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The Virtual Writing Retreat

Pandemic times call for pandemic creativity. For your writing soul, for your creative discipline, and for your writing friendships, here’s a how-to on creating your own Virtual Writing Retreat.

1.Choose a writing partner(s).

Sounds simple enough, however, there are things to consider when building your writing group/pair. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself about the person you choose. Have you written with this person before? Do you communicate well with each other? Can you be vulnerable with this person? Are you willing to compromise? Do you think you will be able to agree on the retreat format, timing and workload?

Because technology is what it is, it’s entirely possible to choose a writing partner who lives far away. Of course, a writing who lives down the street is great too, especially if he/she/they are not in your ‘bubble’.

If your intention is to write, discuss, edit, write some more, discuss some more than you want to make sure your writing partner has the same agenda.

If this is your first time doing a writing retreat of any kind, let alone a virtual retreat, you may want to consider choosing just one other writer to join you.

2. Commit to dates and times. Create a schedule. Commit to goals.

Choose dates and times that work well for both of you, but also match your writing process. For example, if you’re a night owl and your best creative output happens between 8pm and 2am, you want to consider a writing partner who shares the same creative writing time zone.

Decide how many days you’d like to have your retreat.

A one-day retreat works well for tackling things like: writing exercises/prompts for inspiration, motivation, and idea generation; choosing your next ‘big’ writing project; scheduling and time management skill enhancement; or putting the final touches on a submission.

A one-day retreat suits a workshop-style format because the time will fly by. You’ll want to break down the hours in the day for specific things to do, and use your timer to stay on track.

Be sure to schedule time to eat meals, walk, nap or whatever ‘other’ important creative necessities that you need when you write. You could always prep your meals the day before to save time during the retreat day.

For a two/three-day virtual writing retreat, there is much more time to tackle larger projects, to output hefty word counts, and include time for intensive discussions.

Create a specific schedule, broken down by hours, that you will follow.

Though the schedule may shift based on the writing/discussions you have, it is still important to commit to the overall times you are together. A go-with-the-flow attitude is great, so long as you’re sticking to your overall goals.

Over a two or three day schedule, you may have several goals. Be honest about your energy, availability and the project(s) you’re going to work on.

This is an integral part of the planning process that may take some time. Communicate openly and honestly with your writing partner. Phone calls, Facetime, emails – however you communicate, be clear and honest with your intentions for the retreat.

Finalize your dates, times, schedule and shout ‘hooray’!

3. Tell your support group what you’re doing.

It’s imperative that you tell your family/friends who live with you and/or who are part of your day-to-day life that you’re having a virtual retreat. You will need their support so you can experience the retreat with as little distractions as possible. Also, if you share technology, you will need to make sure you have the the technology you need for your virtual retreat.

If you are active on social media, but part of your retreat is to not post, you may want to let your followers know why you’ll be silent for the days you’re retreating. Or, you may want to include some time during your retreat to create posts about what you’re doing. Either way, let your ‘people’ know about your retreat.

4. Get Your Technology On

Prepping your technology and trying it out is a must! One of the best parts of writing retreats is simply being in the same space as other writers and writing. But, the being-in-the-same space is our current struggle at this point in time, so how can we create the feeling of it?

Using a virtual communication platform is your answer. Choose a platform that you understand how to use and that suits the wifi/internet/hardware you have in your home/space. If you’ve never used Zoom, do a little research to see if it will work for you. Zoom is ‘free’ if there are only two people on the call. Otherwise, Skype, Google Meets, FaceTime, and What’s App are other options you may choose to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ each other in your spaces. Technology is a critical component to your virtual retreat, so be sure to choose something that won’t frustrate you and/or cause issues with how you communicate (and your bank account).

Once you decide the platform you will use to communicate – PRACTICE USING IT. Schedule a ‘test’ session with your writing partner(s). Figure out how to use everything from your headphones to your writing programs to your volume controls. For example, if you are using Facetime on your laptop but you will also use Word to do your writing, when you shift into Word, the image to your Facetime call goes away. You will not be able to ‘see’ your writing partner. You may need to use your cell phone to have the call, and your laptop to do your work. Be sure you have a system to hold your phone in the position you’d like it so you can see your partner, and your partner can see you. Looking at your partner’s ceiling fan is not the same as seeing your partner at her desk while she types.

Sound becomes incredibly important. If you need silence or you only want to hear the sounds in your own home, you may want to ‘mute’ your call or have your partner mute her call. This way, you can still ‘see’ each other while you’re writing, but you won’t hear all the sounds (or noise!).

You may want to switch between platforms. Perhaps you’ll use Facetime on your phone while you’re writing so you can see your partner, but when you’re in discussion time, you switch back to your computer because the sound is better.

Play. Practice. Use your technology before your retreat begins so you’ll have everything you need to make the tech part of your retreat easy-peasy.

Certainly, seeing and hearing your writing partner is what will give you the feel of actually being with your writing partner.

If how you look is important to you, then you can also play with angles and lighting during your tech practice. Definitely figure this bit out as seeing yourself on a screen in a way you don’t ‘like’ could be distracting, and pull you out of your creative writing. Or, you could keep to being a no-bra, dirty-toothed writer in a pandemic. Whatever works.

5. Writing Vs. Talking

The talking parts of writing retreats are as important as the writing parts. When you’re creating your schedule, be sure to include time to discuss your writing life. You can even be specific in your schedule regarding what you’d like to talk about. For example, to begin your retreat you may want to open The Complaint Department (more details below) to unload your writing challenges. Perhaps you want to get a solid two-hour write in at the start, then take 30 minutes to discuss the writing project you’re working on. Perhaps at the end of your day, you will leave 30 minutes to write out a Note of Encouragement for the next day – something that will help you stay focused and inspired, and discuss what worked for you and what didn’t, and adjust the next day’s schedule.

Talking about writing is a necessary part of any writing retreat. Be sure to have tissues on hand for tears of woe or tears of laughter. The best writing retreats give you space and time to pour your vulnerabilities and insecurities out…and, of course, to build your confidence and motivate you to keep writing because your writing matters and the world needs it.

6. The Complaint Department

We all have negative voices in our heads (aka: critic, demon woman, monkey mind, etc.). We all have emotions. We all have ideas. Sometimes, these voices, emotions and ideas need a place to explode. The Complaint Department can open any time during your virtual writing retreat. It is the time you give yourself to say all the things you’ve been holding inside…or only writing down in your journal…that you want to say out loud to the other writer in your life who can relate to your struggles. This unloading can include (but is not limited to): worries, issues with confidence, dealing with rejection, jealousies, envy, systemic frustrations, grant grudges, plot pain, fatigue frustration, muse challenges, body issues, aging issues, agent anger, submission slander, and dream disasters.

The point is that it can be helpful to give yourself the time, space and energy to talk about the things that you are having a hard time with in your creative life.

The Complaint Department should only be open one time during your writing retreat.

The Complaint Department should be open no longer than one hour. Be sure to use your timer to keep to on track.

The Complaint Department closes with a positive farewell. That means at the end of your unloading, be sure to shift your energy into something positive. Whether that is writing our your purpose as a writer, or whether it’s ripping up all the complaints you wrote down and throwing them out, or whether it’s letting out a huge scream into your pillow – The Complaint Department only functions well when it ends on positivity.

7. Snacks

As mentioned above, prepping food for meals is helpful as it opens up more time during the day that you can use for creative writing and/or discussion. But, having ‘snacks’ in arm’s reach is also a good idea.

Writing is a solitary endeavour. We have writing retreats so we can write with others to alleviate some of the loneliness we may feel and/or to bulk up the creative energy in the space. For a virtual retreat, the same can be experienced. Either way, part of what keeps us going is food. Sometimes, it helps the brain to hear the crunch of a celery stick between your teeth as you’re pondering a plot point. Sipping any warm drink, warms the mouth and the soul. This too can help with making creative decisions. Drink water. It keeps the mouth fresh and it’s always good for you. If you prefer chocolate covered almonds or cookies, be sure to have them nearby.

Extra special snacks like fancy cakes or scones are always nice during the discussion part of your retreating. Finding comfort in your favourite foods while your in the midst of intensive creative work is part of a great writing retreat.

Remember to keep liquids and crumbs away from your laptop/keyboard!

8. Magic

Be prepared for magical things to happen during your virtual writing retreat. If you begin with spiritually motivated guidance, like pulling an oracle card or reading from a book of daily wisdom, be prepared for messages that directly relate to your creative situation.

Be prepared to figure out plot points or character traits or poem titles that you just couldn’t ‘get’ before the retreat. Perhaps this will come to you while on a walking break or during a quick nap. Maybe it’ll come out in a conversation about something else, seemingly unrelated. No matter, magic is alive and well during writing retreats.

Be prepared to face your inner critic(s)/demon(s) straight on and find solutions to quiet them and/or use them to your creative benefit.

An open heart, open mind and open soul are necessary for a holistically powerful writing retreat.

9. Homework

It is possible that you give homework to yourself or each other during your writing retreat. For example, if you had a discussion about what projects you want to work on next, homework could be making a list of the new projects and the pros and cons to each of them. This will help you decide what to work on next. Or perhaps time management is a struggle for you. Homework could be to get a calendar and plan out the next few weeks of writing time to make sure you’re incorporating writing into your life at the speed/pace/amount your heart desires. Perhaps your homework will be to not write at all, but rather read a novel or watch a movie to give your mind a break.

Whatever you decide, it’s possible to have homework during your writing retreat that you will then discuss the next day. (The homework might already be on your schedule or it could be added as part of your ‘go-with-the-flow’ vibe.)

10. The Last Part

The last part of your retreat will be bitter sweet. You likely won’t want it to end. You’ll likely be saying things like: “golly, we’re just getting started!” and “sorry the camera angle was on my boobs the whole time!” You may even shed a tear.

Knowing this, be sure to include on your planning schedule time to reflect on how the retreat went, and time to make plans for the next virtual writing retreat.

It is a great idea to commit to writing a post-writing-retreat write-up. Make a date to share your write-up with your partner. Send it via email or speak it out loud on a call – just be sure to schedule a time to talk about how the retreat went.

11. The Post-Writing-Retreat Write-Up

Give yourself a day or two to reflect on the pros and cons of your virtual writing retreat. Write down your thoughts. Be specific. Consider your favourite parts and your challenges.

Each writing retreat you experience will be different. Not only because you will likely be working on different projects at each retreat, but because you will be in a different creative place and space.

Be kind to your creative soul. Be honest about what you need. And, sweet goodness, plan another virtual retreat.

Stay tuned for pics from my first-ever virtual writing retreat! I hope this blog is helpful and inspiring!

One thought on “The Virtual Writing Retreat

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