Time away from usual routines is a necessity. Whether it is for holidays, taking time out to go for a really good walk with the dog, time to think, to take a metaphorical deep breath and refresh your batteries, is vital.
Writing Conferences and Events
My writing conference trips, although not officially retreats, do offer me the chance to refresh my imagination and be encouraged by fellow writers while, at the same time, learning much I can apply to try to improve what I do.
My biggest conference is the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School one in August which lasts for a week, but I also love going on day conferences such as those run by the Association of Christian Writers. (Bias alert – I am their Membership Secretary! Having said that I learn a great deal from these events and it is lovely meeting up with members I’ve had the joy of enrolling!).
I also relish catching up with writer friends at the Bridge House Publishing celebration event every December. Time away for things like these are something I appreciate. I’m not in the proverbial garrett writers are supposed to be in but you do spend a lot of time at your desk alone which, most of the time, is one of the things I love about it but the support of other writers who understand the compulsion to write is invaluable.
To Retreat Or Not To Retreat (and with apologies to Shakespeare)
A retreat can be seen as a time to do nothing and sometimes that is what you need. I prefer a mixture of having things to learn (such as the workshops I go on at my writing events) and time to relax with fellow writers and then time to do as much or as little as I like when back in my room.
A retreat almost sounds as if you’re giving up on something and to a certain extent you are. You are giving up the things you face daily for a while. A good retreat will make you come back to the “real” world refreshed and ready for it! But the great news is that retreat can be as simple as taking time out to read a good book for a couple of hours and forget about everything else. I love books because they can be a form of escapism as well as entertainment and that aspect should not be forgotten. Reading gives you time away from the real world even if you are reading non-fiction.
Sometimes a retreat can be doing something different for an evening. By the time this post goes out, Janet and I will have been to see The Chameleon Theatre Group’s pantomime, Atlantis, and I look forward to sharing a review next week. What I do know as I prepare this well in advance of the CFT “works evening out” is it will have done Janet and I the world of good and we will both have had several good laughs throughout the evening. (That’s the joy of panto well performed!).
I wish there was a better word for retreat than retreat! I suppose that may be because of its military associations with failure and defeat but I don’t think there is anything defeatist about admitting you need a break and are taking one. If anything the opposite is true, isn’t it?
Planning Writing Time When Away
I look at my writing over the course of a week and plan how to use my sessions as I have different amounts of time available on different days. When I have time away, I schedule posts (including for CFT) ahead of my usual deadlines.
I hope this year to be able to do far more scheduling of posts as it doesn’t take twice as long to do an extra post, say, but it can free up time for other creative work later on in my week. Having time away from writing say a batch of flash fiction stories to write a series of non-fiction posts is invigorating (mentally anyway!) and by the time I return to the flash writing again, I am once more raring to go on that.
I must admit one of the joys of creative writing for me is while it is hard work (and even more so in trying to find a publisher), it doesn’t feel like work for me. Loving what you do is important. Time away can be a wrench but it is good for you overall. Nothing runs well on a flat battery. I have to remind myself of that.
Having Time Away When At Home
Other ways to have time away include:-
1. Listening to music when NOT doing anything else. I always listen to classical as I write (and am doing so as I draft this – the 1812 Overture is on as I draft this!), but when I switch the PC off and just listen to the music, that can feel as if I am immersing myself in those wonderful sounds and that is good for my spirits.
2. Reading in a different genre or format every so often. I sometimes read poetry (mainly in things like the regular columns about it in Writing Magazine). I find it fascinating to see how other writers work in a field I know I won’t go into. It can be eye-opening. Often ideas as to how to approach a project can be applicable to other forms of writing and that is useful.
3. Walking the dog and chatting to other dog owners. I’ve met far more people since owning a dog than in all the years I lived in Chandler’s Ford before having one. It feels like I’m having a mini break (though the recent deluges of rain tend to make you speed up on said walkies!).
Planning What To Do With Your Time Away
Do you plan what you do when you have time away? I make some plans (for holidays for example, there will be favourite train trips to take) but I also leave time free to do nothing or go somewhere different.
For reading, what I read next from my always large To Be Read pile, depends on how I’m feeling. If I’m a bit ground down, I nearly always turn to humorous fiction to give a lift. (You can’t beat Wodehouse or Pratchett). I want my time away in a book to be well spent. I’m only too conscious of how true the saying “so many books, so little time” is!
Getting into the garden is a good way to escape for a while too, as I’m sure Wellie would be the first to agree. I’m no gardener (sorry, Wellie, that’s just how it is!), but I do know what I like to see in a garden and I’m a huge fan of trees.
Looking at something that is bigger and far older than I am is a great way to get a sense of perspective back when that is needed and maybe that is the real reason why time away is important. (The oaks in my garden date back a long time. I’ve seen pictures of my road going back to early in the 20th century and the oaks were mature then). It is too easy to lose that sense of perspective when caught up in the daily grind.
Whatever your plans for time away are this year, I hope they prove to be refreshing and relaxing and many happy memories are made as a result!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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