By Cathleen Armstrong
Anyone who has ever attended a conference knows the feeling. You come home exhausted with a notebook full of workshop handouts and a head full of everything you’ll need to take your writing to new levels. You come home with names and email addresses and Facebook contacts of writers with the same goals and aspirations you have and contacts in the publishing industry that you can get nowhere else. But most of all, exhausted as you are, you come home filled with the energy that permeated every corner of the conference. You are geared to go, and as soon as you unpack, do the laundry, check in with your family, and put out any fires that popped up at home and at work while you were gone, you are wading into your writing with new purpose.
But, life seems to intervene, doesn’t it? We still have the story. We have all the new ideas and skills that we gleaned from the conference, but that conference energy that was driving us to our keyboards begins slowly to leak like helium from a balloon, and our highflying, brightly colored dreams can find themselves bouncing sadly behind the sofa.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just as you knew you could while you were at that conference, you can be the one to take control of your writing life. And you don’t need a constant infusion of conference adrenaline to keep it going. They call those people conference junkies, and with good reason! Pick a conference or two (and there’s none better in my opinion, than the ACFW conference), learn, make friends and contacts, suck up all that energy, and then come home and put it to work.
One way I have found to keep the energy flowing is to plan mini writing retreats or conferences for myself. Even a few hours of planned, intentional time away from routine can inspire and energize.
Here’s how I do it:
• I block out the time, put it on my calendar, and guard that time like I would the most sacred appointment. Even a couple of hours works, if that’s all I can spare.
• I choose a place away from my usual writing desk, and away from the madding crowd. A park, a beach, a spot off a hiking trail would be perfect. I have even gone to a corner of my garden when it’s especially beautiful. A busy coffee shop just wouldn’t be enough of a retreat; I’ve done that too often.
• I plan my retreat. Perhaps I’ll listen to a recording of my favorite conference workshop. Or maybe I’ll go over those notes I took at the all-day intensive. I could do some writing exercises or prompts from a book I always intended to go through, but I will have planned beforehand what I’ll be doing when I get there. And I’ll stick to my plan.
• I pack well, but not too heavy. I take a beach chair, and a tote with my journal, my notebooks, a snack, some water, and anything else that I will need for that planned retreat. Since I like to begin my retreat by reading a Psalm of praise, and end it with a Psalm of Thanksgiving, I take my Bible. I don’t take music, because I love the silence, or my computer, because my retreats are a break from technology, but you might feel differently; it’s up to you.
I can’t guarantee you’ll come home with the same burst of enthusiasm you get at a conference, but breaking the pattern of daily life and routine, even for a few hours, can reset the course of your creativity and give you the boost you need to keep going. And until they start tucking spray cans of Conference Energy into the goody bags, it will do just fine.
Cathleen Armstrong lives in Orange County, California with her husband Ed. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico, where she grew up and much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, One More Last Chance, At Home in Last Chance, and the newly released, Last Chance Hero.