When my wonder woman wife Ann booked an art workshop for a week the hamster wheel in my brain started spinning. Squeaky and lopsided as it is, it still rotates. With a wobble.
Three years back a friend and I improvised a creative retreat across the state in a rental home in Anna Maria Island. My creative compadre for that retreat was improv comedian-speaker-writer-coach-transformational artist Travis Thomas — damn, what doesn’t this guy do?!
He’s beautiful too, so unfair.
It proved fun — and successful — so much so we vowed on our ancestors’ graves to do it annually.
We wiffled on that vow — ancestors are spinning in their underground cubicles — not managing to get another creative retreat off the ground . . . till now.
When Ann set the wheels in motion for her Big Sur art workshop week, I pounced on the idea for another DIY Creative Retreat, this time from our home.
Our son is in high school, so technically this wouldn’t be a round-the-clock creative mania like the one Travis and I did for several days on the barrier island.
It would mean about 6 hours a day including our lunch break. It was the best I could muster between delivering Zane to school and picking him up at the furthest point I could get him to disembark from the bus each day (to gain an extra half an hour).
(Devious, I know.)
Travis was on board immediately — love his spontaneity. He lives up to his improv roots. He yes anded immediately.
For those who might want to make their own intensely productive focus time happen, here are my loosey goosey Rules for How to Create a Successful Do-It-Yourself Creative Retreat:
1. Do it with a like-minded friend
This is my number one creative retreat suggestion if you can swing it . . . because is it really a retreat if you do it solo?
You can argue philosophically that it is — I’ve managed to ferret out time for creative bursts by myself. But there’s something about the presence of other people that spurs me to greater heights, greater commitment.
A great example is this very week:
Monday I was on my own yet still managed a fair amount of work despite a school holiday and the beginning of an exhaust fan installation into Ann’s studio that would take several days.
Cutting through exterior walls is not whisper work. There’s grinding and high-pitched whining, even if mostly from me.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday Travis joined me. He couldn’t make Thursday because of other commitments. Slacker.
Thursday, oh Thursday.
Thursday was the only day my creative retreat efforts collapsed. I spent too much time with Harley who was installing the exhaust fan in the morning.
After he left, seeing I had approximately an hour till lunch time I made the mistake of glancing at my phone. Responding to an email led to God only knows what else.
For the next hour and a half!
It’s like coming out of a digital bender when you look up sheepishly, myopic because you haven’t once glanced away from the phone, afraid to admit even to yourself you squandered 90 precious minutes on advice columnists.
Surely what I gleaned from humanity’s angstyness could have waited till later that evening while Zane was studying.
Which brings me to . . .
2. Set a schedule
. . . and stick to it.
In our case Travis arrived at 9, we kibbitzed for just a few minutes, then went to our spaces and revved our mighty engines.
We clocked out for lunch around 11:45 — scooted off to a Mediterranean meal spot in a neighboring town — and then came back for a couple more hours afterward.
3. Create space to work
Notice how I said we calved off from one another and went to work?
Workspaces matter. Not terribly much to two guys who are working primarily off their laptops, but they do.
I need space for my notes, my laptop, some water, my notepad for scribbling half-formed thoughts. Travis needed quiet, to create short videos, blast through his considerable email contacts and to handle the occasional phone call.
My makeshift workspace is pictured above. We lugged my son’s desk from his room to our living room. Voila, instant additional home office.
4. Vary your rhythm
Here’s an example:
I start out at the desk, tappata tappata typing away on the laptop keyboard. As soon as I feel myself flagging, I ooze on over to one of the bean bags — or to a recliner — and grab my notepad.
Settled in I let my drowsy brain drum up ideas, which I capture with the diligence of an 18th-century Lepidopterologist. (Butterfly enthusiast-collector-expert — I won’t make you look that up!)
I let my slow-moving neural network fire ideas languidly down my arm onto the page . . .
Then, when I’ve had enough of that, feeling revived, I slide into the upright position at the desk again.
Tappata tappata tappata.
Away I go.
5. Work from a different workspace than normal
. . . if you can.
Travis worked from my home office (a glorious term for my L-shaped desk in the master bedroom adjacent to the room I worked in).
I insisted on this to throw me out of my comfort zone. It may have seemed a generous gesture for Travis — who I hope is not reading this and discovering the naked ambition beneath my largesse — for me it was a surge of electricity.
To sit and work in a not quite familiar space put my imagination on high alert.
6. Take freaking breaks!
Our daily lunch was the best reboot tool of the day. We drove off, sauntered into a fast casual joint for a healthy meal, talked with the pent-up emotion of solitary confinement inmates let loose in The Yard for one hour, then jumped back into the work for the afternoon.
7. Bonus rule: Start off the day with someone who sparks you
Each morning between lobbing Zane onto the school grounds and starting at 9 am with Travis, I squeezed in a breakfast. Not just any kind, the inspirational kind.
A different friend from my creative universe was scheduled for each day of the week. This amped me up. More than you can imagine.
Minx Boren — whose Balance Points emails you have to sign up for because they are wisdom and poetry and verve all in one. Minx was excited to talk about her own bookitos in progress, which revved me all the more.
Another friend could meet only briefly because he was finishing up a bookito for his bioneurofeedback center. (Biofeedback for the brain.)
Each morning a different personality would energize my creative hemisphere into a higher state. An excited state, as they call it in physics and lap dancing.
On the drive between the diner and
home the creative retreat, ideas would be gushing — spilling onto note pads at stop lights.
That was Week 1 for my Year of Micro Experiments. Though this week was not micro at all, it set the tone and birthed the idea:
In case you want to follow along, I’m focusing on these areas:
— Creative work
— Enhancing relationships
— Body betterment
— Mental/spiritual hygiene
— Time optimization (in a relaxed way; I aspire to luxuriously unhurried chill focus)
— Outreach and marketing
Please email me suggestions at Evan (at) NotesForCreators (dot) com