If you follow me on social media, you probably saw that from December 24, 2016 through January 2, 2017 I was on a 10-day writing retreat. I used the hashtag #10dayswriting to report on my progress throughout the retreat on Twitter and Instagram. (You can also see my daily video and social media updates in this Google+ collection.)
The retreat wasn’t fancy — I was just in my home office — but I blocked off those 10 days over my holiday break to work on my third book on managing your academic identity online.
I didn’t start the retreat with any concrete writing goals. I mainly just wanted to make as much progress as possible. I had been dithering on the book in the midst of many other projects and knew that it was time to just get some words on the page. (Okay, if I’m really honest, my secret goal was to completely finish the book… but that was a real stretch.)
Overall, I’m happy to say that the retreat was a huge success. Here’s the general breakdown:
I started the retreat with 13,329 words (about 46.5 pages) and approximately 4 chapters of the book already drafted.
Day 1: +5714 words (+24.5 pages)
Day 2: +6780 words (+25.5 pages)
Day 3: +3007 words (+9.5 pages) — I took the afternoon off to visit family for the holidays
Day 4: +3973 words (+17 pages)
Day 5: +0 words (+0 pages) — I needed a writing break at this point, so I read through the entire manuscript in the morning and then read 8 books and took notes in the afternoon
Day 6: +1456 words (+6.5 pages)
Day 7: +4306 words (+18.5 pages)
Day 8: +1384 words (+4 pages) —I wrote in the morning but spent the afternoon reading 8 more books
Day 9: +386 words (+1.5 pages) — I had a ton of fun designing the book website on the morning of Day 9 and then wrapped up some writing in the afternoon
Day 10: Celebration Day! (and rest/preparation to go back to work day)
Total: 27,006 words (107 pages) added, 16 books read, and 1 website created.
So what do all those words and pages mean?
By the end of the retreat, I had almost a full draft of the manuscript completed. I’m really pleased that there is now content in every chapter (my mantra for book-writing is that you can’t edit an empty page), so I’m now just fine-tuning, layering in citations, and revising for clarity.
I also learned a couple of important things as I wrote:
- the current introduction was actually a preface and I needed to write a new introduction (still working on this)
- the book needs more “profiles” and concrete examples of what academics are currently doing to develop their online identities (still working on this)
Here are the things that made the writing retreat go well:
- I wasn’t competing with other projects. Because I’d blocked off my calendar for the retreat, I worked hard to clear my plate before it started so that I could completely focus on the book. It was absolutely luxurious not to have to worry about other things while I was writing and thinking about this book.
- I had a supportive partner. Although I know working over the holidays isn’t possible for everyone, this was the time that worked for me. It was super helpful to have a partner who understood what I needed to do and why (he’s a writer, too) and who was willing to offer technical expertise (he’s also a computer genius) on areas of the book where I needed some assistance with technology-related details.
- I stayed accountable through social media posting. If I hadn’t been posting daily updated and twice-daily videos, I know that I would have taken a morning or afternoon off during the retreat. Because I was holding myself accountable with online communities, I was extra motivated to make the most of the time that I had.
- I took breaks. For most days of the retreat, I worked for a couple hours in the morning, took a lunch break, and then returned for a 2–3 hour afternoon/evening session. I didn’t keep a strict schedule, which allowed me to rest when I needed to and get back to writing when I felt ready.
- I ate well, slept a lot, and exercised. Since the only commitment I had each day was to work on the book, that allowed me the freedom in my schedule to make sure I was eating well, going to bed early, and getting in runs or other exercise on a regular basis. I was sitting at my desk a lot during these 10 days, so each of these areas was a key part of my success.
Here are the things that were challenging about the writing retreat:
- Sometimes I didn’t feel like writing. When I really didn’t feel like writing any more, I switched gears and read some books for research or did something like design the book’s website. I wanted to make sure that I was progressing the book, but I also gave myself permission to take breaks from writing when I needed to. I like writing a lot, but that may be because I rarely force myself to write when I’m not feeling like it.
- It was all the book, all the time. At one point during the retreat, I took an afternoon off to visit some family for the holidays and I was VERY distracted. I felt like during these 10 days the book was pretty much all I could think about and my brain was constantly working on issues and problems with the book, even when I was supposed to be doing other things.
- I was sitting a lot. Although I tried to be good about getting up and moving around, I really wasn’t as good about it as I should have been. Full-time writing is really tough on the body.
Here’s what I would do differently next time:
- I would read more before I started writing. I dove into this retreat without finishing a lot of the research for the book and I think that would have helped me generate more polished versions of each chapter. I didn’t really have the time to do that research before this retreat, but I would definitely build that in for next time.
- I would stretch more, do yoga, walk more, etc. Basically, I would schedule in time to move my body more so that I was counteracting all the sitting at my desk.
- I would try to find a buddy. The only thing that I think could have made this retreat more fun (and it truly was fun for me) was to have a writing buddy who was also working on a large writing project at the same time. I don’t know if anyone else is as crazy as me to write over the holidays like this for 10 days straight, but next time I would look for someone that I could check in with and talk through the project with at the end of each day.
To think on:
- When was the last time you carved out time for a major project? What was the result?
- Have you ever done a writing or creating retreat? What was it like for you?