I Took Myself on a Writing Retreat, and Here’s What I Learned

In an attempt to salvage something out of the bubbling mess that is 2020, I made some changes. I changed jobs to reclaim some work/life balance, and set myself some ambitious (but not impossible) writing goals. 

To meet them, I decided to do something for myself I’ve never done before: take myself, all by myself, on a writing retreat. For a few blissful days, I would treat writing like it was my job to see how that feels. Mostly, it would be dedicated to revisions on my YA fantasy novel. 

Since I had taken only 2 days of vacation for the year going into October (2020…amirite?), I audaciously took 3 days in a row, found an innocuous spot on the map, and booked a hotel with a mountain view of the changing fall foliage. 

Mahwah, NJ sits on the border of NY and NJ. An off-peak, round-trip ticket on a NJT  train cost a whopping $22. After a quick transfer at Secaucus The ride is lovely, passing through cute towns and dense forest. I love looking into backyards and houses along the way, wondering who lives there and what their lives are like. 

The point of the whole experiment was to see what it would be like to live the life of a productive fiction writer, someone whose income depends on their productivity. Since I thrive on a certain amount of variety, I allowed myself to bounce around between projects: 

The photo shows a page from my bullet journal where I use the Pomodoro Method for productivity. Each checkbox is a 25 minute period of work with a 5 minute break in between, and a 15 minute break every 2 hours. You can see how I used my breaks, and at what point my brain got frazzled, requiring a longer break.

I learned so much about what I was capable of as a writer, how long I could focus before needing to unwind, and what a huge benefit both isolation and physical exercise are to my productivity. I talked to myself a lot, and wasted less time than I was afraid I might. I achieved my primary goal, which was to revise the first 4 chapters of my novel. It’s a big restructure, so each chapter is a heavier lift than the one previous, so far. 

The rest of the above bullet list of to-do’s was gravy, in a way. Also another focusing strategy, taking advantage of my natural restlessness that requires variety to keep me moving forward. 

My 2020 writing goals would give me 8 revised chapters of the novel, enough to start the querying practice by early next year. I will do the retreat again! Maybe longer next time. I’d like it to be more often than once a year, especially if it turns out I have a novel to revise based on an agent’s input. Here’s hoping!

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