This January I had the opportunity to join 10 other close colleagues for a writing retreat. Each of us enjoys writing for different reasons. Some of us are prolific writers. Others have written published books. Still others blog regularly. We each bring a different skill set and method to the way we approach writing, and we all love the process for what it can provide.
I was honored to have the opportunity to join these exceptional educational leaders, and for a weekend we wrote together, sharing a house, convening a number of times throughout the weekend to share experiences, ask for feedback and support each other’s developing work.
When I first arrived and we were discussing our reasons for participating, I shared that taking part in this was akin to an energizing spa day for me. I was serious. Everyone has to find ways to take care of themselves, and spending a weekend focused on writing was my equivalent of a day at the spa.
As I sat in the airport waiting to board my flight home, I thought a bit more about the value “spa days” bring. Here are three reasons we all need to make sure we take advantage of them.
Finding your flow in energizing “spa days”
Writing, like a number of other activities I enjoy engaging in, makes me happy. It’s a process where as I write, I get lost. I enter what I would consider a sense of flow. I’ve written before about the value that flow provides and, how when we find it, we operate on an energizing autopilot; we are able to focus on the task in front of us, without necessarily getting lost in the myriad other elements of life that confront us daily.
Flow is so important because we aren’t in it all the time. In other words, it is so special because we have to work to enter it. Flow doesn’t just happen by itself, and we have to become accustomed to understanding what types of activities allow us to enter that state. It differs for everyone. Writing is just such an activity for me, so the opportunity to enter that state of flow for the better part of a weekend was both relaxing and energizing.
Tangential connections lead to strong foundations
I am not a professional writer in my day-to-day life. I have been fortunate enough to do a significant amount of writing, but writing is only one part of my “in real life” professional responsibilities. There is something special about strengthening your overall effectiveness in a given element of life by building up what I might call tangential connections to the foundations of the work that we all do.
For instance, like many, I regularly put together emails and memos to share information and ideas with those I serve. While that isn’t all that I do, diving into a weekend of writing no doubt has helped me become an even stronger writer in my day-to-day work, even though the type of writing I engaged in during the energizing “spa day” retreat was different than the type of writing I tend to engage in daily.
In addition, I firmly believe that the more ways we view the world around us, the more we come to understand it. So, whether writing a narrative, scripting a comic book or texting with my children, each of those tangential connections helps me to build a stronger foundation for my more regular writing experiences.
Environment is everything
To be fair, this is probably a bit of an exaggeration. The environment you are in isn’t really “everything,” but it is much more than I would have thought it would be had I not taken the time to really consider it. I love writing in any environment I am in, and, usually, I can successfully engage enough to feel a bit of flow and use the writing experience to make connections within other parts of my life.
That said, being in a separate space, a space I didn’t know well, and being able to set my own schedule to write (interspersed with some conversations with friends and colleagues, time to play some card games, a few opportunities to go for a run, etc.) allowed me to really lean in and be productive. I was able to focus on writing for hours on end. While the process of writing a chapter in a weekend still proved challenging, the reduced distractions of normal life made a significant difference in my productivity and my consistency of writing. So, the environment is really as “everything” as it can be without being the only necessary ingredient.
My experience writing that weekend in January had a sizable impact on all parts of my being. I felt good, relaxed, accomplished, healthy. I can get those feelings from a number of different experiences. But it was inspiring to feel in tune with myself, the process and the product being created through a focus on a specific type of experience.
We all need to identify our respective energizing “spa days” and, as best we can, and make use of them on a regular enough basis to feel even more fulfilled than we might otherwise.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.