Note from Ashleigh: For this blog post, I invited my dear friend, writer, and Fresh Ink Consulting owner Jaime deBlanc-Knowles to offer her perspective on the value of retreats. I am thrilled to have Jaime as a guest blogger, and can’t wait for more insight and words.

I often think about creativity as a wild woodland creature – something shy and reclusive like this little gray fox:

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

As creative people, we spend our lives trying to cultivate a strong relationship with the elusive animal called Creativity. The only problem is, we often behave in a way that tends to drive it away.

It’s not that we’re doing anything wrong, necessarily. We’re just being busy, accomplishing things, and in general creating a lot of noise that prevents us from really hearing our own thoughts.

That’s why it’s essential to take time away from our regular lives when we want to connect with Creativity. We need to unplug from all the usual inputs, the ones that keep up a steady chatter in our heads all day long. And we need to think about that little gray fox and how to coax it out of hiding.

Imagine entering a quiet, wooded environment, far away from the city, and sitting down in a clearing. As you allow your mind to unwind and the stress of your day to dissolve, you notice that it’s easier for you to observe your surroundings: the trees rustling, the butterflies flitting past, the flowers swaying on their stalks.

In short, you get quiet. And in this environment, where you find yourself being still and open, it’s pretty easy for Creativity to tentatively creep out of hiding and come sniffing up to where you sit.

Fostering the right mindset for Creativity is a lot like meditating. Or daydreaming. Or just letting the mind wander. It feels directionless, and yet it’s essential to find time in our lives for this directionless-ness.

Scientists who’ve studied the creative brain have noticed that something special happens in the minds of artists when they work. Something they call “the imagination network” gets activated. This happens when we engage in a kind of wandering, undisciplined kind of thinking, and it allows us to:

  • construct meaning from experiences
  • remember the past
  • think about the future
  • imagine other people’s perspectives
  • theorize alternative scenarios
  • understand stories
  • reflect on mental and emotional states

Pretty huge, right?

That’s why it’s so important that you set aside time to get yourself out of your daily routine – out into nature, preferably – and let your brain relax. Once you stop holding on so tightly to all the details of your day, you’ll notice that your brain starts surreptitiously being creative, all on its own.

Retreats can range from the incredibly simple (a morning walk in the greenbelt) to the more exotic (renting a cabin in the woods for a few days). Personally, I like to have both types of retreat in my life – both the daily/weekly kind and the “special occasion” kind. Each type offers its own rewards. Simple, frequent retreats keep us centered in the short-term, and “special occasion” retreats rejuvenate us in unexpected, long-term ways.

So, as you move into summertime, make sure you schedule some retreat time into your life. The recipe is simple: Unplug from the usual distractions. Take yourself to a peaceful location. Bring a journal and a pen. You’ll be amazed by how creatively refreshed you feel.

If you’d like that feeling of restful retreat but are also craving some creative guidance and inspiration, check out Write Well’s upcoming Writing Barn workshops, which take place in a beautiful rural setting just outside of Austin. Here, Ashleigh Pedersen shares thought-provoking stories and essays, leads discussions on craft, and provides ample time for solitary reflection and creation.

Ashleigh will also be co-leading a weeklong retreat at Hui Ho’olana in Molokai this October that blends the worlds of meditation and writing – if you’re looking for a truly transformative trip, you should read more about this powerful experience here: Writing and Meditation in Hawaii.

I’ll have more about Write Well’s Hawaii trip in my next post, but for now I’ll leave you with a few breathtaking pics from Hui Ho’olana. I hope they inspire you to incorporate the concept of retreat into your writing life!

Halawa Bay Overlook (1)   Sunrise Photo

Jaime deBlanc-Knowles is the founder of Fresh Ink Consulting, an Austin-based company offering top-notch editing and writing services to authors and small businesses.

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