Three weeks ago, I ran a retreat for creatives in northern Michigan. While caring for and teaching writers, artists, and even a musician was a new experience, it wasn’t my first retreat. I’ve traveled across my home state, deep into the South, and to the east coast to sit in silence with other writers while we stewed over our drafts.
It seems a little self-indulgent, right? To spend a chunk of money and ditch your job for a long weekend, all for a few uninterrupted days to work on your art. But actually, a retreat is a necessary part of making killer art. There’s plenty of research to back that up.
Now more than ever, it’s tough to carve out any time to work on creative projects, let alone a couple of uninterrupted hours. But that’s exactly the kind of time we need to really make progress. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World, writes that we often need at least an hour just to settle into our work, and if we’re interrupted by the dog barking or doorbell ringing? It’s just like starting over again.
This is the number one draw of a retreat setting—the promise of uninterrupted time. Meals are usually taken care of for you and there are no chores to do or errands to run. Some retreats even encourage you to ditch the Wi-Fi altogether while you’re working.
While research shows that truly innovative thought tends to happen behind closed doors, the occasional interjection of new perspectives can help push us further along in the process. One study discovered that completely open offices can decrease creativity by 70 percent, but when working artists are allowed privacy, followed by short periods of social interaction, creative problem-solving gets a boost.
Most retreats are set up to support this kind of boost. There are usually “quiet hours” during the day where creatives spread out to work in peace. Meals are shared, as well as evening discussions or workshops, creating the perfect combo of privacy and community.
Research has shown that spending time in nature can evoke creativity by making us more curious, flexible, and by recharging our brains. Think about it: how often have you gone for a walk outdoors when you’ve been upset, only to feel calm, clear, and ready to tackle a problem once you get back home? Trees, mountains, and beaches have the same effects on your mind, allowing you to relax and free up space for truly original thought.
Besides being Instagram-worthy, it’s a great reason to take a retreat. Most are set up in some kind of idyllic setting, and some even include short excursions to dunes, beaches, and lakes that make for a perfect midday break when you’re feeling spent.
While a retreat can kick-start your creativity, recharge your batteries, and connect you with like-minded people, what do you do if you can’t swing it? Here are a few options to help you make your own stay-at-home retreat when you can’t get away.
1. Do whatever you can to carve out at least a half day to yourself. Ask your friend to babysit, take a personal day at work, send the dogs to a neighbors—whatever it takes. Then put your phone on silent (or across the room) and set the intention to dedicate the next few hours only to your work.
2. When you feel your energy lagging, take a break—just be sure to set a timer. Using a timer will help you get back to work instead of stalling on social media. While you’re on your break, make sure you do something that will give you more energy instead of drain you. Choices that work for most people include walking or sitting outside in nature, reading a chapter in a compelling book, and socializing with a supportive friend.
3. If you’re looking for a wider network or specific workshops, check out an online creativity retreat. Retreats like Woman Unleashed and Art is Magic are empowering and informative,and all you need to is an Internet connection.
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