A friend recently left his job to work on a novel during a 6-month “creative sabbatical — something most writers consider a privilege and an opportunity. What we often forget is that sabbatical-like breaks present challenges of their own.
The empty canvas of time (however temporary) can seem daunting, adding pressure to the task. The lack of routine and company also can feel strange, especially to people used to the watercolor conversations and camaraderie of an office.
How did my friend feel? “Writing is hard, and it’s lonely,” he said, despite having made great progress on his book. My response? "Yes, it is.”
While writers often are introverts by nature, needing solo time to create and refresh, many of us need to engage with others to re-energize, bounce things off each other, and stay ... well, relatively sane. Those connections can help affirm our commitment to work that is both intangible (until it is published) and mentally exhausting (at least for me).
I’ve found it’s helpful when writing to a) occasionally use coworking space and b) make writing dates with writer friends. I text them when I’m headed out to a coffeehouse and, more often that not, they show up and do the same. A key to this being productive is that we respect our mutual work time so keep conversation to a minimum; when we do want to talk or need feedback on something, we check in with each other to make sure it’s a good time to interrupt.
I also joined a writer’s group at a local library and attend book readings and talks whenever possible. I don’t typically share much of my work, but it’s great to be around other writers and editors discussing the craft and the industry.
Writer’s conferences and retreats also provide the transformative time and space needed for me to make progress in my own fiction writing. (That renewed energy carries over into my professional work for clients.) I learn so much from fellow writers at these retreats, and the knowledge that they are writing all around me reinforces my own ability to focus and create.
One of the highlights of my year is the Bear River Writer’s Conference in northern Michigan, which provides workshops with experienced instructors and skilled writers such as Antonya Nelson, optional readings and craft talks, and allows plenty of free time for individual writing.
Other favorite places where I've been productive include the Vermont Studio Center, where I was inspired by the many visual artists in attendance; the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a small retreat where they leave a bucket lunch by your studio door (bliss, really); and Dorset Colony House, a do-it-yourself kind of retreat (no talks, no chef) with inspiring company. These are places where people tend to exhibit a generosity of spirit and not a lot of ego, and they’ve been pivotal in my development as a writer.
Later this month, I’m headed to Ragdale, which recently introduced short creative sabbaticals to complement the longer residencies not yet possible for those of us working as writers and as parents to young children. It's a gift, and one that I intend to make the most of.
Where would you like to go?