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Do You Need a Writing or Creativity Retreat?

By Dave Fox
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
April 13, 2017

I’ve just returned from a solo trip to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where I spent 12 days on the beach, hammering away on my new book, The Ghosts of Bùi Viện Street. This was the second time in the last few months I’ve left home to work on the book. Back in September, I had a wildly productive month of writing in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Yes, there’s irony in the fact that to finish my book about Saigon, I keep leaving Saigon, but being away from home takes me away from my everyday distractions. I set my own hours – eat when I want, sleep when I want, write when I want – and with a little self-discipline, the illusion of “being on vacation” makes me more productive.

How does that work? For starters, I don’t call it a vacation. It’s a business trip. My mission is to focus on one thing – my book. I still check e-mail and tend to urgent work that pops up, but being away from home makes it easier to put off all the other things I do for a couple of weeks and focus on this one project. (That’s why there was no March newsletter!)

Guilt and rewards are also motivators.  As I work from my sea-view bungalow, I tell myself that yes, this is an idyllic setting, and if I ever want to use this excuse to leave home again, I can’t screw around. I have to get done what I came here to do.

If I want to go for a splash in the Gulf of Thailand, or watch the sunset with a happy hour cocktail, I must earn it. I set a daily writing quota – in words or hours. I get no rewards until I meet my quota.

Plan Your Own Retreat

I’m fortunate to live in a city where I can fly to places like Sihanoukville for cheap, and rent a scruffy little bungalow on the beach for 20 bucks a night. I realize it’s not so easy for everyone to get away to places like this. But if you have a project you’ve been struggling to complete, a retreat might be just what you need – for a weekend, a week, whatever you can wrangle.

You can do it on your own, or with a creativity partner. If you go with a partner, be sure it’s someone with a project of their own. A friend or significant other who is just there to relax and have fun will distract you from your goals. But traveling with someone else who is writing, drawing, painting, or even meditating for several hours a day – whatever they want to focus on – can be helpful in that you have someone to hold you accountable and make sure you’re doing what you are there to do.

If you have family commitments, this might require some negotiation or creative planning. Let your spouse or significant other know this is important to you, and think about good times to go.

In my case, my wife, Kattina, was heading to an education conference in Borneo, followed by a spring-break climb up Mount Kinabalu. As I’ve written before, slogging up mountains is more her thing than mine, so she found a climbing partner for the vacation part of her trip. When we flew back to Saigon, we each returned home with stories to tell.

As a writing coach, I must be cautious about recommending a personal retreat like this. “I can only be productive when I leave home” is a beautiful excuse for never writing. When we can’t get away, there are lots of other ways we can shoehorn time into our schedules to get the writing done that we want to do. We need to work within the realm of whatever our possibilities are.

But if the rest of your life keeps encroaching on your creative projects, perhaps a getaway will help. It doesn’t have to be long or far away. A simple change of scenery, and a deal with yourself to prioritize your project, can help you get it done.

Need Help Getting Motivated or Finding Time?

If you’d like more tips on getting un-stuck from your creative blocks, I’m rerunning a sale on my two “Psychology of Writing” courses. Normally priced at US $20 each, you can get one for $10 or both for $18. If you’re interested, just follow the coupon links below. (Many of the techniques and tactics I teach work for creative projects of all kinds – not just writing.)

And if you’ve got projects you’re struggling with, if you need help figuring out what’s getting in your way and how to overcome it, I offer writing and creativity coaching via Skype, phone, and in person. Learn more here.


Special Sale on my Online “Psychology of Writing” Courses

These links will take you to course descriptions and sample lessons:

The Psychology of Writing 1: Fix Writer’s Block & Write Boldly! – US $10 (Usually $20.)

The Psychology of Writing 2: Defeat Distractions & Write More! – US $10 (Usually $20.)

Get Both for $18 – Use this link and you’ll get immediate access to course number one. Within 24 hours, I’ll send you a link to get into the second course in the series for free.

Published on Thursday, April 13, 2017

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