I’ve never been to any kind of writing retreat thingy. I’ve never taken time away from the real world to think creatively (outside of school, but oh shit that’s not any kind of “break” when you’re working full time and schooling and trying to just LIVE goddamnit!). I’m generally put off by most writing retreats at this point because they all take so much time. And I don’t feel like I have it. Six weeks away from work and kids? I just can’t. Two weeks? That feels like it should be spent on a family vacation. Do I want these things? Yes! But not right now. Right now my time is needed most on the hustle, on the babies, on the grind.
But where does that leave me? Void of ideas most of the time. My brain turned to mush by the end of a day filled with reading and editing and using every ounce of training I can remember, using every ounce of work experience I’ve collected. Being professional AND creative. I am spent.
A few months ago I was invited to join an artist retreat. Art/Eat/Repeat. Creative people running away to an island to commune together over wine and food and the quiet spaces where you can finish projects and recharge your creative batteries. Color or read or write or knit or whatever. Discuss books, add to your to-read pile through recommendations from people who GET YOU. Stay up late watching Princess Bride or talking about your strategies to publish and where and why and how and when. Walks in the woods, walks on the beach, forever looking out the window willing whales to appear.
These are the moments you say yes to. These are the events that can flitter by without you unless you grab hold. These are the self care moments that keep you human in a world that tries constantly to chomp at bits of you until there is nothing left. Not even on purpose really, but the world is a selfish beast and all it knows is take take take.
Things I successfully accomplished:
- Eating enough carbs for the month. Mmm… no regrets.
- Walking 9 miles in a day – and that wasn’t even my main goal or accomplishment of that day!
- Finally finishing The Underground Railroad and feeling broken inside after it was done.
- Seeing an otter, and some wild ferret creatures, and a snake, and some bunnies, and many deer!
- Walking on rocky beaches.
- Reminding myself what I need to refill my creative buckets that I have been empty for a solid two years.
That last one is important. Because what I reminded myself – more like what I fully acknowledged after denying it for a while now – is that what MY creative self needs to function is solitude. How did I write a book in a year? I took a lot of long walks where I talked to no one and had no time limit. How did I write so prolifically in my early twenties? I had a lot of quiet people watching – whether it was commuting or bored at work or whatever – where I created worlds and scenarios and allowed my mind to unfurl. I do not currently unfurl. I run and then I sleep.
Did I complete my next great novel or re-write the short story I can’t shake? I did not. I finished a bunch of stuff on my to-do list that was filling me with guilt. And the space to do so is a goddamn gift. I also realized the reason for those longer retreat times – you need the space in the beginning to sit and do nothing and take long walks and stare out the window and drink 700 cups of tea and eat milanos and catch up on podcasts as you stare at the ceiling before you can write. You can’t come from a life that needs everything from you and jump into a life that demands of you to create. The transition is necessary.
When I left Kamel said, “I can’t wait to read what you write!” And when I get home he will ask me what I finished and I will say “nothing.” But I reminded myself how. I remembered how and why and what and where and when. I know it’s there waiting for me whenever I make the time to grab it.