Each morning I turn on my computer, open up the files, and write. By myself. For hours. Writing is a solo activity, at least much of the time. My story. My time at the keyboard. My effort day and night.
Creativity is often an individual effort. One person with an idea they bring to fruition. But creativity is also nurtured in groups. I was reminded of that as I wrote an article on quilt retreats for this month’s issue of The Iowan
The women I interviewed for this article were effusive about the benefits of doing what they loved in groups. They enjoyed time with their friends who share the same interest, time to learn new techniques, time to focus without interruption on something they love. By the time I finished the interviews and wrote the article, it crossed my mind that I could have written the article without doing the interviews. Because what these quilters described was exactly what I get out of writing retreats.
Even though my writing buddy Mary Gottschalk and I meet every two weeks to discuss and critique writing projects, we still spend a week each summer in a retreat away from our homes. Over the years, we’ve established a retreat approach that works for us. Here are the steps:
- Agree on retreat goals. Everyone doesn’t have to be working on the same genre or be at the same place in the process but everyone should agree on the overall structure and goal. In our case, the agreement is to actually write and critique. It’s not going to work so well if someone thinks sleeping in or shopping all day is a better use of her time.
- Take a walk. We start each morning with a walk. Exercise is good for the body and the brain. We might talk writing, we might not.
- Write all morning. After breakfast, we settle in at our computers. We might be in separate rooms. We might be at the same table. But we are both dedicated to writing. Upon occasion, if one of us reaches a particularly problematic point, we talk it through, but mostly we write.
- Have lunch. We may talk about the morning writing. Or not. It’s as important to take a break as to focus on the task.
- Critique. After lunch, we trade copy, read and spend however much time we need to provide feedback on the morning efforts.
- Reward! In the evening, we reward ourselves for our dedicated effort over a glass of wine and a nice dinner.
The next day, we go at it again. Same approach. Every day for as many days as our retreat lasts. We’ve tried a variety of venues for retreats, from bed & breakfasts to meeting rooms, but the main requirement is that the space be physically comfortable for long hours at the computer. A coffee pot is mandatory; a refrigerator helpful.
As writers, we do a lot of work alone and we’ve scaled writing mountains together.
How about you? Do you create in groups as well as alone? What works for you?