How to Make an ‘At Home’ Creative Retreat
‘He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.’
- Benjamin Franklin
I’m writing this at 7.30 am, in one of those rare moments of parenthood when both my kids are asleep and I am enjoying a hot cup of coffee in bed. Reproduction brings many gifts, but one of the most surprising is being able to appreciate these once-unappreciated moments that have become so much more beautiful in their rarity. The best things in life really are free, aren’t they? This week I’m slipping into the retreat mode I’ve written about in my last couple of newsletters, which is all about pausing and reflecting, and focusing on how I really want to make a living. I’m excited to take you along on the journey, so thank you, as ever, for subscribing. I hope we can figure a few things out together as we continue our descent into autumn. (Although if we could actually have some autumnal weather, that would be great. What is this silly summerish nonsense?!)
This week on the Margin:
How to make an ‘at home’ creative retreat
What am I working on this week?
Let’s Try: Morning Pages
Reading The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin
How I’ve Set Up My ‘At Home’ Creative Retreat
I guess this should start with the disclaimer that there are many ways to explore your own creativity, and many ways to make your own creative retreat. This is the way I plan to do it, so feel free to take the bits that work for you and use them for your own inspiration.
First thing’s first: What is an ‘at home’ retreat?
Well, traditional retreats are usually set in another location, a beautiful space in which people gather together to go through a cathartic process of some kind. My only experience is an autumn retreat I joined in 2019, and it was one of the most relaxing, nourishing weekends I’ve ever experienced. We walked, wrote, drew, chatted, sipped tea, held rituals and built fires. I’d do it every month if I could but alas, they tend to require money and time away from home, neither of which I have freely available at the moment. So I’m making my own retreat, designed to last a few weeks rather than a single weekend, but one that will fit around the ebbs and flows of my day, and help give purpose and direction to the hours I keep free for work each week.
It all begins with the notebook I wrote about last week, because if I can’t have a physical space in which to enjoy my retreat, I can at least contain it cosily between the pages of a notebook. The general time window I’m working with takes me up to the end of 2023, which is around 12 weeks. So each week, I’ve set myself a selection of ‘tasks and treats’ to help me explore my four main retreat pillars:
Pillar 1: COMPLETION
This is the main theme of my retreat. I like the idea of choosing an overarching theme or idea to explore, tying everything together with a bit of focus. My theme is completion, because I’ve spent the last few months working on my most recent book and let lots of other things fall by the wayside. To start, I’ve made a ‘retreat bucket list’ of things I’d like to complete. These include painting the kids’ new advent calendar, digging compost into the garden before winter, making sloe gin and a few other things. To help me make space, I’ve also made a weekly checklist of activities to complete, including drawing something experimental in my sketchbook and doing regular yoga.
Pillar 2: CREATIVE THEORY
One of the most exciting aims of my retreat is to clarify how I want to make a living with my creative work. I think it’s good to check in with these things every now and then, as it’s easy to get swept along with a career without necessarily choosing the right paths. I’ve definitely been feeling the need for change recently, so as part of this goal, I’m going to be journaling every week to explore my past, present and future career as a freelance writer and illustrator. What do I want that to look like? What kind of work brings me both satisfaction and the ability to pay my bills? How can I feel confident in what I create?
Pillar 3: CREATIVE PRACTICE
Once I’ve started working through the theory, I’m then going to start planning how to shape my career from 2024 onwards. I’m talking a five year plan (flexible but ambitious), financial plans, content/product ideas, online/offline marketing, etc. I won’t lie, this is the stuff I’m desperate to do but I really want to work through Goal 2 before I dive in.
Pillar 4: READING & LEARNING
The last goal is to generally improve my practice through reading and education. I’ve written up a reading list of useful non-fiction books to help me with things like novel structure, marketing a small business, writing newsletters - basically a whole load of different skills that all feed into my work somehow. I’m also going to be expanding on skills through short courses and classes, such as online drawing workshops, YouTube tutorials, podcasts and anything else I think might enlighten me to a new way of approaching my creative practice.
So that’s my set-up! I’m going to try and share an insight on this newsletter at the end of every week (hopefully Sunday evenings) to let you know any interesting resources, revelations, tips or skills I’ve come across. And if it all goes well and I find my retreat useful, I think I might write it up as a DIY guide to download free and work through at your own pace. Who knows? I’ve put quite a lot of work and effort into it already and I have a good feeling it’s going to be a useful little tool!
What am I working on this week?
Ok ok, at the time of writing I literally have HALF AN ILLUSTRATION to go from Ebb and Flow. Can you even believe it? Who wants to bet I’m still working on it this time next week? Other than that, I have a foreword to finish off for someone else’s book and a set of illustrations for another book.
Let’s Try: Morning Pages
One of the most common journaling techniques is freewriting, popularised as ‘morning pages’ in Julia Cameron’s famous self-help book The Artist’s Way. (I actually gave up with this book both times I tried to read it but there were a few useful nuggets amidst the wishy washy.) The idea is to sit down every day and write three sides of paper in your notebook, but without worrying about the words you’re actually writing. This stream-of-consciousness style of writing is said to help clear creative blocks and remove the pressure of writing perfect prose. Instead, you can simply declutter your brain of thoughts in the hope that it might reveal something new. Nobody - including you - has to ever read your morning pages again, so you are free to be as authentic as possible.
Read this: The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin
I’m really fascinated by tarot cards and how they can act as a kind of Rorschach test to help you process your own thoughts and emotions. My all-knowing friend Dawn (seriously, she is so wise!) read my cards the other day and then told me about this book, which is all about using tarot cards for guidance and inspiration in your creative practice. I’m planning to start it tonight!