If you missed Inspired, the online writing retreat that I held yesterday, I have to just tell you that it was AMAZING. I’m sorry you missed it. You’re sorry you missed it.
I’d been hosting #ShutUpandWrite on Tuesday mornings for the last few months (started in January! Still going!) and to my great delight, it seemed to help people. Shut Up and Write started to attract some regulars and we all got more done together. But I wanted to put something together on a bigger scale. I wanted to provide people with the three things I emphasized in the DIY Writing Retreat in a Box: structure, dedicated time, and community.
When I first started playing with the idea of hosting an online writing retreat, the idea intrigued me. I decided to call the retreat Inspired because I hoped that writing in community would inspire people and help them feel awesome about their writing.
Because I was taking a creative risk, I started bumping up against deeply ingrained fears of success. I fretted that the retreat might suck. Who would come? Would people actually show up? Would total strangers be able to form an actual community of practice across the internet? In short, was this thing actually going to work? Maybe the whole thing was just another dumb idea.
I legitimately had no idea if an online retreat would work, but the idea felt like the kind of inspired and creative risk that I’ve been trying to do more of this year. I decided to do the whole thing for free in case it turned out to be a total bust.
I’d promoted the retreat in all of my usual social media spots, made a nice landing page, and gotten some email sign ups. The email sign ups were encouraging, but as I've learned, sometimes email interest can be deceptive. I wrote a series emails to my list with information, advice, details, and logistics.
I got up early on Saturday morning and put on the cute outfit I’d picked out the night before. (I was doing serious business at my kitchen table.) A few people had joined my Slack group on Friday night. I waited for five or six more people to show up on Saturday morning before the retreat started.
Mind=blown. Throughout most of the retreat, we had forty to fifty people writing together and supporting each other in a structured environment. The entire experience blew my doors off and exceeded all of my expectations.
Even across the vastness of cyberspace, people connected with each other. I don’t know how many people knew each other prior to the retreat. A few people signed up with buddies. I knew some of the participants from social media and some in real life. And some people I didn’t know at all! (And now, of course, I have all of these awesome new friends.) People cheered for each other, answered each other’s questions, asked for and received support and encouragement, and shared knowledges, and experiences. People led Pomodoro sessions, encouraged each other to do yoga, and shared important information about playlists. And because food is crucial to the creative process, we talked about our respective snacks. (Someone suggested that the official motto of Inspired should be, “Come for the writing. Stay for the playlists and snacks.” Hear, hear!)
And for reals, people got shit done in a huge way. I cannot possibly recount everyone’s victories, but dissertation chapters were finished, conference presentations got written, people worked through tricky theoretical problems, worked on research they hadn’t touched in months, and made amazing breakthroughs at the eleventh hour.
And of course, not everyone was able to accomplish everything they set out to do. Even with structure, time, and community support, some writing days just suck. I think it can be really disappointing when you have big expectations of yourself and writing and then find that for whatever reason, your writing doesn’t come together on that particular day. It happens. So we talked about that too.
As the day went on, people understandably started fading, so people did yoga, went for walks, did dishes, and got snacks. Many people fought to the finish! To my absolute shock, some people even continued to write after the retreat was officially over.
I was literally dog tired by the time we finished at 5pm EST. I had tacos delivered to my house and binge watched YouTube until bed, absolutely euphoric. I was (and am) so, so, so proud of what this group accomplished. I literally have never seen a bunch of strangers come together to do a really hard thing and remain so engaged and positive through the whole experience.
The only real problems I encountered were some minor technology issues. I’d planned to do a series of conference calls to introduce the retreat, answer questions, and do a little bit of coaching. Though most of the participants had local access numbers to call in, there were no local access numbers for Canada or Aruba. (?!) (We had people writing from Chile, Mexico, Aruba, Canada, Norway, and the U.S.!)
I solved this problem with YouTube Live, which several people said later was helpful for non-native English speakers and people who were hard of hearing. It was a little awkward broadcasting live while also doing a conference call. Literally, you can picture me on live video talking into both the camera and my phone while trying to manage a Slack group on a single tiny laptop screen. (Note to self: get a second monitor.)
I asked people for feedback about their experiences and found myself overwhelmed and overjoyed by people’s kind and enthusiastic words. People said the most wonderful things. I share with you here some feedback (used with permission).
“This writing retreat has taught me that I should never underestimate how important community is, even if it's virtual. Just knowing that all of us participants were in this together helped motivate and inspire me to make progress on a project I'd been neglecting for years!”
"Inspired" jump-started my writing on a stalled project that I'd be avoiding. Lisa provided excellent structure to create a supportive and warm community, and her advice, encouragement, and wisdom carried me through some frustrated moments. I'm so grateful I showed up for "Inspired."
“This changed my perspective on writing, and especially on writing communities. As an introvert, I was concerned about having to share with a community, but the support was amazing and participation was no-pressure. I would do this again in a heartbeat.”
I’m definitely planning to hold another online writing retreat in the near future. People had great suggestions for how to improve Inspired. People suggested just doing YouTube live for coaching call and holding the longer writing sessions in the morning. (I so agree!) I think in the future, I’ll be offering more guidance for the Slack group (like that people should subscribe to the #announcements channel). We were random on the general channel and general on the random channel. I’ll probably have fewer channels for less confusion.
I rarely get such clear confirmation of success from the universe. Yesterday was such a win for all kinds of reasons and I’m so grateful. I’ll be over here crying happy tears until I do this thing again. Massive thanks to all who participated. You are all such an inspiration.
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