Another DIY Writing Retreat

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

My employer gives all of the staff two weeks off each December for the holidays. This is time off that does not count against our PTO, which is used for federal holidays, vacation, and sick leave.

In return for that chunk of time off, they ask that we periodically check the help queue and watch for any help tickets with “Urgent” in the subject line. We also have an out-of-office message that asks our software users to only mark messages as urgent if they have lost data from their software or are suffering from crashes with the program.

If we happen to see a ticket marked “Urgent” that doesn’t fit those criteria, we are free to ignore it until we are all back online in January.

This year, I’ve decided that I’m going to use this time off to set up a mini writing retreat for myself. During the first part of my break, Jen is also taking time off from work. But, she’s using it to study for her torts final exam, which is Wednesday the 21st. That’s the day this post will go live on my blog. (As I write this on Saturday morning, she is on campus, getting prepped to take her contracts final exam.)

I have decided that my goal is to spend the first three hours of my morning writing. That could be writing a new blog post (like this one) or perhaps writing in my journal. It could also be writing or editing some existing projects. Or even something completely new if the urge hits me.

My goal for that writing period is to craft 2,500 words or spend the three hours editing and writing in some combination. For working on brand-new material, a word count is helpful. For revising, I really have a hard time calculating word counts.

If I add 250 words but edit and revise another 750, which results in deleting 250 words, is that progress? And, if I end up repeating that process until I’ve shortened a work into a publishable length, how do you measure the progress? I never quite know how to judge “success” if the end result has fewer words in total because I found better, more concise ways to convey an idea.

Anyway, my goal is that 3-hour chunk of time each day, with the hopes that I’ll have measurable progress at some point to report.

I’m also carving out a 2-hour block of time each day for just relaxing and reading. I just started Chuck Wendig’s Wayward, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting since reading Wanderers during the pandemic.

Also queued up are N.K. Jemisin’s The World We Make and R.F. Kuang’s Babel. I finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents on Thursday evening, and I’m recommending it to my reader friends. It’s a well-crafted and eye-opening review of just how America’s racial divide resembles caste systems from India and Nazi Germany. It gave me a lot to think about and some new insights into why American politics work the way they do.

Along with my chunks of writing and reading time, I’m giving myself an hour or so each day to check for urgent help tickets at work. I’m also going to spend an hour or so each day working on some cleaning and reorganizing tasks that we haven’t really had time to address. And, I have a two to three hour chunk of time marked for playing some video games. That’s in addition to keeping my evenings free so that Jen and I can relax and spend some time together.

My goal when I start back to work on January 2nd is that I feel like this break was both restful but also productive. Since writing often makes me feel energized and more balanced, I’m hoping that the daily writing habit will help put me in a better frame of mind for the other items I’d like to do.

I don’t want to plan too many household cleanup projects, but I also don’t want to have January 2nd hit and then be pissed with myself for not doing any of the organizational tasks I’ve been avoiding.
I figured the best way to feel that I used my time over this break well is to map out some chunks of time for each day when I’d like to get certain items accomplished. That doesn’t mean I’ll meet all of those goals each day of the break.

But, having a plan and trying to stick with it will–I hope–mean that I’m not frustrated and disappointed in myself for not doing more with the time off.

As they say, everything in moderation, including moderation.

One of my first tasks will be re-organizing my desk space. (The picture at the top of this post is courtesy of Andrea Davis on Unsplash.) And, I think that’s what many writers and other creatives imagine an ideal workspace should look like.

But the reality is, I think most of us have desks that look like this:

And no. That is not a picture of my actual desk. (It’s another photo from Unsplash, this time compliments of Wonderlane on Unsplash.) My desk isn’t this messy, but at times it feels like it is.

My point is: Creativity is actually messy. At least, it is in my experience. I have stacks of notebooks, printouts, Post-its, and random knick-knacks scattered all over my desk. Along with glasses cleaners, lotion containers, my coasters, my tea heater, my pen stand, and a large cat bed so Xander can nap here if he’d like.

My computer files are even more cluttered, although at least there I have some organization planned with sub-folder after sub-folder for different stuff. But, I know that I’ll feel better and perhaps focus better if I reorganize my desk. So, that’s today’s cleaning task after I write this blog post and a journal entry (along with whatever other writing or editing I do.)

I plan to post an update next week with my current progress on my writing, reading, and cleaning goals. And, I might revisit the topic after the holiday break just to round up what worked and what didn’t.

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