St. Peter's Abbey, Muenster SK
The short of it:
A cookie stuffed author explains why going on a writing retreat is so very helpful to writing.
The long of it:
Recently, I went on a four-day retreat to St. Peter's Abbey. There were eight other writers participating in this escape from the world (or should I say escape into other worlds?). The abbey is in the middle of the prairie in Saskatchewan (which is in the middlish part of Canada). And there are cookies. Did I mention the cookies? It may seem odd that a full-time writer needs to get away, but sometimes it's necessary. Here are the five reasons why it's important to go on a retreat.
1. Clear Your Cluttered Mind
The human brain collects tweets, Facebook posts, and Hollywood star "facts" like lint. Sometimes you need to shake all of that lint off. Going to a different place allows you to concentrate on That Which Should Be Really Important Right Now: your writing.
2. To Have Someone Else Look After You
Napoleon used to say, "an army marches on its stomach." But the truth is writers also write on their stomachs. In other words: we need to eat in order to write. And a retreat centre is there to feed your body. For example: at St. Peter's Abbey the meals are served at 8AM, 12PM & 5:30 PM. You walk down to the dining room, fill your plate, eat & return to your room to write or read more. My only worry was whether or not I might trip on the stairs in my hurry to get to the dining room. Of course, I highly recommend having scintillating talk with your fellow attendees during meal time. It's like dessert for the brain.
3. Get Away From Everything & Everyone
Children are lovely. They make noise. Wives and husbands are lovely. They make lists. Lists get in the way of writing. By the time you've cut the lawn and cleaned the bunions you may not have energy to write. At a retreat no one asks you to cut the lawn (unless you're at a lawnmower's retreat). Your brain and your time become your own.
4. Get Something Done
The great gift of a retreat is that there are giant big blocks of time to devote to your writing. Time to think slowly. Time to dive right into that project with your brain firing on all six cylinders. One of the advantages of being with a group of writers is it felt as if I had joined a hive of creativity. A quiet one, since there wasn't any noise in the halls other than the occasional tick tick tap of computer keyboards. But I knew they were working. So I wanted to do the same.
5. Get Something Done
Did I mention this twice? Yes, it's that important. And getting something "done" doesn't necessarily mean writing 20,000 words in three days. It's more about getting all those proverbial ducks in a row so that when real life comes knocking you are ready to concentrate. I went with two goals in mind: an outline for a project and a head start on a rewrite of a fantasy novel. That uninterrupted time meant that I could figure out that the outline was going nowhere, so I just dove into starting the novel and then took the time to think clearly about my goals for the fantasy novel. The energy I gained from the retreat is carrying me deeper into these projects now that I'm back in real life.
Oh, and did I mention the cookies?