Mini-Sabbaticals: Rocket Fuel to Shortcut Your Path to The Writer’s Life

When I used to hear the word “sabbatical,” I thought it referred only to professors and pastors.

Many universities grant their professors a year off (often with pay) from teaching every seventh year for rest, travel, or research.

Members of the clergy sometimes do the same for purposes of professional and spiritual renewal.

The idea is that by taking a year off, a professor (or pastor) comes back with a renewed focus and energy to do their work better. It’s also a chance to acquire new skills.

Sounds great, right?

Can you imagine how good you could get at writing, how many ideas you could generate, and how many business-building skills you could develop without the petty distraction of having to make a living?

Well, I came up with a writer’s version of the sabbatical.

It’s something you can do whether you work full-time, part-time, or are already enjoying the writer’s life in full force.

Don’t worry – my "mini-sabbatical" doesn’t require an entire year. It’s a minimal investment. But it pays big dividends.

So what’s the difference between a regular sabbatical year and what I call a mini-sabbatical?

A mini-sabbatical …

  • Can be anywhere from a day or two to a month or two.
  • Involves removing yourself from your normal surroundings.
  • Works best either by yourself or with other like-minded, motivated people.
  • Is a great cure for a major life change like a job change, divorce, or relocation.
  • Inspires if you’re in an inspiring place. A boring room in an airport hotel won’t cut it.
  • Provides the biggest rewards if you experience total immersion.

Every time I’ve done one of these, I’ve come away refreshed, rejuvenated, and re-focused. My mini-sabbaticals have also been instrumental in helping me reinvent myself.

By taking a step back to take inventory, gain some new skills, and strategize for the future, I’ve always come out ahead on the other end. If you try it, I promise you will, too.

Let me explain with a few examples.

Create your own escape

The first time I tried this, I was desperate to change course in my life. I was recently divorced, single parenting my one-year-old son, trying to sell my house, and working crazy hours in my direct sales job. I probably needed therapy more than a mini-sabbatical, but I couldn’t afford that!

I couldn’t afford a plane ticket anywhere or a hotel either, so I scheduled a three-day period with no work, no parenting duties, and no contact whatsoever with the outside world. I holed up in my house and unplugged the phone and computer. I gathered every inspirational and motivational book I owned (about four or five dozen) and a notebook and camped out at my dining room table for three days.

My goal was to develop a new roadmap for my life, with a detailed plan and written objectives.

A little offbeat, perhaps, but it met all the criteria I listed above. Even an inspirational place (considering I was literally surrounded by inspirational giants like Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins, and Og Mandino!).

It didn’t cost me a dime, but when I emerged from the cave three days later, I had a written game plan. I had new coping skills for my situation. And I had a newfound sense of purpose.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within a month, I reunited with an old friend and married her six months later, had my best sales month on track to my best year ever, and developed some key working relationships that are still paying dividends today (including a recent copywriting business).

Based on the success of that first impromptu mini-sabbatical, I decided to incorporate them into my schedule every six months or so.

Sometimes it’s just been a weekend alone at my brother’s log cabin up north, or a weekend in a nice bed and breakfast with my wife (where we both take a day to focus on personal development stuff), or a couple of nights in a hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

They don’t all produce profound results like the first one, but I can always count on this:

New skills learned, an overflow of creative ideas, and a new sense of urgency about accomplishing my goals.

The best mini-sabbatical where I don’t have to plan a thing? No question – Bootcamp. I’ve put it on my schedule every fall since 2007, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. There’s a cost to this one, of course, but I’ve never failed to get an immediate good return on my investment. As a result of increased confidence and copywriting skills, I picked up my first client two weeks after Bootcamp 2008 that led to two other jobs. And a connection I made at Bootcamp 2009 is still a client of mine today.

The payoff

Whether it’s a log cabin or hotel getaway, a hiding-in-the-cave sabbatical at home or coming to Bootcamp, you can expect:

  • Quicker learning. There’s no better way to learn new ideas fast than to carve out designated time for doing it in a setting you don’t normally work in.
  • Deeper learning that sticks. When you’re in a different environment and determined to learn new things and grow, it will stay in your brain. You’ll remember and recall things better.
  • A laser-like focus on your objective. It’s hard to focus on serious matters when you’re dealing with the daily minutiae of running a household. You almost have to get away from that environment to eliminate distractions. And probably the biggest benefit is …
  • A creative spark. It never fails. I’ve come up with my most brilliant ideas at Bootcamp, on a plane home from a trip, in a 4-star hotel in a new city, or in a cabin in the woods. Stuff I never would have dreamed up at my desk in my office.

It all adds up to a powerhouse method of accelerating your career, no matter where you are along the path.

Bottom line: taking a mini-sabbatical provides rocket fuel that will shortcut your path to the writer’s life!

Your creative juices, your mental focus, and your ability to absorb new things are extremely enhanced by getting outside your normal life.

If I hadn’t gotten these benefits on my previous escapes, I certainly wouldn’t have attempted the one I’m on now.

The next level is within your reach

As I write this, I’m in the midst of a month-long mini-sabbatical in Quito, Ecuador, with my wife and kids. I had a few reasons for coming this far. First, I wanted to spend a month working (yes, I did bring copywriting projects along) in an amazing, beautiful city unlike any other. I knew I would be inspired by the Andes mountains, the cathedrals that dot the skyline in Old Town, and the 478 years of history and architecture.

It didn’t disappoint. I’ve never been more inspired, more productive, and more creative. I’m filling journals with ideas, coming up with new marketing strategies for when I get back, and have started writing the copy for my new website and niche. Yes, this one is paying off!

If not now, when?

You don’t have to go to another continent for a month for your mini-sabbatical. Don’t have the money for an escape? It doesn’t have to cost anything. Copy my dining room table experience, or look up a friend or family member who has a cabin in the woods or a cottage by a lake.

Here are a few suggestions for setting up and getting the most out of your mini-sabbatical:

  1. Plan it in advance so you can clear your schedule. For some people, that might require a month or two. If you're used to being flexible and have an opening between projects, a day or two might be enough time to get it ready (and you can often get great last-minute deals online).
  2. To maximize your time and money, keep it close to home. My best sabbaticals have been within a three-hour drive, and I've found two or three days works best (it's hard to get a lot accomplished in one day).
  3. Pack light. A laptop or iPad, some notebooks, and a few books that might inspire you. Consider leaving your cell phone at home (leave a message that you'll be unavailable for a few days and to email you in case of an emergency).
  4. Be realistic with what you want to accomplish. If you set a few goals for the sabbatical and hit them, you'll be more energized and productive than if you have a long list of objectives and don't get to half of them.
  5. Make it a unique location. Keep tip #2 above in mind, but avoid the mundane, like stale hotels off the interstate or a beach you've been to dozens of times.

Too many day-to-day responsibilities to get away for a few days? That’s the reason why you need to try this. Like I talk about in “Toss your balanced life in the trash,”you might need to let go of some things in order to move forward on others. Determine one or two items of utmost importance, and forget about (for the time being) all your other goals.

Look, we’re all somewhere along this path to the writer’s life, right?

Maybe you’re just starting out. Or you’re on the verge of becoming a full-time freelancer. Or you’ve been in the business for a while, but now you need to change course and develop a new niche and reinvent yourself.

Whatever your situation is, give mini-sabbaticals a try. I guarantee you’ll accelerate your rise to the next level.

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Published: August 12, 2011

14 Responses to “Mini-Sabbaticals: Rocket Fuel to Shortcut Your Path to The Writer’s Life ”

  1. Great article. I'm not a writer, but these ideas are good for any professional looking to take a break. I can't wait to try them.

    Guest (Sharon G)August 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm

  2. Great tips Steve, thanks for sharing them. No matter where in the journey we are, everyone can use a time to get back in alignment with our true calling. It is so easy to get off track but your suggestions and tips will fix that problem.
    By the way, I just got back from a two week trip to Cuenca. I know it is far from Quito but if you haven't been and can fit it in, I highly recommend visiting. It is incredibly beautiful and will also get those creative juices flowing!

    DavidDAugust 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

  3. Whew! I never comment on columns even if I love them. Just don't feel I'm up to the task as everybody in and around AWAI seems brilliant.

    For some reason, the posts I've read today have opened my eyes. I can be brilliant too!


    barbarjoAugust 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm

  4. Brilliant article.

    Guest (Earl Carter)August 16, 2011 at 6:31 am

  5. Love the sabbatical slant, Steve. Makes so much sense! I'm itching to go on one now, but so grateful to have Bootcamp to look forward to. Nice job!

    MindyAugust 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

  6. Steve, this is do-able and affordable. Will schedule one soon. Thanks for the great ideas!

    Guest (Barbara Carson)April 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  7. Steve, love the idea of intentionally tuning out the world and sequestering yourself with a bundle of inspirational books...almost like a Napoleon Hill style mastermind session with the authors. Must get that scheduled ASAP!

    Already booked for my second Bootcamp. Going to rock it this year.

    Alan SteacyApril 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

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