Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plan Your Own DIY Writing Retreat by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski

I am a Writer!
Hello and welcome to the J.Q. Rose blog. 
I invited my good friend and writing partner Nan Sanders Pokerwinski this week to share her plan for her own DIY (Do It Yourself), writing retreat. Don't we all wish we could escape and focus on our writing? Nan explains how she did it.  
Nan lives in West Michigan where she reads, writes, wanders the woods and makes collages. She's a former Detroit Free Press science writer and contributing editor at Health and Alternative Medicine magazines, with freelance articles also published in print and online media. Her journalistic work, under the byline Nancy Ross-Flanigan, has garnered awards and a Pulitzer nomination. 

Thanks, Nan, for sharing your DIY retreat with us! 
My DIY Writing Retreat by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski
Every time I open one of the writers' magazines I regularly read, I see ads or articles about writing retreats and residencies. Ten days in a rustic cabin in Denali National Park. Up to twelve weeks in "the secluded hills overlooking the Temecula Valley in southern California." Two months on a 450-acre estate in New Hampshire, with private room, studio space and meals provided. Two to four weeks at Steepletop, the former estate of Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, New York.

Ready to write.

​I imagine myself in one of these settings, free of all responsibilities, with nothing to do but write, take walks, think and write some more. What a blissful and productive existence! Then I think: Wait a minute. I live in the woods, in a relatively secluded setting. Why can't I have my own writing retreat right here? 

Responsibilities at home

​Well, for one thing, "right here" is home, and home is where bills appear in the mailbox, demanding to be paid; where laundry piles up; where groceries must be bought and meals cooked; where the telephone rings and the UPS guy knocks on the door; where household projects, hobbies and other interesting activities beckon; where I have a mate who gives me plenty of time and space to pursue my interests, but still deserves my attention.

​Still . . . what if I could take a break from at least some of those things for a whole week? How much time could I free up for writing? I decide to give it a try.
Schedule your dates
​I take a look at my calendar, find a rare week in November with no appointments or meetings, print "WRITING RETREAT" across five days and make a plan. I'll do-ahead as much as I can—laundry, grocery shopping, bill-paying—and I'll figure out quick-to-prepare meals. I can even write and lay out that week's blog installment in advance and schedule to  post automatically on the appropriate day.

Write out your goals

​I set a few goals (or at least intentions): revise and send off a chapbook-length piece I want to submit to a writing contest, finish a read-through and light revision of my memoir manuscript before starting a new round of queries, make headway (any at all) on my novel-in-progress, which has been moving slowly. Notice I don't impose any word-count goals on myself. I realize that works for some writers, and I certainly know how to crank out the pages when I need to, but I want to work more deliberately and thoughtfully during my retreat.

Yoga and exercise included in the plan

​Then some decisions to make. Besides writing, what will I do—and not do—during retreat week? Keeping up my yoga practice and exercise routines seems essential—I don't want to turn into a slug—and not only my daily regimens, but also Monday morning group practice with the Woodland Yoga Women and Friday afternoon's hike with the Wander Women, which will give me doses of social activity as well. (None of this is such a departure from what writers do at "real" retreats, some of which have hiking and yoga built in.)

​TV-watching won't be an issue—we don't have it—but I'll allow for one or two Netflix movie breaks. As for email and social media, I'll try to answer only essential emails and ignore Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. Ditto online news stories, which have been snagging my attention lately.
​So far, so good. The next decision takes some thought, though. Some years ago, I read Clarity Quest, a book about preparing for and taking a week-long mini-sabbatical. It stressed the importance of letting all the important people in your life know that you're taking time out to focus on something that matters to you. I get the rationale: announcing your plans not only serves notice, it also strengthens your resolve by making you accountable.
Don't broadcast you are planning a retreat.

​I get it in theory, but in practice I find that advertising my intentions doesn't always work the way it's supposed to. Sometimes it seems that broadcasting my unavailability makes people all the more determined to interrupt me ("I know you're busy,but ... ") and me all the more irritable when they do. So I don't talk much about my DIY retreat beforehand. I mention it in passing to my hubby Ray and a couple of friends but don't elaborate.

​The designated week arrives. How does the retreat work out? 
VerdictLike a good book, this week had a satisfying ending.
In some ways, retreat week was not so different from any other week in the writing life. Many writers put in this much time—and a lot more—week in and week out. I certainly did when I wrote for a living. Yet something did feel special and retreat-y about this week. I gave myself a time-out, granted myself permission to ignore things that normally distract me from writing, and committed to squeezing writing into as many spaces in my days as possible. 

​At the end of the week, I felt satisfied that I'd met my goals, modest as they were. Even more than fulfilling objectives, I'd discovered I can have a productive retreat without leaving home and husband. Now I know I can choose another week and repeat the process without turning my life and usual routines upside down.

​Can you? Maybe it's not writing you want to focus on, but some other passion or project that gets pushed aside by daily demands. How can you carve out a little more time to pursue it? If you create your own DIY retreat, let me know how it goes.
# # #
Thank you, Nan! If you would like the full account of her retreat, click here to go to Nan's blog, HeartWood.  Spend some time there exploring her witty and warm stories about cultivating creativity, connection and contentment wherever you are.

Writer Nancy Sanders Pokerwinski

Nan is working on a novel and a series of autobiographical collages. She is currently seeking publication of her memoir, Mango Rash: Survival Lessons in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta, excerpts of which were finalists for two literary awards

Here's the blurb for her excellent memoir, MANGO RASH:
With a mix of in-the-moment teenage sass and decades-later perspective, MANGO RASH chronicles an American girl's stumbles through two alien landscapes at once: adolescence and the remote U.S. territory of American Samoa, which was experiencing its own growing pains in the 1960s, while undergoing "modernization," American-style.

You can catch Nan online at these links:
TWITTER: @nansanpo


Joselyn Vaughn said...

A retreat sounds great. I always look at them and think I could never get away for that long. Just trying to be more intentional about writing time is good though.

emaginette said...

When I read about writer friends that have gone on retreats, they tend to write about everything they did that was not writing. I know they had fun and got some work done, and I can't help but smile.

Anna from elements of emaginette

Nick Wilford said...

This sounds like a great idea, especially as not everyone can afford a retreat. I agree that being more dedicated about writing is always good.

J.Q. Rose said...

Hi Joselyn, I know I get things written when I save an appointment in my day for writing. I always go to my doctor appts, so why not writing appts?? Thanks for stopping in.

J.Q. Rose said...

Hi Anna, sounds good to have some fun and get writing done too!!

J.Q. Rose said...

Hi Nick, Saving money by planning your own retreat is a definite perk in this plan. Thank you for stopping by.

J.Q. Rose said...

Thank you, Nan for sharing this plan. Have you used it to focus on making more of your beautiful collages?

Helena Fairfax said...

Hi JQ and Nan,
Thanks so much for sharing this idea. I've often thought how great it would be to go on a writing retreat, but never considered arranging one from home. What a great idea! I'm going to put a retreat in place this year. I'll let you know how I get on. Thanks again!

Tess Grant said...

I love writing retreats! I like to do mini-retreats and write at a local library or the coffee shop. I'm not focused enough to leave the distractions alone when I'm at home. :)

Juneta key said...

A writing retreat sounds like a luxury I'd like to experience. Great post.

J.Q. Rose said...

Yes, Helena, please let us know how it works out for you. Hmmm--a good topic for YOUR blog, I'd say.

J.Q. Rose said...

Tess--I could see a library, but I'd be distracted at a coffee shop...I'm a people watcher. Oh wait. That's where we meet for writers group. Hmmm

J.Q. Rose said...

Juneta--I hope you do get to experience a writing retreat. Grab some writer friends too. I'll come!

Marsha said...

Read this on FB, JQ and Nan and couldn't comment though I shared. Now I've tweeted. Such a great idea. I'm fortunate to live on a beautiful lake.So I don't have to go anyplace for inspiration. The key is setting aside those things you won't do during the retreat. I loved the idea that you pre-set your blog. I don't see myself being able to do a whole week, but weekends will work great. I've been very productive when I've gone someplace for a weekend of writing. Will have to schedule this soon. Thanks for the great ideas.

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