Last weekend it was our writers’ group’s annual retreat. I was staying near Abersoch, found near the end of the Llyn Peninsula, in Wales. There were thirteen of us in total and we all turned up on Thursday evening fired up for three full days of writing, before departing again on Monday morning.
As regular readers of this blog will know, things have been a little chaotic recently for me, both at my part-time Diocese role and also with magazine article commissions (and another one came in while I was away – I’m not complaining, honestly!).
But I worked hard to get the pressing commitments sorted before the retreat, which meant I could do what I had been desperate to do for ages … crack on with the novel. Some writing for me.
As I write this on our last night, (yes, I’m writing this on retreat, while we’re waiting for tonight’s chefs to cook the dinner – I’m on washing up duties later), I can now look back on what I’ve achieved:
- some 5,500 words added to the novel.
- the next six scenes planned out.
- the rest of the novel structure outlined.
Taking myself away from all of my other writing and non-writing distractions has enabled me to focus. Focus on one thing. The novel.
It’s a reminder of how productive focus can be. And, strangely, even though all of my devices have had access to the Internet, my focus has been strong enough to ignore facebook, twitter, instagram, etc during most of the day.
Something else has helped me focus: accountability. When I’ve gone down to dinner in the evenings one of the first questions my fellow writer friends have asked is, “Got many words done today?”
Nobody would have said anything had I not written anything, but knowing I would be asked was enough to get me writing.
Likewise, when we come on retreat, we don’t shut ourselves away in our rooms for 24 hours at a time. Creative energy needs refreshing and re-energising. It’s important to go out for walks and get some fresh air (even if it is to the nearest beach at 10.30 at night – we call them midnight walks, but we’re getting old now so we tend to make sure we’re back by 11pm).
On Sunday morning I treated myself to a little excursion to a nearby National Trust property (Plas yn Rhiw). It’s only a small garden (with a very friendly robin), but it was so peaceful and tranquil, I sat on one of the benches and scribbled down some more scenes for my novel.
Of course, no visit to a National Trust property would be complete without a visit to the cafe, and the gluten-free Lemon and Lime cake was the perfect reward for this weekend’s efforts.
And, no, I didn’t feel guilty about having this little excursion during my retreat. Because it helped me sort out in my mind a few plot problems I was having.
So the retreat worked for me because it had focus and accountability. But I’ve also had walks on beaches (not all in the dark) and other little excursions. Focus and accountability doesn’t have to keep you chained to your desk.
But it’s worth remembering that if there’s a particular writing project that you want to move forward with, yet it just isn’t happening, think about some focus. You don’t have to run away for the weekend (although it can help). Just set aside some time when you won’t look at any other writing. Make it just one day. Tell friends on social media what you’re doing, so they all know. And then you’ll be accountable to them. They might not feel bad if you don’t do what you wanted to achieve, but you will. And that accountability can help you focus when you don’t have a specific deadline for your writing project.
But whatever you do, don’t just focus on the writing. Give yourself a break. Focus on the cake, too!