I just self-published my very first novel, Dragon Slayer: Beginnings. Given my relative inexperience, I’m probably not the best person to listen to when it comes to learning how to write a novel.
But… I’ve found a very helpful way to crank out the words and get the book written in record time. I’d like to share it with you.
It’s through what I call a “Writing Retreat.”
Ready? Let’s dive in.
How can a writing retreat help me get my novel written?
Here’s how I define a writing retreat: A time you set aside to get away from the “normal” aspects of your life, to focus solely on your writing. It can be “special” or not, long or short, in an “inspiring” setting or not. The main point is that you isolate yourself from other responsibilities and distractions so that you can focus solely on your writing. Here’s some of what helped me…
Find the right place
I suggest, if at all possible, that you go away from your regular routine for your writing retreat. A hotel room, a friend’s house while they are on vacation, or a local B&B are all possible options. But you don’t have to do it that way. You can write it in your basement, or in a coffee shop (if you’re able to write in such a busy place). The place doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re able to maintain a singular focus. The point is to find a place that you are intentionally designating as a “writing space” for that period of time. Most recently, I had the opportunity to dog-sit for some friends, and I decided to make that time, alone at their house, into a writing retreat.
Make it a set time frame
It’s helpful for me to know that I have a specific period of time that is set aside just for writing. I give myself permission to “take time off” from other responsibilities. I prefer a longer period of time. My most recent retreat was for 5 days, while my friends were out of town. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can do a shorter retreat, perhaps blocking out an entire day one week, or six hours one afternoon. What matters is that I’m able to get into a productive frame of mind when I know that I have a significant chunk of time set aside just for writing.
Work with the people in your household to maximize the opportunity
I am married and have 4 kids still at home. That means, there’s a lot of responsibility I’m leaving behind when I go on a writing retreat. In order to do it, I’ve got to come to an agreement about the time with my wife, in order to make sure that things at home are taken care of while I’m gone. We prepare for my absence together, making sure we get adequate time together before I leave. We also make sure that I have time with all of the kids before I go. This step helps all of us feel like the retreat is not taking too much from the family. If I’m doing my retreat at home, say for an afternoon, we make sure everybody knows about it, so that I can be undisturbed.
Discipline yourself to write, and write, and write
For me, this is part of the benefit of having an actual get-away retreat. Being outside my regular environment creates a “special” feeling to the time. It helps me stay in the mindset of diligence that I need to be in, in order to get the most done. If it’s a longer retreat, I create a daily retreat schedule, which for me, consists of at least 3 writing blocks per day. Each block is anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how the writing is going. I set my mind to be committed to that block of time, and write, no matter how difficult it seems. I push through obstacles, ignore writer’s block, and make myself get words onto the page. At this point, I’m not at all concerned about editing, or polishing sentences and structure. My only goal is to get the basic story out of my head and onto paper (actually, into the computer).
I know myself; if I don’t have breaks during a retreat like this, I’ll wear myself out and never get the book completed. So, between my writing blocks, I do things that help to refresh me. I eat. I watch a movie. I take a nap. I read something. I poke around on social media. Whatever it is that helps you relax your mind, plug that in to your break times, so that you can be refreshed when it’s time to get back to writing.
I’m flexible with my schedule, but only when it benefits my writing
I allow myself to be flexible, but only as a benefit to my writing. What I mean by that is that I’ll go over my scheduled writing blocks if I’m really doing well at writing (rather than cutting if off because my time is up). But I won’t flex the schedule just because I am tired, or have brain-lock, or would prefer to do something else. For example: on my last last writing retreat, the words were flowing so well, I didn’t want to disrupt the creative juices that were flowing, so I just kept writing. I was having so much fun, it was 4AM before I realized it! Naturally, my schedule the next day had to change, so that I wouldn’t be like the walking dead, but it was worth it because I had accomplished so much the night before.
If you are looking for an effective way to write a novel, a series of writing retreats are one tool that I highly recommend.
On my last retreat, I was able to write 20,000 words over a 5 day period. I have another retreat scheduled already and am expected to get even more done then. When you’re trying to figure out how to write a novel, make sure you consider writing retreats!