Before I tell you what my plans are this week, I want to congratulate the two winners of The More of Less by Joshua Becker whose names were chosen at random via Rafflecopter. Congrats, Lisa and Michael! I’ve notified you both via email and your books will be in the mail this week.
I’ve always loved the idea of going on a solo writing retreat. Getting out of the city, unplugging and going offline, writing all day and breaking up the work by spending some time outside; it sounds like a dream getaway. So when the opportunity to spend a week in Squamish presented itself, I took it – and (in between some public speaking I’m doing) that’s where I’m hiding out this week!
There’s only one thing I have to accomplish while I’m in Squamish: I need to write the sample chapter for my book proposal. The chapter is the last big piece of this project, and I need to finish it – ASAP. Lately, it has felt impossible to focus on much of anything in Victoria, so it is literally the perfect time for me to spend some time alone and get down to work.
There’s always a lot to wrap up, in the days before any vacation, but this has been especially true of the days leading up to this trip. On top of finishing my regular assignments, I’ve been doing a lot to prepare for this little retreat of mine. In case any of you have thought of taking time off to work on a creative project, here are some of my tips for what to plan, prepare for and pack.
1. Get out of town.
First, if you’re like me and have trouble saying “no” when friends invite you to do something, you need to get out of town – far enough away from your loved ones that you won’t be tempted to get in your car and drive to meet them for coffee/food/hike, etc. Squamish is one of my favourite places to visit, and all my friends are at least an hour away, so I won’t be easily persuaded to ditch the work and socialize.
2. Book a room.
Whether you want to spend 12 hours, 1 day, 2 days or a whole week away working on your project, book a room somewhere you can get the peace and quiet you need. You can get something cheap, but not bed bug cheap if you’re staying overnight! (Not just because the room could be gross, but because the cheaper the place is, the louder the parties in other rooms are – and you need to rest!)
3. Tell people you’re going offline (and setup a vacation responder).
Start by telling family and friends you plan to stay offline (including having your phone turned off, at least during the day). If you have clients, let them know you’re taking time off but will be available to work again as of a specific date. I also setup a vacation responder in Gmail that tells people I’ll check email once/day but am only going to reply to clients when necessary.
4. Set a goal for your work.
Now that you have a place to go and everyone knows you’ll be unavailable, you need to set a goal for what you want to accomplish during your time away. Mine is simple: I need to write a chapter of a book. It will likely end up being between 5,000 and 6,000 words, and I only have 5 days to write it; that means I need to write 1,000-1,200 words/day (probably more and then give myself time to edit).
5. Prepare your work.
Before you leave for your retreat, prepare whatever amount of work you can, so you don’t waste the first day getting organized. For my chapter, I opened up a blank Word doc, copy/pasted the summary and wrote a bunch of bullet points for things I know I want to touch on. Tomorrow morning, I can open that document and start writing without any hesitation.
6. Manage your energy and take breaks.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since working remotely/working for myself is that you have to pay attention to your energy levels and take breaks when you need them. If you try to work for 6 hours straight, I can guarantee you’ll spend a good chunk of that time staring at your project. You’ll be more productive if you listen to your body and give it what it needs (movement, food, water, etc.).
7. Get outside.
Some of the other posts I’ve read about solo retreats suggest that you go to a crappy location where you’re not tempted to explore and I wholeheartedly disagree. Coupled with spending time alone, getting outside is proven to lower your stress, increase your focus and boost your creativity. I’m not going to exhaust myself by hiking 20km/day, but I am going to spend a couple hours outside every day.
8. Eat healthy!
Do you ever notice that you tend to eat more junk food when you’re on vacation? Or just more food in general? Don’t do that on your retreat! Heavy, fatty and sweet foods will do nothing but make you tired and lethargic. You need to stay alert and keep your energy! Keep it simple and stick to things like veggies, greens, protein and some fruit. Your brain – and your work – will thank you.
9. Bring a few of your favourite things from home.
While I would normally always say that you should pack light, this retreat will be the first trip where I’m actually bringing more than I would ever normally travel with. For example: I’m bringing my French press, so I don’t have to buy coffee every day, and my mini blender, so I can make the same green smoothies I drink every afternoon. My travel size foam roller has also made the cut.
Because of how many different activities I’ll be doing (working, hiking, public speaking, etc.) I’ll also be bringing about half of my tiny wardrobe and multiple pairs of shoes/sandals. And, of course, I need my laptop, chargers, notebook, paper, pens, and a couple books to unwind with at the end of each day. It’ll all fit into two bags, still! But it’s definitely not a minimalist packing job. ;)
10. Check-in at night (only if you must).
You can only be productive for so many hours in a day. In my opinion, after you’ve put your work away, it’s ok to check-in with a few people. Turn your phone on, reply to text messages and even call a friend. Don’t get sucked into social media, and don’t reply to lots of emails or start doing other work. Just say hi to a few people! It’ll help you decompress (especially if they can make you laugh).
Finally, I’m leaving for my first solo writing retreat with zero expectations of how it’s going to go. Of course, I hope to finish the chapter and love it… but spending an entire week alone might not be as glamorous as it sounds. It could feel isolating and lonely. Or, I could flourish in the new environment. Either way, I’m excited to pack up my car and go this morning. It’ll be good practice for my road trip!
I’m going to stay OFF social media all week, with the exception of sharing a few pictures of my surroundings (Squamish is too beautiful not to). If you want to see them, you can find me on Instagram.
I’ll be back next week with an update on how the trip went. Until then, I’d love to hear about your solo adventures! Where did you go? What did you do? And how did you like travelling alone?