Get Motivated to Write with a DIY Writing Retreat

 

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I’ve been reading about do-it-yourself writing retreats a lot lately. I became intrigued about these retreats after reading an article on Writer Unboxed, which provided some practical insights about planning one. After further investigation, I was surprised by the number of articles about writers’ retreats. There’s even an e-book that can be purchased on Amazon.

Writing retreats, especially in exotic locations, sound like a dream. Imagine sequestering yourself for days in a quiet place to focus on your writing, with occasional breaks for meals and hiking and sleeping. Think of it as a solo getaway to inspire and motivate you. But writing is a solo activity, and sometimes you need a change of scenery to unblock yourself and perform more creatively.

If you have ever considered attending a writing retreat, you know how pricey they can be. Most writers I know don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on a retreat. But many writers who have planned DIY retreats say you don’t have to spend a ton of money for a fancy hotel and air fare or go to exotic destinations.

Sure, it’s nice to meet other writers and attend workshops to immerse yourself in your craft. But it’s not always possible if you are short of time and money.

To plan your own writing retreat, here’s what you need:

1. Create a vision for your writing retreat. Think about your definition of a writers’ retreat. What does it mean to you? What does it look like? Where would you go? Would you confine yourself to a library for a few hours or would you spend an entire weekend at a hotel? What would you do during the retreat? Would you do only writing, or would you take short breaks to explore the neighborhood, practice yoga or read up on your craft? You are in charge of planning your retreat, so it can be anything you want it to be. If you’re unsure what a do-it-yourself writing retreat looks like, here’s one example.

2. Start small, then work up to larger retreats. If you are a busy mom with young kids, you may not have the luxury of spending a few days away to write. Consider a short-term solution, such as a morning at the public library. Offer to house sit or pet sit for friends when they go out of town, and use their home as a writing sanctuary. Other low-cost options are a hotel lobby where there may be quiet reading areas, an unused room at the local park district fieldhouse or a neighborhood community center, a hospital lounge, or a university library. Some would argue a coffee shop, but they can be fairly noisy if there is music playing.

As you do more of these on your own and as you earn more from your writing, you may decide to venture on to larger retreat experiences involving groups of people. Writing is a solo journey, and meeting with other writers can be stimulating and socially rewarding.

3. Decide if you want this to be a solo adventure or a group outing. There are advantages to both. Going solo means you are in charge of your own schedule, you don’t have to meet up with other people and you can do what you want on your own terms. Some writers have organized retreats with other writers to share the experience, swap ideas, and motivate each other. However, if you’re doing this for the first time, going solo might be the better route.

4. Pack everything you need. Obviously, bring along your pens, notebooks and your imagination. Let go of any guilt or preconceived ideas of what you think you will accomplish. Remember to bring along books to read, especially books about the writing craft that may be collecting dust on your bookshelf. Be sure to bring a battery recharger too.

5. Re-treat yourself. Once you’ve done one or two retreats, you’ll want to do them more often. It’s like eating potato chips – you can’t eat just one. Commit to a mini-retreat once a month or every other month or even once a week. A mini-retreat can be a few concentrated hours on a Saturday morning or an entire weekend at a hotel or B&B. Planning repeated retreats shows your commitment to yourself and to your craft.

Other tips:
Do-it-yourself retreats don’t have to be just for writers. They’re perfect for aspiring entrepreneurs planning their business, artists looking for inspiration from nature, or students studying for exams.

If a retreat is beyond your schedule or budget, look into write-in programs at your local library or university. These write-ins are usually free and open to the public and give you a chance to work quietly along with other writers. Snacks are usually provided so you don’t have to take a break for meals. It’s a great opportunity to engage with other writers and immerse yourself in your writing. You can stay as long as you want, whether that’s for an hour or the entire day. The one downside is that they are planned events that may not fit your schedule.

That is why planning your own do-it-yourself writing retreat is such a cool idea. Need ideas for planning one? Check out the following articles:

Create your own mini-writing retreat
Introducing the DIY writing retreat
If you build it: Do-It-Yourself Writers Retreats

Who Needs Resolutions When You Can Create a Three-Word Theme for 2019?

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing 

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Most people don’t know how to make them so they’re able to keep them. And most of those resolutions are unrealistic anyway.

Think instead about a general theme for the New Year, something that will guide your actions, not just for one day, but for the entire year.

Here’s what I mean. In 2013, I made several ill-advised career decisions that put me into financial and emotional debt. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of what was really important to me. So at the start of 2014, I came up with a simple three-word phrase as a guide for the rest of the year. I chose “Reclaiming Your Life” as my mantra, and that phrase guided me to make better choices about my future.

When I first started this blog, I wrote about three-word mantras in terms of career missions. You can read that post here. My comments then still hold true. A three-word theme can relate to one specific aspect of your life, like your career or your relationships, or your entire life. The important thing is to come up with a phrase that resonates with who you are today and what you want to achieve.

As we enter the first week of 2019, I’ve come up with new phrases – two of them, in fact, to guide me throughout the year. “Rewrite my story” not only refers to one of the novels and the numerous essays and short stories I’ve begun writing and haven’t finished, but also my own life story. I’m not changing anything about my past – that has already happened. But I do think about how I can change the direction of my life moving forward.

The second phrase, “Say Yes More” is intended to be more accepting and welcoming of everything that comes into my life – new people, opportunities, invitations.
How would I – or any one of us — rewrite the course of our lives if we said yes more?

Here’s another example. Perhaps you are going through a major transition in your life, perhaps a career change or a divorce. You might use the phrase “Build a Bridge” to connect from your past to your future. There are numerous other possibilities. Try one of these for yourself, or create your own.

* Believe in Yourself
* Believe in Others
* Find Your Passion
* Speak Your Truth
* Treat Others Kindly
* Act with Compassion

No matter what you choose for yourself, your three-word phrase should consist of three elements.

1. Be action-oriented. Begin your statement with a verb — Build, Find, Act, Believe, etc. The verb drives the action, like the engine of a locomotive. You’re not waiting for something to happen to you because you are the one driving the action. It’s proactive rather than reactive.

2. Make it positive. A positive tone and message is more inspiring and motivational. With a positive three-word theme, you’ll want to follow it all year long.

3. Focus on your power as an instrument of change. What influence do you want to make in the world? Do you want to help others, heal others, write, build homes or make people laugh? Or do you just want to be a better human being?

Once you’ve come up with your theme, write it down and put it somewhere where you can see it every day, like the refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror. Every time you see it, think of it as an active meditation.

Instead of a general theme, you can make it project-specific. For example, if you need motivation to maintain a writing practice, try the phrase “Write 500 words” or “Publish a story.”  When you see those messages on your mirror every day, it serves as a reminder of what you want to achieve and it can help you stay on track of your goal.

The three-word phrase works because it’s short, it’s action-oriented and it’s positive. There’s also a rhythm to the sound the phrase makes when you say it, especially if you choose words with a single syllable. For example, listen to the pattern of sound when you say “Speak Your Truth.” It’s like a heartbeat – boom, boom, boom – and that heartbeat is coming from you.

Make New Year’s Resolutions if you want. Or you can take a different approach with a three-word theme to guide your actions throughout the year.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

Want to Succeed in Business? Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

icon-1623888_1280The romantic relationship that went sour after six months. The job interview that didn’t result in a job offer. The startup business that shut down.

What do these situations have in common? They’re all examples of failure. It is such a normal part of our existence. Without it, how can we possibly expect to succeed?

While failure is as common as eating or walking, it’s how we react after we’ve experienced failure that defines us. Either we can suffer in silence and decide to never try anything again, or we can dust ourselves off and get back on the horse (or bicycle, if you prefer) and keep riding. As someone recently shared with me this bit of wisdom from her CEO: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Aren’t we all afraid of failure? Failure is normal. It is expected. How many of us want so much to be successful in everything we do that sometimes we turn a blind eye to the value failure brings to our experience? Perhaps we should begin to honor our failures as much as we celebrate our successes. After all, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We learn perseverance, patience and resilience. We learn the conviction of our ideas, our talents and our hard work.

For each project that fails to meet a deadline, for every team that does not achieve its year-end sales goals, for every relationship that slips away, and for every business that shuts its doors, there is something to be gained. We cannot be afraid to fail. It is as vital to our lives as breathing. We cannot be afraid to fail if we want to be successful someday.

Just look to Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln, two of the most successful men in American history. We might remember them for their successes, but they had many failures too. We remember Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, but he invented many other items in his lifetime that failed to catch on with the public, such as electric pens, automatic vote recorder, and tinfoil phonograph. But he didn’t allow the failure of these inventions to derail him. He kept going, and kept inventing.

Abraham Lincoln ran for public office multiple times, and won a few races along the way. But we remember him for his ultimate victory, becoming the 16th President of the United States.

The reason why these men eventually succeeded was because they refused to dwell on their past failures. Dwelling on failures will only slow you down and make you doubt yourself, and that’s the last thing you want to feel about yourself. As a colleague told me many years ago, “Fear and doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.” Perhaps more troubling than failure is not trying at all.

So what if we fail? We can all learn from Edison and Lincoln, who clearly refused to let their failures define them. They refused to give up. I believe what is necessary after a loss or failure is to take a step back and reassess what happened and why, and more important, to do so without blame or self-recrimination (which can be tempting, but counter-productive). Most of all, remember that just because a project ended or a business failed, it does not mean you are a failure as a human being.

Failure may be the best thing that happens to us in our lifetimes. We might feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about our failures, but there is nothing to fear from them. Maybe it’s time to appreciate them for what they are and how they make us better people over the long term.

 

Want to Improve Your Business Skills? Try Working a Crossword Puzzle

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An editor I worked with many years ago used to set out the day’s New York Times crossword puzzle so that everyone in the office could fill in the blanks that he could never finish. Usually by the end of the day, that crossword puzzle was completely filled in.

Another company I know has one or two jigsaw puzzles set up in one corner of the office in varying stages of completion. Workers who pass by can work on them, filling in a few pieces at a time while taking a break from their own tasks. Little by little, the puzzles are getting becoming more complete.

You don’t have to work in an office with a group of co-workers to enjoy the benefits of working puzzles. Computer games make it possible to complete puzzles on your own. Whether you play Free Flow, Angry Birds or Tetris, on your own or with a group of people, on the computer or in an office, computer games and puzzles can do more for your professional life than just provide a temporary respite from the daily grind. They can also help you build skills that are as beneficial to your business success as they are to your personal life. Here’s what games and puzzles can do for you:

They can help you solve problems. 
When playing games and puzzles, you are faced with a task, and it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it, whether it’s to arrive at a certain destination, overcome an obstacle or reach some other goal. You may not have all the information you need to get there so you have to make the best decisions possible, and you may not have a lot of time to make them. Games like chess can also help you learn to anticipate an opponent’s moves so you can be prepared to respond appropriately. The more problems you solve in puzzles and games, the more skilled you become in solving problems in your everyday business life.

They help you process data and meet deadlines. 
Since some games are timed, you may be faced with a running clock – or a looming deadline — while trying to solve a problem. When you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you have to make snap decisions. You learn to quickly assess a problem, come up with possible solutions then decide which one will work best in that situation – all while racing against the clock. If you work in a fast-paced environment, these types of timed games can help you become better problem solvers while under pressure to meet a deadline.

They help improve concentration and focus. 
Playing puzzles and games helps you focus on the task at hand and block out distractions and improve your concentration. When you are able to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption, you can resolve the problem or reach goals more quickly. Participating in games and puzzles proves that multi-tasking is counterproductive because you need to have good concentration to successfully complete the puzzle or problem in front of you.

They help develop self-trust and intuition.
When working on problems at work or working on a puzzle in your spare time, you may find yourself working with limited data. With less than optimal amounts of information available, you have to find other means to solve problems. Usually that means trusting your own past experience and your intuition to know what your next move may be.

They help improve your emotional and mental outlook. 
The most obvious benefit to playing games is the emotional lift it gives you. Games are just plain fun, and when you take time to have fun, your outlook improves. By setting aside your own work problems to focus on a puzzle or game for even 10 or 15 minutes gives your brain a rest so that when you do come back to work, you can look at a problem or task with a clear head. And with a clear head comes a solution you did not see before.

Clearly, games and puzzles offer many benefits. Just don’t overdo it on the playing part and refrain from using games to avoid working on a project you should be doing. If you have a habit of spending too much time playing games and puzzles, and not enough time working on your latest client project, perhaps you need to time yourself. Games and puzzles are a leisure activity after all, not a key part of your job. So set the clock for 30 minutes for play time, then get back to work.

Supporting a Favorite Cause Can Be Good for Your Professional Life

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Today is known in our gift-giving season as Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back to the community. The movement, which began in 2012, shifts public attention away from the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season toward more meaningful, community service activities. Giving Tuesday is intended to bring the focus back to what the Christmas season is all about – giving to those in need.

As an independent worker or small business owner, giving back not only makes you feel good, it can be good for your business. Getting involved with a charitable group, especially one aligned with your professional identity, can give you added exposure in the community and attract new clients.

For example, if you work as a graphic designer, volunteering for a small theater group to design their sets can not only improve your skills, but put you in touch with people who may need your services. Likewise, if you write for a living, you might consider volunteering for organizations aligned with your writing interests, such as libraries, literacy programs or be a writing tutor.

Before you sign up for a volunteering program, there are several factors to keep in mind.

1. Why do you want to volunteer? There are many different reasons for getting involved with a cause. For some, it’s important to give back to their community. Others want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Yet others get involved to build their skills or improve their community. Whatever reason you have for volunteering, make sure it’s honest and sincere. The more sincere you are and the more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you will stick with your commitment.

2. Do your homework. If you want to get involved and aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you figure out what’s important to you and put you in touch with organizations that need your help. Check out Volunteer Match, Serve.gov, and Allforgood.org. These sites are a good starting point to find out what types of volunteer opportunities are available and the types of organizations that need help.

3. Assess your interests. Before you begin volunteering, take time to reflect on issues that are important to you. What issues get your blood thumping or makes your heart swell with joy? Are you concerned about the environmental, poverty, homelessness, literacy or women’s health? Make a list of these issues, then prioritize them in order of most important to least. Then choose one or two that are most worthy of your time and attention.

Next, find organizations that best represent those causes that are important to you. Do a Google search, entering key words that match your interests. For example, enter “literacy programs, volunteer” and see what pops up on your list. As you find these organizations, take the time to research each one. Review their website, read their mission statement, understand their requirements to volunteer. Some organizations may require a background check, especially if you plan to work one-on-one with children or seniors. If the group seems suitable, contact them to learn more about them. Most groups have a new volunteer orientation so you can see what they do.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities: a local place of worship, library or park district. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family too since they may already be involved in an organization and can give you the inside scoop about what kind of assistance that group needs.

4. Consider your time commitment. How much time can you give to the cause? A few hours each week? One afternoon each month? Volunteering doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but make sure you have time to truly commit to the cause. Be honest with yourself. If all you have to contribute is one or two hours per month, then be clear about that with the organization up front.

5. Consider your skills and talents. Volunteering is a great opportunity to develop your skills. Maybe you want to gain experience fundraising, event planning or grant writing. The opposite is also true. If you have strong organizational skills or communications skills, you can put them to work by negotiating contracts or teaching people how to read or write.

Once you know what causes are important to you and how you can contribute, getting involved with your favorite non-profit group and contributing to the community can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.

16 Quotes About Gratitude

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Wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., enjoy this time with family and friends. Take time to smell the turkey and reflect on what is important in your life.

No actual story this week. Instead, enjoy the following motivational quotes that are sure to inspire you and warm your heart. Happy Thanksgiving.

1. Count your rainbows instead of your thundershowers.  – Unknown

2. If you count your assets, you always show a profit. – Robert Quillen

3. I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. – Ancient Persian Proverb

4. Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

5. Gratitude is one of the sweet short cuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something to be grateful for. – Barry Neil Kaufman

6. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

7. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. –- Marcel Proust

8. In the bad times, choose to grow stronger. In the good times, choose to enjoy fully. In all times, choose to be grateful. – Unknown

9. I’m thankful for my struggle because from it, I have found my strength. – Unknown

10. The more you thank life, the more life gives you to be thankful for. – Unknown

11. The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. – Robert Holden

12. No matter what language you speak, a kind and smiling Thank You always speaks to everyone’s hearts. – Unknown

13. Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. – Henry Ward Beecher

14. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. – Anonymous

15. Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. – Seneca

16. Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you sue it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. – Alan Cohen

Fearful Fantasies vs. Authentic Intuition

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Ever find yourself thinking way ahead of yourself because your imagination has propelled you into the unknown future? It might provide a pleasant interlude for the moment, but in the long run, nothing realistic or concrete can come from that experience.

In fact, living in the future and engaging in fear-based thinking can be detrimental to our health and well-being, and our business success. Astrologer Rob Brezsny describes the differences between fearful fantasies and true, authentic intuition in a profound, thought-provoking essay. As Brezsny writes, knowing the difference between these two elements is “one of the greatest spiritual powers you can possibly have.”

Fearful fantasies are those scary, alienating pictures that sometimes pop into your imagination. They are ego-driven, and they are false prophecies of events to come. Yet many people confuse these fearful fantasies with their intuition. For example, they may imagine someone they love getting into an accident, or losing a job. But these scary futuristic images are not true intuition, writes Brezsny.

True, authentic intuition, on the other hand, is driven by the soul and is never ruled by fear. It comes from “the wise, loving core of our being. It blooms in us like a slow-motion fountain of warmth. It reveals the objective truth about a person or situation with lucid compassion. It shows us the big picture.”

Powerful, heady stuff.

How many times have you found yourself drifting in fearful fantasyland or made choices based on imaginative half-truths? How many poor decisions have any of us made, believing we were being guided by our intuition, when we actually made those choices out of fear? I think we are all guilty of doing that at some point in our lives.

I think the real difference between fearful fantasies and authentic intuition is the placement of time — the past, present and future. Where are you living — in the now or in some time or place in the future?

In our fearful fantasies, we tend to relive events of the past or create future circumstances that may never materialize the way we imagine, while authentic intuition is based on present circumstances, seeing things as they currently are and not as we wish they could be.

Further, by staying in the moment, our thinking slows down so we are able to process events and people in real time. When we stay in the moment, we are able to tap into our intuition, giving it freedom to guide us and show us the truth of our lives, even if it might be painful or difficult. Our authentic tuition also provides the emotional tools we need to resolve those difficulties, without succumbing to fear-based thinking.

As Brezsny further writes: “True intuition may show us a difficult truth, but it always does so with a suggestion of how to deal gracefully and courageously with that difficult truth. True intuition may reveal imminent changes that could compel us to adjust our behavior, but it always does so in a way that empowers us.”

So how do we flush away those fear-based fantasies fed by our imagination and make room for more truth-based intuition? For starters, shut off images from the TV, social media, and newspapers and spend more time with nature. Stay in silence and meditate often. For many of us, that may be the best way to form a stronger connection with ourselves and avoid the perils of fearful thinking.