Lessons Learned So Far on my Writing Retreat

February 24, 2021 by No Comments

I have been here in Alexandria, VA on my writing retreat for a little over two weeks now. I wanted to give an update on my progress as well as reflect upon some lessons I’ve learned so far. To be clear, my writing retreat is not a formal program; it is simply a self-imposed seven-week period during which I am determined to finish the first complete working draft of my dating advice book Be Your Own Boyfriend. I am living rent-free in my friend’s house in exchange for helping babysit, catsit, and housesit. It’s a sweet deal, and one that I have been concentrated on making the most of.

My Progress:

  • I’ve written (or repurposed blog posts) for a total of just over 20,000 words.
  • I have first drafts of the Preface, Introduction, Chapter One, and Chapter Two. The chapters are each exactly 14 single-typed pages, which wasn’t planned.
  • I don’t have any desire to quit and run away to do something else (yet)! Yay!

Lessons I’ve Learned:

Writing needs to be my first activity of the day. If I don’t finish my 1000 words per day by noon, I get very agitated and gloomy. I don’t even necessarily connect my mood with the fact that I haven’t written. I just feel bad. On the other hand, when I complete my 1000 words in the morning as the first thing I do, the rest of my day is automatically great because my work for the day is done.

Having a writing room is amazing. When my friend Michelle invited me to come house-baby-catsit and have my writing retreat in her brand new house, I was grateful and elated. However, I had no shame in asking if I could have a writing room separate from my bedroom. She immediately agreed with amusement and showed me to my writing room the first day I arrived. It is wonderful. It is simply a square room on the second floor with beige walls and beige carpet, a big window facing out onto the front yard, my beloved writing desk, a chair for me to sit in, and another chair for my genius to sit in. It is perfect in its simplicity and single purpose. When I move out into my next apartment, I am going to strongly consider trading off location for the ability to have an extra room that I can use as a writing room.

Related Articles:

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Can I Contact My Guy Who Doesn’t Know What He Wants?

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What to do if you always feel jealous and insecure in relationships

What to do if your boyfriend doesn’t buy you gifts or take you on dates

How to be a good helpmate to your boyfriend or husband

Outlines are indispensable. When I decided that I did indeed want to use some of my blog posts in the book, I went through about 50 of my posts and tried to find the underlying message that the blog post was giving. After doing that, I realized that seven themes were emerging, and they became the seven main chapters of the book. After that, I went through every single post I had ever written and assigned each one to a different chapter.  I then thought about what information I wanted to convey in the opening chapters and the concluding chapters, and by the time that process was over, I had an outline for the book. I didn’t outline each chapter, but having a list of relevant blog posts under each of my seven main chapters helped me see the major points I wanted to communicate as well as identify  the holes I need to fill in. From now on, whether it’s a book or a new business initiative, I am going to take the time to make an outline to make the work more streamlined and directed. This is a lesson I should have learned starting in middle school, but I have always resisted taking the time to do that one crucial step of making an outline.

I treat writing like a marathon. I write very quickly but it also takes a lot of my energy. I sometimes consider simply banging the first draft of the book out as fast as I can. However, I’ve found that aiming to write 1000 words a day has been working very well for me. I don’t feel like my work is endless, I feel like I have accomplished something everyday, and if I maintain this pace, I should have an entire book by the end of the seven weeks. There are times when I want to try sprinting through the first draft of the book, but I don’t want to tire myself out 3/4 of the way through. I’d rather jog along at a steady pace that feels good and is getting me to where I want to be.

The writing process is not linear. Even though I have an outline, I haven’t been writing the book in order. For one thing, this is a self-help book and I don’t want to advocate that my readers do anything that I am not doing well myself. Therefore, I choose which chapter I want to work on for the week based on where in my life I feel particularly strong at the moment. In the last two weeks, I have reconnected with some great friends and even ended a friendship, so I am feeling particularly strong and clear-headed in my social life. On the other hand, I have not been staying true to my fitness goals so I am not ready to write that chapter yet.

I’m teaching myself as I write. My blog has always been a way for me to work through issues I’m thinking about and going through, and writing this book is just like that. As I write the advice for my readers, I find myself assessing my own progress at practicing what I preach as well as giving myself new insights or resurrecting ones I had forgotten. Writing a self-help book makes the writing process especially emotional, but it also makes it especially rewarding.

A support group is phenomenal. I do not yet have a support group of fellow writers with whom I spend time, but my group of test readers (women of various ages from around the world with varying levels of exposure to CrazyGirl Nation) have been instrumental in keeping me on track. I’ve struggled to ship out the chapters the same day every week, but they do get a chapter every single week and have provided me with very helpful feedback, suggestions, and encouragement.  I definitely want to use the concept of test readers again, because it has felt like I am blogging my book rather than writing it in seclusion.

It feels great just to DO IT. While writing, I think very little about how much money I could (or won’t) make, how many copies I am going to sell, or even what people will say about it. I just feel like I am doing the work I know I am supposed to be doing, and when the book is done, I will have accomplished a major goal.  I am so glad I stopped making excuses and just started to write. It feels great.

Readers: Is anyone else thinking of going on a writing retreat (or a retreat to accomplish a similar goal)? What is a creative way you could create your own writing retreat?

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