After a short ferry ride from Seattle, we arrived on Vashon Island. But we weren’t sure how to get from the ferry port into town where we’d be renting a car.
“Oh, just try hitchhiking,” a local told us. “Everyone does it. Someone will see you’re stranded with luggage and will pick you up.”
We pulled our suitcases to the end of the dock, and waited. As two girls from L.A., we’re never first in line to hitchhike. But this was an adventure, and we were open to letting it unfold.
After a few minutes, a woman in a Jeep pulled over and gave us a ride to Rick’s Autoshop, where we’d be renting the car.
At Rick’s we got to know some of the island’s characters, including a man who works as a carpenter, masseuse, corporate strategy consultant, and tour manager for pop stars.
We smiled at each other, knowing this was going to be the perfect place for us to write our book.
For years now, the two of us have been saying that we wanted to write a book together. But we just couldn’t figure out how to get motivated.
We knew writing a book was important to use for a few reasons.
First, as entrepreneurs 6 years into business, we’ve learned a lot of lessons—and we want to share those lessons with you.
Second, our team is growing and we’re hitting our stride. It’s easy to forget the millions of moments when we had no idea what we were doing and felt so alone. We want to write down what we learned from those moments before they slip away.
Lastly, we’ve met so many interesting people with such amazing stories—some inspiring, some cautionary, and some just amusing. These stories are begging to be shared.
But three years (!) flew by without us ever really committing to writing the book.
Can you relate? You have a big project in mind but you procrastinate. Life gets busy. You struggle to carve out consistent time to work on it. You have no real plan and make no real progress.
For us—and likely for everyone who hits a wall like this—we struggled because we were scared. Scared that it would take too long and be too hard. That we wouldn’t know how to structure it. Mostly, though, we didn’t know where to start.
An “Impossible” Deadline
About six months ago we had a moment of clarity. We admitted that we would never write this book if we didn’t create the structure in our lives to make it happen.
Our solution for how to get motivated? To separate ourselves from the world for a few days to just focus on writing.
We grabbed our calendars. On July 8, a project we represent, March of the Penguins with live orchestra, would debut with the Seattle Symphony, and we were both planning to attend.
We decided to extend the trip a few days and do a self-scheduled writing retreat on one of the islands near Seattle, ideally in a cute cabin on the water. After several hours searching for the perfect place on Airbnb, we found it—a little house on Vashon Island.
We booked the house, booked our flights, and then gave ourselves an impossible deadline: to write a 12-chapter eBook in 3 days.
Here’s why we reached for such a high goal. Our own beliefs about what this project would look like were holding us back. The fear that writing a book would take “so long” stopped us from following through.
We shook things up by drastically changing our perspective. A book in three days. It became more like a challenge than a chore.
Sticking to a Plan
We are not writers by trade. We write a lot for our work but we don’t consider it our primary craft. As a result, to make sure we had a productive retreat—one that justified the costs and time away from our work—we created a schedule, building in time for outlining, brainstorming, and helping each other do our best thinking.
Here’s what we decided. Over the weekend we would:
–Write one eBook, something that was 20,000-30,000 words in length, about 12 chapters, which we would self-publish this summer (stay tuned!)
–Begin working on the book we want to publish traditionally (affectionately dubbed “the book book”). As long as we took meaningful steps in terms of the angle, the tone, and the concept—and wrote a chapter or two—we’d consider it a success.
We gave ourselves the following structure:
–Outline the ebook and plan our writing schedule
–Morning: we would each write a blog post as a warm up, to get the juices flowing
–Early afternoon: each write 1 eBook chapter (to complete chapters 1 and 2)
–Late afternoon: spend a few hours working on the “book book”
–Morning: eBook chapters 3-4
–Afternoon: eBook chapters 5-6
–Late afternoon: work on the “book book”
–Morning: eBook chapters 7-8
–Afternoon eBook chapters 9-10
–Late afternoon work on the “book book”
–Morning: eBook chapters 11-12 and intro
–Afternoon: “book book”
–Late afternoon: catch up on emails
While we did deviate slightly from this plan, we actually accomplished all of our milestones. We each wrote a blog post, we wrote an entire eBook (!), and made good progress on the book book.
Keeping It Fun
Another wonderful aspect of this retreat was that it truly was a “retreat.” (Tip: freeing up time for relaxation is a good way to get, and stay, motivated.) We cooked healthy meals, and we did The Miracle Morning routine every day (which includes meditation, affirmation, visioning, reading, and writing. We kind of skipped the exercise part!).
Also, we used our environment to enhance our writing experience. We were situated on a gorgeous waterfront with deck chairs at the water’s edge. We would often go out there to write, usually one at a time but sometimes together. Being in a beautiful natural setting was incredibly inspiring.
We also managed to build in fun activities each day. Our first day we went for a hike at Shingle Mill creek and even ate a few wild blackberries. The next day, we frequented the farmer’s market and got a taste of the local scene, as well as the incredible fresh fish you can get on the island.
On Sunday, we explored low tide. At high tide the water would be up to edge of the stone barrier in front of our house; at low tide it would recede out several hundred feet. We walked all the way out, careful not to crush the sand dollars and other creatures hanging out in the soft mud.
Monday, we decided, was the day to swim. In the afternoon we took a plunge in the (near-freezing!) water just long enough to cross “swimming in the North Pacific” off our bucket list. Throughout, we had lots of valuable friend-time, roughly 7 hours of sleep a night, and a lot of laughs.
The Sweetness of Success
Was it all smooth writing, nonstop? Absolutely not. There were chapters that just flowed and times when we got stuck. There were moments when one or both of us got very frustrated with the process. There were times when we had to take breaks and times when one of us had to help the other reconnect with her mojo.
But a deadline is a deadline, and knowing that we weren’t leaving the island with an incomplete product gave us the push we needed to keep moving towards the self-imposed finish line.
For us, the key was having a specific goal in mind. Throughout the weekend, we reaffirmed our purpose and goals, both individually and together. While we did succumb to some distractions, and ended up doing some other work that trickled in, we did a good job of not letting it interfere with our creative time and writing goals.
This was our first time doing a self-guided retreat, and we would do it again, without a doubt.
How Do You Get Motivated?
Have you ever participated in an artist residency or creative retreat? What was your experience like? Are there other ways you get motivated as an artist?