Once in 2013, and then again in 2015, I hosted a retreat for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and other fabulous people who have an amazing dream. Back then, the idea was to get a group of people together for a weekend to explore the possibilities of making their dreams come true. People came to Nebraska from across the United States, and from Canada. Together, through workshops, keynote speakers, high ropes courses and zip line challenges, attendees examined their capacity for risk, the availability of their emotional (and other) resources, and the depths of their desires. There was a lot of down time, an amazing amount of laughter, and really delicious food. Lasting and beautiful friendships were formed.
At the end of the weekend, each participant was equipped to take the next step in a writing project, starting a business, enrolling in a class, or some other practical step which would help make their dream a reality. Of course, a few people decided to put their dream on hold, or pursue a different course altogether. Even that was forward progress, and it was good.
The beauty of those retreats is that people who do the same kinds of things, have the same kinds of interests, and are motivated by the same kinds of passions, were all together in one place. Many people who write, or create art, or are trying to get their business off the ground work in isolation. We wake up and shuffle or sprint to our home office, or we walk or drive to the local coffee shop where we make our way through our to-do lists and meet our deadlines, all by ourselves. Many, like me, are introverts, so we don’t necessarily mind being alone. As I often say to my daughter, “I am my own best company.”
But, while I may thrive in quiet, with only my thoughts to keep me company, my creativity often takes a hit when I fail to engage in face-to-face interactions on a regular basis with like-minded people. Once my creativity starts to wane, my productivity is not far behind. Before I know it, I’m out of ideas and searching for motivation. In those moments, I want to recapture the energy and camaraderie we experienced at those two retreats.
One day, two friends and I were talking about the craft of blogging, and of writing, and working from home. We sat in my living room and we said things like, “Do you follow so-and-so on Instagram? She takes the most beautiful pictures,” and “Did you read so-and-so’s post the other day? She is SO funny! I LOVE reading her!” We realized a lot of our favorite writers, artists, and entrepreneurs lived within driving distance and—right then and there—we decided it would be fun to try and get a group together to share insights, swap ideas, and encourage each other in our work. On that day, our group was born. Out of a desire to support and encourage others whose work is similar to our own, we created a Facebook group, and invited local writers, artists, and entrepreneurs to join. Then, we set a date for our very first gathering.
Now, the group meets once a month. Each month, one member of the group hosts the gathering in their home, while another member leads the conversation. Our monthly sessions are like a mini-retreat, complete with keynote speaker and an evening away from home with a group of like-minded friends. We bring snacks and beverages, we talk about our current projects, and we learn a new approach or strategy for getting things done. Every time we’ve been together, we have an aha moment that adds a creative spark to the same-old-same-old of our daily work. Themes of our member-led talks have included things like: streamlining your workload, using Pinterest to boost your business, and writing in the margins. In our last session, I learned from Trina the importance of correctly tagging the images I use in my post so that, should someone pin something to Pinterest from my blog, the caption that shows up actually makes sense and doesn’t just say something random like, “IMG_1776.JPG.”
Crafting a Mini-Retreat
If you find yourself isolated and in need of a creative spark, consider getting a group of local creatives together for your own mini-retreats. Even if you only know one or two others in your community, don’t let that stop you. Start with them. Together, you’ll discover others who will join you. Social media makes it easy to find and gather a local group of people who can encourage one another. Here are a few steps you can take to start your own group, with very little risk or obligation:
- Create a Facebook group and invite people to join. A Facebook group is a great place to gauge interest and determine the interests of the group. You may discover a Facebook group is all you really need to share the best local places to write, or to take photographs, or to buy art supplies for a particular project. Solid friendships are formed in Facebook groups and great advice and strategies are shared there, too. You’ll know pretty quickly, when to try to get the group together face-to-face. When you’re ready…
- Determine a time and place to meet. Yep. It’s that easy! You’ll be surprised to find how eager people will be to get together, face-to-face. If you’re hosting, there really is nothing you need to do, other than provide the space. Invite members of the group to bring snacks and beverages and make sure your housemates know company is coming.
- Figure out the format that works best for your group. It may be enough just to get together. The first few times our group met, we just sat around and talked. We were never at a loss for words, and we really enjoyed each other’s company. The more we got to know each other, the more we realized the wealth of experience, insight, and wisdom we’d marshaled, simply by getting together. We had so much we could learn from each other, so we decided to try to focus our attention on one member’s expertise, each time we get together. As a result, we now have one person who takes the lead in guiding our conversations. We still chase rabbit trails, and that’s perfectly fine, but we always come away with practical strategies to implement right away. These strategies always make us better at what we do.
Weekend retreats and conferences are still really wonderful tools for improving your craft, sparking creativity, and boosting productivity. But, there’s no need to wait an entire year or two for the next opportunity to roll around. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover the wealth of knowledge that exists right in your own community! Our monthly mini-retreats have become the perfect shot in the arm I need each month, to keep me inspired and encourage me when I doubt my ability or progress. You can get the same kind of boost, simply by connecting with the creative people, right where you are.
How do you ignite your creative spark?