It’s barely two weeks since I got home from Nicaragua, and long gone is the sweet smell of dragon fruit I ate for breakfast or the sticky heat that pricked my skin all afternoon in the sun. I’m home now, where it’s winter.
I miss being away. I miss it badly. I write better, explore better, see better when I’m traveling.
This is why I plan my Pen Paper Paradise writing retreats in far away places. Where the dog doesn’t have to be fed. No laundry to wash or fold, and you never have to remind anyone to put on their shoes, put on their shoes, put on your damn shoes.
So far, I’ve taken groups of writers to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In between the words we write, we trek the jungle, stand at the edge of the waves and marvel at how happy we look in every photo. It’s impossible to capture a bad image of such beautiful places.
But being away is challenging, too. It requires time, energy and money. Heat, bugs, delayed flights, food that tastes funny and different languages push your boundaries. You might be overwhelmed. You might be scared. You may long for the comforts of home that even if you find something similar, it’s never quite the same when you’re away.
“Why do you always choose these places?” someone asked at my last retreat, her words tinged maybe with a bit of frustration.
I always have my reasons. They are good reasons, too.
1. You renew your commitment to your writing.
Guess what happens when you finally decide to join me in another country to write?
You start writing. You write well, and you write a lot.
At my last retreat, one person arrived feeling confused and without a plan for her book. She left a week later with a complete structure, feeling organized as well as having written more than fifty solid pages. And she’s not the only one.
When’s the last time you wrote that much at home?
Once you sign up for a Pen Paper Paradise retreat, all your excuses disappear. You stop worrying if what you’re saying is good enough because you’d rather hand me something unfinished than nothing at all. Perfection takes a back seat to just getting the damn thing done because you only have five months, no now it’s three months, now one, and OMG, now you have someone asking you to hand in your pages.
You throw perfection to the wind and decide you’d rather just write your book. It’s that finished book in your hand that really drives you.
2. Discomfort breeds creativity.
When you visit a new place, you’re pushed out of your comfort zone. You don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know what will happen next.
That sounds a lot like writing, doesn’t it?
Writing is pain. You stand eye to eye with your past, your insecurities and those voices in your head that tell you no one wants to hear what you have to say because of, well, any number of reasons you’ve decided are true. When you’re home and feel the discomfort of writing, it’s easy to be distracted and run away. When you’re away and with a group of writers, something else happens. Instead of escaping, you find the nearest palm tree, sit with yourself and write through the pain.
3. You create new writing patterns.
Being away destabilizes you. You can’t slip into the comfort of your regular daily habits. Those habits, by the way, have been baked into your life. Often, you don’t even realize you’re going through the same motions. Your day fills with obligations, temptations, aggravations, enjoyments, and too often, writing gets lost.
Each day at our retreat takes on its own rhythm. We start with yoga and breakfast. Then we break to write. Then we gather for a workshop. Then we break for lunch and then more writing. When you get stuck, you simply come to me and we talk about your words. We figure out what’s happening and get you back to writing.
Repeat for a week. At the end, we talk about ways you can incorporate these new habits into your life at home.
4. Travel is writing magic.
One thing that many travelers and writers have in common is that we see the world through a different lens. When you travel and immerse yourself in another country and culture, you start to realize that the norms of where you live are arbitrary. It helps you unhook from those norms and allows you to see the world in a way no one else does. The stories you tell, then, also become your own, unique view of life.
Imagine yourself in a new town. In Nicaragua or Costa Rica or Spain. The color of the sky is like none you’ve seen and birds chirp in languages you don’t understand. Then go in search of a coffee and a clear table that has a plug for your computer and an open runway for glorious people watching.
Who knows which of the characters there will appear in your book.
5. You find your community.
Every writer needs a community. These are the people who read your work, share your vision, and ask you “How’s that shitty first draft going?” It’s not like when your great Aunt Betty asks, though. Your writing community understands the challenges of creating a writing life because they’re doing it as you do it.
I see how community encourages and supports writers at my Pen Paper Paradise retreats, too. We form a close knit group of like minded people who write together, eat together, explore together and cheer each other on as we finish writing our books.
It’s not easy writing a book. There’s no need to do it alone.