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Mini-Retreats: Practical, Helpful, and Oh-So-Cute

Writer's retreat.

Did those words cause your arms to break out in goosebumps? Is there anything more heavenly than the thought of you, your notebook or laptop, and a quiet, serene place to write for hours and days on end?

This is how some writer's do it – do not call, do not email, do not tweet, I am writing with a boiling fury for the next six days and on the seventh I shall rest with a finished manuscript as my pillow.

That's an awesome way to do it. Of course, not all of us have the means to facilitate that kind of retreat.

Last October, I had a fun idea for a novel. I sat down and got out the first 1,500 words in one session and felt pretty pleased...until I looked at the progress meter. It's always frustrating when, once again, you realize just how much it takes to get a first draft done.

I was in the middle of some pretty major life and job transitions, and hammering out 1-2k a day wasn't at the top of my list of priorities. So instead, I did nothing for about a week.

Then I realized – if I'd sat down for 30 minutes and written about 250 words a day...hey! I'd be pretty close to 2,000, and 3,500 total at the end of the week instead. Not too shabby, and certainly better than the big fat 0 I'd produced that week. So I gave it a try.

I just finished the first draft in February. My mini-retreats never lasted more than an hour per day, and I did not do them every day. My goal was 250-500 per session, and I stuck to that pretty religiously.

And I found a side effect to this method that I think might actually be very similar to a real, intense writer's retreat. In a long retreat, you immerse yourself in the story completely until it's finished. With a mini-retreat, you're immersed, but in a different way. It doesn't boil – it simmers.

I found myself doing other things – walking my dog, working other jobs – thinking of the words I'd written most recently, and what would happen next. I'd see something and it would trigger another idea, another plot twist, another character. The story started changing as wrote little by little, to the point where I was convinced the first draft would be a total disjointed mess as I incorporated one new element after another.

But once I realized the positive effect it was having on the story overall, I loved it. In fact, I had to force myself to stop writing at times because I wanted to take that time and think about it. I slipped past 500 words on a few occasions, but never too far. I liked the simmering. I learned patience.

Once I finished, I took a short break. When I opened the first draft and read it through, I was surprised.

It flowed – surprisingly well, actually. There were some changes to make, of course – fairly big ones – but it wasn't the complete mess I was terrified it would be. And looking back on it, I feel like writing a tiny bit, then taking another 24 hours to let it soak in, gave me the ability to make some connections in the story I might have missed otherwise.

Is this for everyone? Of course not. I'm just sharing what worked for me and hoping it might work for a few others as well.

One of the worst things anyone can say to a writer is "Oh, I want to write a novel, I just don't have the time." We all know that's crap – none of us have the time, we make the time – but if you're in a place where making the time is really difficult right now, give mini-retreats a shot. Even if it's just 30 minutes every other day – there's a finished first draft waiting at the end.
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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12 comments:

  1. Excellent post. You are absolutely right - most of us are MAKING the time to do this, and by writing in consistent, short sessions nearly every day for the last year I have almost completed my first full draft.

    As tempting as it is to stop along the way and revise, I would recommend just powering though to the end, as you suggest. I stopped midway through my work in progress and spent my short daily writing time polishing the first chapter. While it reads great now, it's also going to need major changes as the plot twists and turns toward the end.

    Thanks for sharing the great advice!

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  2. I never would've guessed that you worried about word count and progress--you're prolific but all your stuff is EXCELLENT that I'm pretty sure you're a writing Olympian.

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  3. Michelle,

    I suppose there are some advantages to writing during lunch every day. Although it often feels like a lunch break isn't enough time to get any real work done, if things have been properly "simmering" (great image!) in the back of my mind, then all I'm really doing is writing it all down.

    One word of caution, a mini-writing retreat MUST be done in a space without an Internet connection. Even if all that means is you unplug the data line or turn off the wireless. Otherwise, it is way to easy to get distracted. And with only 30 minutes, you don't have any time to waste.

    Thanks for the encouragement and another great post!

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  4. Thanks guys!

    You're right, John. We can stay connected at our Twitter Retreats, but not these. :)

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  5. Just goes to show there's not one right way to write. Whichever way is best for you to complete a ms is the best way period. Great post, Michelle!

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  6. AWESOME post, Michelle! On busy days, this is kind of how I fit writing in. Just before bed for a little while, then think before falling asleep (which sometimes leads to weird dreams).
    Obviously, this method ROCKED for you!

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  7. Thanks for sharing this idea, Michelle! I feel so pressured sometimes to write my 1500 words per day, but that's pretty unreasonable given the rest of my life. It's nice to hear that simmering works so well.

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  8. I love this! You are so right--most of us don't have big blocks of time to write, and we just have to carve out little chunks here and there.

    I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love and wanting to fling the book across the room. I mean, who has the freedom to take a year off of their life and completely indulge themselves like that???

    sf

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  9. This is a great post with some great takeaway tips. Now if I could put it into practice...

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  10. I definitely have more mini-retreats when it comes to writing and while I'd prefer to be able to hide away for a few days, I take what I can get!
    Great post, Michelle!

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  11. Great post. Mini-retreats are the practical way to it. For me, the only way to do it. But one day, when I'm rich and famous, I'll be going on weeks-long retreats in exotic places :)

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  12. you inspired me so much during a really rough work week, I had to blog about it!
    http://sarahenni.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/work-versus-work

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Item Reviewed: Mini-Retreats: Practical, Helpful, and Oh-So-Cute Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman