Manifestos for Mini-Creative Retreats

Manifestos for Mini-Creative Retreats

Create January 28, 2016 / By Jeffrey Davis
Manifestos for Mini-Creative Retreats

Retreats are necessary for the creative mind to have uninterrupted time to wander, tinker, and ultimately move great ideas into action. But how do you keep from over-booking that creative time with too much ambition (the counter-mood to a retreat!) on one hand and a loose free-for-all in which little actually gets done on the other?

Not too long ago, I conducted another experiment. From a Monday night after dinner to a Wednesday night before dinner, just my best self and I working on a small book. My family and clients cooperated.

Some of you know I’m a fan of in-house creative retreats and Deep Dive Retreats. An in-house creative retreat can last 4 hours, 8 hours, 24 hours, or – the Grand Dame – a full 48 hours. Beyond that, I take the retreat outside of the home. Currently, once a month for four days I rent a farmhouse in the Catskill Mountains an hour's drive away to advance a bigger book project. You can read more complete guidelines here.

But here’s the problem many of us face: How do you keep from over-booking that creative time with too much ambition (the counter-mood to a retreat!) on one hand and a loose free-for-all in which little actually gets done on the other?

How do you talk to your self to keep on track without feeling as if you're making yourself a factory worker just “getting things done”?

Here’s what I came up with: A Retreat Manifesto.

Simply put, a Retreat Manifesto is a short list of key ways of being I want to feel during the retreat. Some of them are rules, guidelines, adages.

In short, they’re reminders that I post visibly for me to see and to remind myself of. It’s a strategy to remind my mind that it’s not abiding by rules, rhythms, and guidelines for a typical work day. It’s on creative retreat (and not vacation).

Here’s my latest Retreat Manifesto:

Avoid Clocks.
I hide both clocks in my studio and tape up my computer clock. Getting off clock time and heeding the sun to gauge generally how much time is passing lets the imagination get into a rich rhythm.

Court the Outdoors.
In other words, take breaks. Gauge when you’re “pushing” yourself and then back off. A long walk in the woods took pressure off my mind. When I sprawled on my back beneath an oak and gazed at the sky among the branches I felt a part of myself I hadn’t felt in too long. I came back to my study refreshed (and with three deer bones).

Otherwise, a walk around a city block literally changes your perspective and outlook. It can be a key way, too, to “diverge” creatively and potentially get those golden “aha!” moments.

Choose Your Mind’s Station.
This one’s critical. Our brains generally have what neuro-scientists call a “default circuitry.” It’s the brain circuitry stimulated when our minds wander without focus. If not harnessed, this default circuitry slips into self-doubt, worry about other people, fret about your obligations, and blah-blah story-telling of how your work sucks (instead of the good storytelling we writers need).

Not five minutes into the woods, my mind tried to solve someone else’s creative problems. I stopped. Gazed at a stream for several minutes. And tried to change my mind’s station back to direct experience or to wandering and wondering without fret.

Not easy. It’s why creative mindfulness practitioners emphasize practice.

Eat Regularly.
The embodied mind thrives on optimal amounts of blood sugar. I know that. Still, I also have to remind myself to take breaks and eat and eat well. I keep meals simple and healthy.

Go Offline. And Stay.
If your mini-retreat is for 4 or 8 hours, use Freedom. (If Jonathan Franzen has to use it, you can justify using it, too.) Otherwise, if you think you must check email correspondence, try this: Check it once per 24 hours. Have a goal: Check for emergencies, not diversions. Don’t read anything that could be emotionally charged. Allot only 20 minutes. I did this. It worked beautifully.

Play. Do Nothing. Well.
I didn’t do so hot on this one. Although I did strum my guitar a couple of times. I did dance to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. I took two hot baths. I did lay on my back and stare at the sky. Maybe I did okay here.

Here are my take-aways:

  • Before your retreat begins, craft 4-6 such statements in ways that evoke the moods you want to feel during the retreat.
  • Post them visibly.
  • Repeat them at the beginning and periodically throughout the day.
  • Share them with someone in your Wild Pack before your retreat. Doing so helps you feel supported.
  • Don’t over-schedule. Try not to feel desperate about your time. Let yourself complete one, two, or three parts of a project and feel good about that completion.

What would you include on your next Retreat Manifesto? Any questions or tips to share?

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