What I Learned From My Creative Retreat

At the beginning of this year, I carved out a week for a creative retreat, giving myself a set of rules to follow and setting some intentions for how I wanted to spend it — namely, reading and writing.

As part of the exercise, I took notes along the way, both on what I was reading and anything that was sparked by that, and also on the experience of the retreat as a whole. Of course as soon as reality set back in and I was into the regular swing of things, my Google Doc fell to the bottom of my drafts folder and those brilliant ideas were quickly forgotten, which also gives you a pretty good idea of how this year has played out so far. I’ll give you a hint: overwhelm.

So here I was, organizing my folder like any sanity-seeking business owner, when I came across the original document, aptly titled Creative Retreat 2016 — Notes. Following a period during which I’ve let my writing fall to the wayside and I’ve lost sight of my “why” and am just generally feeling a little lost and uninspired, it served as a bit of a kickstart to remind me of what I had learned during this weeklong retreat that was still very much relevant. It was a bit of a love note to myself, right when I needed it the most and complete with ideas on how to find inspiration once again.

I've edited the notes slightly for grammatical consistency (in direct contradiction to note #3, whoops!), but otherwise these lessons are pulled directly from that original doc, with no major edits or additions based on further contemplations. It feels the most real that way, and that's exactly what I wanted to capture. 

So straight from my notes, here are the lessons I learned during my creative retreat: 


// Use reading as a stimulus.

Jot down phrases that capture my attention or intrigue me, and make note of ideas I want to further explore.

// Take notes.

I haven’t truly done this since university probably, and it looks pretty different this time around. It’s less about jotting down quotes or dates or key pieces of information to try to memorize and more about writing down reactions to what I’m reading. My own thoughts and ideas that are sparked.

// Don’t pay attention to or worry about formatting, spelling, sentence structure or even forming complete sentences that make any semblance of sense.

Write for the sake of writing, don’t think about why exactly you’re inspired to make note of something. Don’t get hung up on the aesthetics or the details.

This kind of feels like a total contradiction, because so much of what I do and where my skill set lies deals directly with aesthetics and details. But maybe this is the balance I need? Maybe there’s something to be said for that juxtaposition, maybe it uses a different part of my brain.

On a more personal note, it’s important to note that though this may sound silly, it’s really hard for me. For example, I wanted to jot down a poem that was mentioned in the book I was reading, so I found it online and copied and pasted it into my Google doc. But the font was different, the formatting was all funky, it didn’t fit with the notes I already had. This kind of thing really bothers me. I’m detail-oriented, a recovering perfectionist and a serial tweaker — “Let me just fix that one little thing…”


// Respect the rules but also pay attention to what I want to do, in the moment.

It was important to me that although there was an intention behind taking this week, I also wanted it to feel indulgent — like I was treating myself. I wanted to be able to get lost down rabbit holes, to follow creative urges when they arose, and to feel like I had the time to spend doing all the things I don’t always get to do. So though I said no writing blog posts, as I was reading my second book, Playing Big, it inspired me to dive deeper into a blog post that I had previously outlined, and I let myself follow that.

I think this is one of the things about creativity — we can’t force it, and in order to nurture it, it’s essential that we pay attention to the ebb and flow. I’m learning more and more that often my creativity is stimulated by the least expected, when you’re not hunting it down. You know when you were younger, angsting over an unrequited crush and your friends would remind you that as soon as you stopped obsessing about that special someone, that would be when they finally showed interest? It’s kind of like that.

So when a brilliant idea hits you at an “inconvenient” time, embrace it. At the very least, take a moment to jot down the essence of it. I’ve often found that it’s when I’m walking my dog that ideas I’ve been struggling with or partially outlined blog posts start to come to life, and all of a sudden a concept that I felt blocked by begins to take form. It’s why I carry a notebook wherever I can, why many surfaces in our apartment are littered with post-its, and why the notes app on my phone is full of thoughts, ideas and random observations or questions to dive into at a later time. 


// Include elements of this creative retreat into my everyday schedule.

Set aside time to read and write, and make it a priority as part of my normal schedule, especially since the reality of taking a week to focus on this regularly isn’t likely, so it's probably better to look at it from an "I'll take what I can get" perspective.