Today matters: make it count.
It is only failure if you refuse to try again.
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.
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.