Mar 17

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer’s Retreat

I’ve written a little bit about my stay at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, but today I want to talk about the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

My First Writer's Retreat

I had fantasized about attending a writer’s retreat for many years before I was able to attend one, and it was definitely a life-changing experience. I’m convinced that it’s something I should be doing once a year. In fact, I may roll my yearly writer’s conference budget into a yearly writer’s retreat budget. No offense to conferences, it’s just I think I’d like the open time to write more than I’d like to attend sessions on writing.

In order to make future writer retreats easier on myself (as well as to make it easier on any of my readers who may attend one) I’m recapping the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer's Retreat #amwriting Click To Tweet

001: Bring a night light.

Anyone else a super weird wiener kid incapable of turning their brain off at night? No? Just me? Okay. Here’s the thing. In a past incarnation of this ol’ blog, I wrote about how I’m afraid of the dark. And it’s not really the dark that’s the problem, but it’s this writer imagination of mine. I can easily think of all the things that might be lurking in the dark. In fact, I can list roughly a BAJILLION things that might want to end my life, and only like 3 of them would be real. This is always exacerbated by spending a lot of time writing. When your brain is in overdrive from writing ghost stories all day, it’s really hard to shut it off just because you should be asleep.

The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow gives every writer their own bedroom, bathroom, and writing area. So, even though you’re in the same house as other people, you’re relatively secluded. And the darkness in Eureka Springs is just a little darker than it is in Norman, so naturally I left a bathroom light on every night I was there. Next time I’ll bring a night light.

002: Don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you haven’t read the “As I Write This” post, click on over. It’s a good primer on the writerly psychomachia that plagues me in every waking hour of my life. I struggle with impostor syndrome, feeling like everything I write is garbage, and worrying that I won’t ever do anything that’s good enough. And you know when my brain decided would be the best time to wrestle with all these things?


(And also like every day.)

But take it from me. It’s going to be hard to not feel like you’re squandering your time and energy while you’re there. Because uninterrupted time is so hard to come by, I felt that I should be spending my days at the retreat working on the Next Great American Novel. And if I’m being honest, the majority of my thoughts aren’t Next Great American Novel so much as Spooky Ghost Story with Historical Flashbacks.

Don’t waste time worrying that you’re wasting time with the words that are coming out. Instead, just breathe that fresh Ozark air and get to typin’.

(Note: You will only find Ozark air in the Ozarks. If you attend a different retreat, then you should breathe that air.)

003: Healthy food is fuel.

I was ready to consume nothing but junk the whole time I was in Eureka Springs. I have some very unhealthy writing habits that were encouraged by a certain instructor. He was very fond of telling us about the amount of candy he would consume while in the process of writing, and I definitely picked up that habit. (For example, when I was writing my comprehensive exam essay for library school, I bought potato chips, cupcakes, soda, and frozen pizza to fuel my paper writing. I passed, but the whole next week I felt like I was going to die.)

While eating bad food during marathon writing sessions is a bad habit I’m definitely trying to break, it was relatively easy to eat well at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. Jana, the cook, made some of the best food I’d had in a while. Here butternut squash and caramelized onion galette was amazing, and I absolutely loved the yellow dhal soup. Then, our dinner at Ermilio’s, while not the healthiest meal in the world, was definitely more balanced and nourishing than what I would normally consume while in writer mode.

(Also, lest you think that I’m not still a human garbage disposal, know that I had Diet Coke, Peanut Butter M&Ms, and Starburst Jelly Beans every single day I was there. I just didn’t eat them as a meal. So, see? I’m basically a health food guru as a result of my first writer’s retreat.)

004: Fresh air and conversation is necessary.

Like I mentioned, I have a tendency to get all up in my head with negativity. But the best way to combat that has always been to step away. Luckily Mari Farthing likes to go for walks too. So on both Friday and Saturday we set aside time to explore part of downtown Eureka Springs. We definitely got lost on Friday just because we are flatlanders and the loopy curves of Eureka Springs streets as they go around hills is definitely not something we’re used to navigating. They didn’t have to send out a search party, but it came close.

Another way we stepped away from writing was in the evenings. Each night we had a full-on slumber party-style gab session, complete with wine furnished by Bethany Stephens, and the best gossip that the five of us could manage. We stayed up so late just chatting about life and work and everything else. It was amazing. In fact, that conversation has led to SEVERAL blog posts that will be coming down the pike in the near future.

005: Headspace is key.

This ties back into not being too hard on yourself, but know that your headspace is everything. I mean, just generally in life this is true, but it’s doubly true at a writing retreat. I struggle with an anxious mind. At any given moment, I’m thinking of all the other things I should be doing instead. It’s hard for me to turn off the to do list mentality, and I know I need to live in the moment more. And that was the sort of headspace I needed to be in before I started writing. I finally got there by Saturday, but since my stay was super short, I wish I would’ve gotten there sooner so I could get more done during my first writer’s retreat.

If you’re like me, then I recommend turning your retreat into a vacation/retreat. To do this, take a day or two to head to the place where you’ll be for your retreat. Then, set aside the first day as a vacation do. Get a massage, go to a nice restaurant, and definitely relax. Slow your body and brain down so that the next day you’re ready to bleed it all out on the page. It may feel like a wasted day, but getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing.

Getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing. Click To Tweet

Well there you have it — the Five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat. Have you ever been to a writing retreat? Do you have any expert advice for other writers? DO YOU WANT TO PLAN FUTURE A TRIP TO THE WRITER’S COLONY AT DAIRY HOLLOW WITH ME?!

Sep 16

10 Self-Care Strategies for When the Universe Is Conspiring Against You

Self-care strategies are important because there are so many ways that everyday life wants to ruin your day. Even when you do everything you possibly can to ensure you have a good day, that doesn’t mean that the universe isn’t trying to ruin it.

10 self-care strategies for when the universe is conspiring against you

I’ve been using these self-care strategies lately for the times when other people’s chaos tries to get me down, or when I find myself in a situation that’s completely out of my control. Granted, none of these self-care strategies fix any of the external problems, but they do make it easier to deal with the problems. So today I thought I’d share my 10 self-care strategies for when the universe is conspiring against you.

10 Self-Care Strategies for When the Universe is Conspiring Against You Click To Tweet

001: Move.

I am by no means an athlete, and if you try to convince me to sign up for CrossFit, I’m gonna roll my eyes so far back in my head that my retinas will detach. Instead, I think everyone should focus on a workout that they enjoy, and stick to that. There are far too many terrible things we have to do in the day without adding another thing you don’t want to do to the list. For me, my favorite way to move is going to yoga class, or watching TV on the treadmill or elliptical. But never underestimate the power of getting up from your desk and just walking around for a few minutes. Seriously. It feels good.

002: Read.

I cannot express the joy I feel when I unplug from everything and cuddle up with a book. I love shutting out everything else, and getting absorbed in a completely different world for a while. And when I’m done, I always have that feeling of renewal because it’s like I’ve taken a break from life for a while.

003: Write.

I used to be in the practice of journaling every morning, and it was seriously the most mind clearing thing I have ever done. While I no longer do it religiously like I once did, I always reach for a pen when I need to get my head right.

004: Eat.

For the longest time, I would feed myself whatever garbage I was craving, and that was fine until about a few years ago. The older I get, the harder it is to eat junk. In fact, junk food now gives me hangover-like symptoms. (Aging is a joy.) So, now, to take care of myself, I’m eating more fruit and leafy greens. And even though I would love a pile of cheese fries or a gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream at all times, I know I can’t have that and still be a productive person. A healthy meal goes a long way when it comes to my mood and overall well-being.

005: Primp.

Weird thing I’ve been into lately: moisturizing my cuticles and nails. I’ve noticed that my nails are super strong, and my cuticles no longer look like they were chewed off by a pack of wild dogs. And while how my nails look isn’t that important, it is important that I’m taking some time to do something for me that makes me happy.

006: Work.

There’s just something about scratching something off your to do list that’s good for the soul. I’m addicted to getting stuff done before noon, because it feels so good to know that I have the rest of the day to not stress about the things that I haven’t done. Sure, I forget this sometimes and procrastinate the day away. But I’m trying remind myself on those mornings when I want to slack how utterly terrible I will feel at the end of the day. And that tends to keep me in line.

007: Rest.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that resting is not scrolling through Instagram or reading all the tweets from the past 2 hours. Sure, I’m generally laying down when I do those things, but I’m not letting my mind have a break when it needs it. Instead, I’ve recently become a fan of the power nap. It’s a great way to take 20 minutes to recharge, and I wake up ready to go. And if I’m not feeling the nap that day, I like to rest by stepping out into the backyard with Rosie. We like to sit in chairs on the back porch and just watch the squirrels jump from tree to tree.

008: Listen.

Over the summer while I worked with the Institute of Reading Development, my record player was piled under tons of books. Now that everything is all cleaned up, I’ve been listening to a few special edition 45s from The Gaslight Anthem, and it’s made me fall back in love with just sitting and listening to music. I’ve even taken this into my work life. When people or technology issues get tough, I pick a playlist on my phone, and play it through my bluetooth speaker. Sure, it doesn’t fix the problem, but it calms me down enough to deal with it.

It doesn't fix the problem, but it calms me down enough to deal with it. Click To Tweet

009: Laugh.

This is perhaps one of the most narcissistic things I do, but I feel I should share it with you so you can also enjoy this silly tactic. I like to think of funny things I’ve said or done, because it makes me laugh out loud. I am my own biggest fan, and I’m sure I’m the only one who can fully appreciate my jokes. And thinking about my old jokes invariably leads into thinking about all the great jokes I will tell in the future, which is a great way to cheer up. Now, you don’t have to sit around and bask in your own comedic glory, but you absolutely should take some time to laugh. So, whatever makes you giggle, go for it.

010: Bond.

Whether I’m looking into Rosie’s eyes while I scratch her ears, or I’m talking about my day with Chris, I like to spend one-on-one time with people (yeah, Rosie’s a people) I love. And I think the one-on-one is important. No one bonds with a large group of people all at the same time.


What about you? What are your self-care strategies for when the universe is conspiring against you?

Apr 16

Be Intentional: Changes I’m Making This April

Be intentional MarisaMohi.com

I make an effort to be intentional. On a good day, I’m just doing my best to get by. On a bad day, I’m an amalgamation of my bad habits in the worst possible way.

I have a lot of bad habits that have become second nature — nail biting to quell anxiety, using junk food as a crutch in stressful situations, sleeping in instead of going to the gym, and procrastinating so I don’t have to start grading the stack of papers that will, in all honesty, probably only take a good 2-4 hours to grade. And giving in to these habits makes it really hard to be intentional.

Ideally, I would wake up in the morning, chug some water, write in my journal, and then get myself to the gym. I would do cardio and yoga or weights, and then I’d come home and do some grading before I had to be in my office. I set my class schedule to make this easier. The earliest I teach is 1:30 PM. The earliest I have to be at the office is 11:00 AM. My mornings should be spent in a fit of productivity.

But that’s rarely the case. There is always an excuse to sleep in. There’s always an excuse to stay home from the gym. There’s always something else to do besides grading. And there will always be a million other things that I’d rather do. And if I don’t think about it, I will always give into these things.

One of the things I’m really great at is making action plans. I love designing schedules and projects and setting everything up. Where I screw up is the execution. I love that I can be intentional just by making lists or plans. Sure, it’s one thing to create an entire spreadsheet of the workout plan you want to accomplish over the next three months, but it’s entirely another to get out of bed at 5:30 every morning and make sure you get that workout in. It’s one thing to plan out your evenings for maximum efficiency, but it’s entirely another to tell your friends that you can’t meet them for dinner because you really need to crush it this week.

I know where I fail. It’s the same place every time. I just want to indulge. I’m like one of those lab rats that hits the pleasure button until they die. (Do you know what I’m talking about? Is this a well-known modern parable? I think it is, but sometimes I reference things and then everyone looks at me like I’m crazy, which isn’t far off.) It feels like every single day has become an opportunity for indulgence, and my self-discipline isn’t that strong. And when that’s the case, it’s hard to be intentional. Hell. It’s hard to just get the bare minimum done.

I’m not talking lavish dinners and champagne brunches here. What I’m talking about is all the little first world comforts that we, as first world consumers, feel we are entitled to. I deserve this ice cream because it’s been a stressful week. I deserve this second glass of wine because I really need to relax. I deserve to buy this $50 eye shadow palette because it will help me look more professional at my day job. I deserve to sleep in because I stayed up a little later than usual.

Even though I want to be intentional, I tend to make a lot of excuses for indulgent behaviors. I don’t deserve ice cream. I don’t deserve that second glass of wine. I don’t deserve a $50 eye shadow palette. I don’t deserve to sleep in. These are all things I want, and I justify it by using language that makes it seem okay.

We all do this. We want so badly to give in to things. And that’s completely human. But look at how often you give in. Did someone leave cookies in the break room? (This is the bane of my existence.) When you went in there to heat up your healthy lunch, did you scarf three Oreos before the microwave dinged? Did CVS have a sale on your favorite candy, and it would’ve been silly to not buy it while you were there for some Claritin? Did you stay up an hour past your bed time binge watching Netflix, so naturally you can’t wake up on time?

Perhaps you are a model of self-control and never give in when it comes to things like this. Perhaps it’s not hard for you to be intentional. I commend you. But if you’re like me, you catch yourself giving in, so much so that it’s second nature to just give in, and you don’t want to think about it at the end of the day because when you do, you really start to hate yourself.

That’s where I am right now. I feel behind, I feel unhealthy, and I feel out of control of my own life. I want to stop procrastinating, because I hate having to get everything done at the last minute. I want to feel healthy, because I know I’m a better person mentally and emotionally when I eat right and exercise. And I want to feel in control of my own life, not just a person who gives in to bad habits all day. I really just want to be intentional.

That’s what this April is going to be about for me. I needed to hit the reset button, and I hope that 30 days of intentional behavior will do wonders for resetting habits.

Be Intentional MarisaMohi.com

But what do I mean by “be intentional?”

I want to make a plan and stick to it. I don’t want to spend time thinking about where I got derailed. I don’t want to use my sliding scale of justification. I want to see some sort of result.

(Side note: If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed my #continuouspractice posts. Because I have a tendency to give in to bad habits, I got off track with my journaling. So I’m using Instagram to keep myself accountable, and to track my journaling. If you aren’t following me on Instagram, you can do so here.)

Here’s what I’ll be doing through the entire month of April to reset bad habits, be intentional, and keep me from giving in to my indulgent side.

I’m giving up alcohol.

I’m not much of a binge drinker, though I was when I was in college and grad school, as were the majority of my classmates. Now, when I drink, I generally have one or two beverages and call it a night. But I know that if I even have just one, I won’t want to get to the gym the next morning. And if I have wine, I will be too dehydrated to get to the gym the next morning. (Seriously, we’re talking charlie horses the size of Texas in my calves.) I’ve also come to realize that I use alcohol as a crutch in social situations, because my introvert nature would rather gargle broken glass than have to spend time engaging in conversation with more than one person at a time.

This April, I will avoid alcohol. For 30 days, I will drink water and black coffee, which, if we’re being honest, are my two favorite beverages anyway. And I will probably get back on the green tea wagon, because I have very productive afternoons when I consume it instead of Diet Coke. I won’t have a beer just because other people are drinking, and I definitely won’t be able to use “having a beer” as an excuse to eat pizza.

And I think it’s worth mentioning here that I’ve recently met two women that I really respect who told me they don’t drink anymore, and that it’s made a huge difference in their lives. It may be time to bring back the “straight edge” Marisa I used to be about 11 years ago.

I’m giving up spontaneous spending.

I have a real bad habit of impulse buying. It can be as harmless as picking up a tube of chapstick as I stand in the check out line, or it can be as bad as “I bet this obscure product listed on Amazon is totally worth it” and before you know it, I’ve got a new thing that cost money and takes up space in my home. I’m done with that.

This month, I will only purchase necessities. So, of course I will buy groceries, and fill up my gas tank, and take my car in for an oil change. But I will not stop at 7-Eleven to get an Icy. I won’t pop into CVS to get some toothpaste and walk out with 3 new lipsticks. I want pop over to the Starbucks in the student union to get a 400-calorie coffee. I will not be buying food from fast food restaurants or vending machines. These are all little things that I feel I deserve, but do not need. And if I’m being honest, they are doing just as much damage to my health as they are to my wallet. (The lipstick isn’t really affecting my health, at least, not that I’m aware of.)

So I will not allow myself to purchase unnecessary things. And I won’t go places where the impulse to buy is too strong.

I’m giving junk food.

I have a lot of really healthy intentions. I meal plan most weeks, and pre-pack my lunches for the week. I will even have breakfasts ready and waiting for me in the morning. Dinners are usually something that we can just whip up really quickly if we’ve planned enough. But here’s the thing: I’m incredibly lazy. And it’s so easy to opt for junk if you’re even slightly tired.

The Order Up app has become my arch nemesis. It’s so easy to just scroll through, pick a place you want to eat, and then have it delivered. You can pretty much just get in your PJs the minute you get home from work, and wait for someone else to bring you food. And if you’ve got some candy in your bag or desk, it’s just easier to eat that than it is to take your lunch into the break room and heat it up. And if you don’t really feel like eating the salad you made, it’s just so easy to give in by getting a burger and fries or a pizza.

I’m done with all that. I’m tired of wasting groceries I don’t eat, and I’m tired of wasting money on food that is probably giving me diabetes and is definitely giving me heartburn. So, sorry if you invite me out this month. I will either say no, or be one of those really annoying people who packs food for themselves.

I’m giving up staying up late and sleeping in.

I love crawling into bed at night, but I hate getting up. I used to be able to just pop right up, but it’s been really hard lately. This is largely due to a combination of things. I think if I eat better, I will feel healthier overall, and be more rested when I sleep. I also know that I just have to make myself get up until my body is in the habit of doing it. Ideally, I need to be at the gym by 6:15 AM. On Mondays and Wednesdays I need to do 30 minutes of cardio before I do 45 minutes of yoga. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I need to do 20-30 minutes of weights, and then 30 minutes of cardio. And I need to get up early to do all this, so that I still have time in the morning to do some paper grading and lesson planning. And hell, maybe even writing if by some weird stroke of luck there happens to be time for that.

But if I get up and get to the gym, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something before 8 AM. That’s important. That sense of accomplishment can carry me through the day. And even on days when I don’t go to the gym, I need to continue to get up early, because there are little things I can accomplish in the morning that will give me the same feeling.

So no more sleeping in, and no more staying up way too late. I need to be in bed by 10 PM at the latest, and out of bed by 5:15 AM so that I can journal and get to the gym early.

At the end of the day, I don’t need to do all the extra little things. I just came here to #tellstories, and hopefully a month where I am able to be intentional will make that a priority.