How times flies! It seems like only yesterday I was announcing my writer’s retreat and here it is all over and done with. It was the first time I have attempted one of these in the place I live, and I was successful I thought I’d share my strategy with you.
Make it Public
I made a big to-do on all my social media accounts, especially WeChat, the chat app I use the most. This was good for several reasons.
One – I’m a big chatter and announcing I would be focusing on my writing and chatting only at night, stopped a lot of people from contacting me, or they waited until night when I was free.
Two – It forced me to be accountable. When I would meet my friends they would always ask, “How’s the writing?” It gave me a weird sense of duty and since I had made such a big fuss of it, I felt like I had to show something for my efforts.
Three – Encouragement! I put constant updates on my Wechat and Facebook and people were really nice and encouraging me to continue. I wasn’t raring to go everyday. In fact someday I had to drag myself out the door (more on that in a second) and getting encouragement from people was really helpful on the cranky, tired days.
Some people also said I had inspired them to focus on writing and several former and current students asked me how they could start writing too. Thinking that someones article or story wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t made a big deal out of my writing is one of the best motivations ever.
Get out of the House
My place is waaay too full of distractions (damn you internet!) so getting out was essential. I like going to new places and going to new coffee shops and this served a few purposes. It gave me a new environment to write in and I got to explore this city. I am now master of the bus system.
Know Your Creative Times
I’m not one of those writers that wakes up at 5:30am and writes until noon. Neither am I a night owl, scribbling away by candle light. I’m an afternoon writer. Starting around noon is perfect for me. So everyday I would wake up slowly, shower, eat breakfast, check the internet and by 10:30-11 I was ready to go out.
I get antsy and sitting down for 2 to 3 hours is about my limit. I have a built in body timer: my bladder. I’d pee before sitting down, and after drinking tea the whole time I’d usually have to pee in less than 3 hours. So I’d pack up, pee, and take a long walk to clear my head before sitting down at another cafe for awhile. When dinner time would roll around, I’d call it a day and head back home.
The best part of this kind of schedule is that I could get lunch out. I have a few nice cafes that I liked to go to for lunch. Writing on a full stomach was always a way to get a lot done. Which brings me to my next point….
Don’t be Above Bribing Yourself
Some days getting out the door was tough. I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to pack up my bag, and I just wanted to stay inside watching movies. I’d have to bribe myself. “How about a sushi lunch? Let’s get a sushi lunch and then you can go to the Starbucks nearby and write.” or “If you go to Ma’an Coffee, I’ll let you buy anything you want. A giant waffle with ice cream? Sure, not a problem.”
I’m not above treating myself like a whiny 6-year-old child. And it totally worked.
Track Your Progress
I had a little book in which I wrote the day number, the place(s) I went and how much I wrote. This also had a few purposes (I like things with lots of purposes).
One – I could track my progress and see how I improved over time. The first week I started writing about 3,000-4,000 words a day and then I progressed to a point I was writing 7,000+ words everyday. (In the same amount of time.) By charting myself I could see that action begets action, and the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.
Two – I have a competitive streak. Seeing those numbers grow everyday just wanted me to make then grow more. If I had written 4,000 words the day before I always wanted to beat that. And then 5,000 words I wanted to beat, then 6,000 and so on. I ended up averaging 5,617 words a day. My highest day was right near the end. I wrote 8, 438 words in one day.
Know When to Take a Break
My plan was to write monday-friday and not see any friends or chat at all, then take a break on the weekends. I didn’t strictly follow that. I went out to dinner with friends some weeknights, and I wrote on some weekends. But as the time progressed, I began to feel a but burnt out. One powerhouse of a day, with over 8,000 words written, was followed by a sluggish day with only 2,000 something words. I knew I was close to burn-out and the next weekend I didn’t do a stitch of writing.
My writers Retreat by the numbers:
Days of writers retreat: 28
Actual days of writing: 20
Money spent at cafes: $163 (!!) Those $5 tea lattes add up quick
Amount of words written: 101,100 — that’s 458 pages. That’s more than 22 pages a day. Phew!
The “official” writers retreat is over, but actually I really liked it. So I’m gonna keep it up for the rest of the holiday (though less strictly) and once I’m working again I’ll dedicate a day or two every week totally to writing.
As the well-known mantra goes: your destiny is made up of your habits. I made writing a habit, and I noticed a real shift in my thinking and way of writing. In fact, I think this is one of my favorite holidays since living in China. I know I say it every holiday but this time I mean it! (Okay, I always mean it, hahaha.) But I feel like I really accomplished something more than just writing a book. I feel an entire shift in perception. And I had a really good time! I made new friends, got closer to some old friends, tried new things and explored new places. If that’s not a win for a holiday, I don’t know what is.