, today possibly one that they had hoped for, prayed for, one in which their paths might converge or reconnect with someone else on their journey?

And as we hesitantly snatched furtive glances, passengers curious about each others journeys, I wondered were our own stories converging in ways we didn’t yet realise? I knew we weren’t here by accident. And perhaps someday, we would have the blessing of hindsight that foresight could never afford us with to see the significance of today in each others stories.

Maybe someday that would be of more importance to me. But today there was only one person I cared to meet. I checked my papers again, my bag, my ticket. It was almost my stop. I held my breath knowing that I would never feel ready, but I had to take this step. If not today then maybe it would be never. ‘Today’ I told myself. ‘Be Brave. Today’. (c).