The Solo Writing Retreat

Solo Writing RetreatAh! The idea of one solid week of writing, and nothing but writing, kept me going for months. I had booked this week away back in June, just after returning from my annual four-day retreat with my writing group. My life had been falling apart, and I had needed something to look forward to, which I did for weeks and weeks. No dogs. No job. No dealing with the divorce. Just me, my laptop, and my books. I was going to work on my novel, write several blog posts, and at least two personal essays. It is always good to have goals.

After checking out the house and unpacking, I went to the grocery store to stock up for the week. I intended to hunker down. I bought things I normally eat, like pasta, chocolate, vegetables, and things I normally didn’t, like potato chips. I got stuck in the soup aisle talking with an elderly woman about GMO food. I was itching to get started on my writing, but I couldn’t be rude. I finally got settled by 2:30 and started to write, trying to squash the rising panic about how I would be completely BY MYSELF FOR SEVEN DAYS. This surprised me. I’m an introvert. I’m happy to hang out alone. It’s a necessity really, but seven days?

I worked steadily on days two and three. My word count went up and up. I kept writing with the realization that I had hours left in the day, and I had more days stretching out in front of me. I read during lunch and took a walk before getting back to my desk. I wrote until it was time to make dinner. I stayed off Facebook. I was feeling good.

Then something happened on day four. Maybe it was the potato chips I decided were a good snack at 9:30 a.m. or the wind that sounded so ferocious outside that I had to turn up my white noise app. By lunchtime, I was so desperate for a human voice, I streamed NPR instead of reading. Then I snuck a peek at Facebook. I felt myself sliding into non-productivity and couldn’t stop myself. I questioned why I was even in this house spending time doing something I was clearly no good at. I missed my dogs. I closed my laptop, made a cup of tea, and read a few chapters in a book I brought for research. That counted, I figured.

It turned out to be a productive couple of hours. I got information that helped me with my opening scene and learned a lot about a key element to my novel – how dogs were trained in the 1920s. Things were looking up once again. I had a glass of wine with dinner.

I managed to both edit some existing work and increase my word count on day five. I stopped fretting about being by myself and fell into my own rhythm. I ate the same lunch I had been having for four days, satisfied by the routine of it all. I worked into the evening and treated myself to a movie, The Great Gatsby, the Robert Redford version, which was still like research, if you consider the time period. I went to bed full of plans for day six, my second to last day.

The wind kept me up that night. I couldn’t figure out what was making that noise that sounded like someone was on the roof. I wished my dogs were near me. Real life started to trickle in. I woke up thinking about the grocery shopping, budgeting, and laundry I’d have to do when I got back.

The words didn’t come so easily on day six, and I again asked why I was trying to write a novel in the first place. A to-do list started to formulate in my head, and it had nothing to do with my novel. I switched gears and started, then stopped, work on two essays. I stepped outside to see if a walk was a good idea on this gray day. It was still too windy. I made a cup of coffee and ate the last of my pistachios. I had to finish something other than my snacks so I started this post, which I will now finish by listing some tips on how to have a successful solo writing retreat.

Tips for a solo writing retreat:

1. Bring your own food. Eat what you are used to. The potato chips and canned soup did me in.
2. If you are used to walking your dogs four times a day continue to do so even if your dogs aren’t with you. Don’t rely on extra caffeine as your pick me up instead.
3. Have a schedule and stick to it.
4. Allow for some non-writing/non-reading time to recharge.
5. Shut off Facebook and other social media sites. I cannot stress this enough.
6. Use a white noise app or something equivalent to maintain your focus.

In case you are wondering, I did actually finish this post before I came home, and I produced over 9,000 words for my novel. I’d go solo again. Anytime.

3 comments

  1. Deborah Good

    Inspiring, Kelly. I live alone so a solo retreat is hard to justify, except if I went somewhere without wi-fi. Yikes. (A whole week? Wow.)

    BTW, I think reading (actual books, I mean) always counts.

  2. Kelly, thank you for this, especially the pragmatic points at the end. I’m in the process of developing a solo retreat program at Westport Lighthouse Writers Retreat, working on a daily schedule that makes the most of each day, and this really helps. Best of luck with your book!

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