5 Things I Learned from My Writing Retreat That Apply to Empty Nest

It’s not every day you have the chance to get away to focus three entire days doing what you love.

Last weekend, I took a break from my regular flying schedule and traveled to Charlotte, NC to attend a writing workshop/retreat. This community of writers I’m part of are all in different places on the writing journey. But there’s one thing we all have in common; we have embraced our call to write. We write because we believe we have “a message to share and an audience to serve.” (Brian J. Dixon)

The time, money and energy I invested to hone my craft was an above and beyond kind of investment that exceeded my expectations.

I have learned in recent years, that If I am to become an effective communicator of hope, I must surround myself with like-minded people who can help me take the next step in my writing life.

It’s not an option to go solo.

As you consider where you are in your mid-life adventure, I hope you are embracing where you are. My hope is to meet you where you are and help you take the next steps, no matter what that next steps looks like in your life.

I hope you don’t go solo either, friend.

So here’s to your next midlife steps and mine!

I hope you will find these insights to be both encouraging and helpful.

The 5 Things I Learned from My Writing Retreat About the Transition to Empty Nest

Ready? Here they are.

1) An investment in yourself is an investment in others
2) Milestones should be celebrated with “quirky rewards”
3) Having a specific plan is essential.
4) Value the relationships you’ve been given.
5) Stay in your 8’ space.       

1) An investment in yourself is an investment in others

I could relate to some of the mommas this past weekend who expressed the personal guilt struggle they were having to invest precious tight-budget money for the weekend and leave their family in order to feed their writing momma soul.

For years, we made our children our priority, and rightly so.

“For to whom much is given, much will be required.”

Raising eight kids didn’t leave much budget room or momma time, as you can imagine.

I was so invested in my kids and mothering routine and responsibilities, that I often forgot about my own needy soul.

There was a long strectch of time where I think I simply lost sight of who I was apart from being Betsy-the-mom-of-8.  It wasn’t until a mentor of mine encouraged me to set deliberate time aside each week to do something I loved. It was an act of creating intentional space for my soul to breath that had no guilt strings attached.

Was it selfish of me to take time away from my family once a week? Ummm…NO! (sassy voice)

It’s actually, quite the opposite. It is a gracious and life-giving thing to make room for your soul to breath.

The investment you make in your own soul  

is an investment that also benefits those you love.

When we find our place in empty-nest-life we need to be kind to ourselves. With all the familiar family pressures behind us, we need to begin investing our time and talents in the things God has wired us to do.

Empty nest is a time to return your attention to things that you once had time and space for, or to explore new areas of interest. I hope you will take some time  to invest in whatever is life-giving to you.

As a writer, I’m trusting that time with my writing community was not just for my own soul but that it will also prove to benefit my readers…and my husband, adult kids and grand kids, too.

How will you create space in your life this week to invest in yourself? Know that others will be blessed when you make this an important part of everything you do.

2) Milestones should be celebrated with “quirky rewards”

One of the light-hearted moments of this writing weekend was when one of our writing coaches challenged us to choose a “quirky reward.” After she explained what that even is, our fearless leader (Myquillyn Smith) invited us to come up with our own way to celebrate the small things we do every day to move us closer to our growth as writers.

We were reminded to celebrate even the smallest of victories and to start a “done” list. (Emily Freeman). As writers, or just as people for that matter, in general we often measure our success on we have yet to do rather than what we have already done. Shifting our focus toward our accomplishments instead of “Oh my gosh I have so much to do!” thinking is a win for so many reasons.

A quirky reward is like saying to yourself, “Way to go girl…you’ve got this!” this may (or may not) be the actual quirky reward I used last weekend coupled with (or without) a piece of dark chocolate after completing my morning writing time goal.

For others, a “QR” might be watching a favorite Netflix show, taking a bubble bath, or texting a friend to celebrate your baby step win.

Though awkward at first, I am working to make quirky rewards part of my regular writing habit.

As you think about taking even the smallest step forward in discovering your place in the world as an empty nest momma, what kinds of quirky reward would you find most helpful? Then find someone to share your QR with.

3) Having a specific plan is essential

Do you like structure and routine or do you prefer a more spontaneous approach to life and just sort of winging it?

I’m a free spirit by nature, which is why flying is so good place for me at this point in my life. I’ve never been one who thrives under a lot of structure and routine. It goes against everything within me. I like variety, and spontinaiety, and non-structured time usually, and I can adapt to change very easily.

But this DNA framework can also be the enemy of a free spirit like me. As a writer, there are books to write, blog posts to write, and strategies to be written. And its within this creative part of my brain that I’m learning to incorpoate more structure and discipline. I need it. And honestly, I’m finding it quite helpful.

This weekend, one of our other writing coaches challenged us about “moving on purpose” (Gary Moreland). We learned how essential various components of our writing times is and the why scheduling time to write  is so critical.

We were given several things to write down for this exercise that we would refer to for our next writing session. We then determined which project we would work on by name, the amount of time we would spend writing including a start time, finish time, and break time; our designated writing location; and answering this question, Success for me today means: “If I could get this done _______________ I’d feel great.”

I love how this applies to midlife because of this reality:

When we are trying to figure out what our next season of life looks like as an empty nester, it can be a bit overwhelming. So many options, career choices, ministry opportunities, and personal and family situations to consider.

What’s a girl to do?

Answer: Take time to slap it all on the wall. (A bullet journal is the place where I do my brain dumping). List every next chapter idea that comes to your sometimes forgetful, midlife mind. Pray and ask God to lead and direct you. Take note of reoccurring themes that begin to surface.

Having a plan for your next steps empty-nest momma, can prove to be extremely beneficial and life-giving.

Yes, life-giving.

Because you are making your next chapter of life a matter of extreme importance. And here’s why….

Who you are becoming matters greatly to God and it should matter to you also. This world needs what you have to offer.

4) Value the relationships you’ve been given

The relational theme emerged several times throughout the weekend in a variety of ways.

The truth of the matter is we really do need others to help us move toward our God-given purpose.

As we begin to figure out our path in life especially after kids leave home, we need to consider both existing and new relationships.

And we need to be intentional about finding and tapping into the talents of those who can help us move forward.

Mentors, coaches, pastors, counselors, and wise friends all have wisdom we can benefit from.

But another way we can move forward is to find “secret mentors” (Myquillyn Smith, The Nester), which simply means, tapping into the expertise of others that are doing what we want to do and watch how they do “it.” It could be someone we follow on Instagram or Facebook, or various Blogs.

When we begin to step into our next chapter calling, it becomes important to surround ourselves with others who are doing and suceeding at what we want to do – and learn from them.

What is really hard (or even genius) for you and I, is easy to others (Brian J. Dixon).

Surrounding ourselves with key people is about finding those who excel in areas you lack.  In other words, don’t do your own plumbing…hire a plumber.  We waste a lot of time trying to figure out things that others could do with their eyes closed.

It was incredibly generous for four uniquely gifted professionals from the publishing industry to offer their time and wisdom for those of us at the writing retreat. This panel of pros provided guidance, suggestions, helpful advice, and encouragement in very specific ways. It was amazingly helpful!

As writers, we need to learn from them if we are going to move forward in our writing journey.

Recently, I found myself struggling (unnecessarily) with some technical issues pertaining to WordPress, the platform I use to host my blog. After wasting countless number of hours even days and weeks, I finally decided to hire a pro. The issue was resolved in a matter of a few minutes and a few dollars. An investment well worth it.

What is hindering you from moving forward?

Find those people who are genius where you are not. Something magical happen when you do.  They get to use their area of strength and you get to be blessed by their gift and have the satisfaction of moving forward.

I wasted a lot of time by trying to figure out my issue; time that I could have spent do what I love doing and what I feel called to do; write.

5) Stay in your 8’ space

A story was shared this past weekend by one of our Hope*Writer leaders (Emily Freeman). She spoke about her recent observation of a life guard that was completely and totally focused on her 8’ area of water. She was not looking to her right or left to see what other life guards were doing, she only focused on her 8’ area. As the lifeguard paced back and forth, her only concern was her 8’ area of responsibility. She knew her territory, her area of focus, and only cared about the people in her line of visibility.


So, it is with empty nest.

Midlife momma, you and I have also been entrusted with an 8’ area. A gift to give. A talent that the world needs. A people group to serve. It’s vital that we know what that niche area is and that we do it well.

After I became an empty nester, that inward calling to write began to get clearer.

I became a flight attendant as a way to help me launch my writing life, not necessarily because I always dreamed about becoming a flight attendant. (News flash)

It has proved to be a very good decision for me. At times it’s challenging to do both, but I’ve learned to write in the small spaces (crack time), during my sit time (between flights), on my commute to and from Chicago where I’m based, or other random waiting times.

But layovers and longer times at home, (my chunk time) is where I just write for longer periods of time.  Chunk time is critical becasue it’s where my brain can have uniterrrupted time to create content for my readers. (Thank you Emily Freeman for giving words like crack and chunk time, to the many ways we writers get our thoughts out.)

For several years now, I’ve been figuring out who my writing audience is. I even stopped writing for a while because I didn’t have confident clarity on this. And although I’m not yet where I want to be in my writing life, I like where I am today. Last year I launched my first children’s book, I launched my new blog, have a growing audience of readers that I blog for each week, and I’m moving forward with my writing goals, and I’m learning a ton! 

For now, I know that I’m called to write for midlife women, and I have a special place in my heart for empty nesters and the struggles they face adjusting to life without kids.

But because I’m also a flight attendant, I also have an incredible opportunity to reach my flying colleagues in a very unique and dynamic way. I’m still trying to figure out what that would look like. For now…I’m staying focused on my 8′ space by faithfully serving my audience here at Above & Beyond Midlife.

We’ll see where it all leads down the road.

Do you know where your 8’ area is?

If not, why not? What is keeping you from taking your next step? Can I help you? Please email me and let me know what you’re struggling with.

For just $29 I’d love to invite you to contact me to schedule a coaching call with you. I’d love to hear where you’re stuck and help you figure out your next step.

That’s all. Just your next step. Feel free to email me anytime at: elizabethduncanstretar@gmail.com

I so want God’s best for you, midlife friend.

Thanks for hanging out with me today.

Until next week, I will be praying this for you this week that God sill do Above & Beyond all you ask or imagine.


Thought for this week.

What’s your 8′ Area? What do you have that the world needs?

Don’t be found living your midlife/ empty nest days “off duty.”

There are people who need what only you can do. We need you to be the person God created you to be friend!

I’m here to say…Go for it! 

2 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned from My Writing Retreat That Apply to Empty Nest

  1. dianemoments says:

    Thanks so much for this inspirational piece. I’ve been called to write from a very young age , and been told I should be a writer but for some reason just rejected this , and didn’t have any motivation. But the last week or so I’ve felt this call suddenly come back. It isn’t a call actually. It’s a scream now, lol . I’ve always been one to do things solo but will certainly be needing more community in the future .


    • Elizabeth Duncan Stretar says:

      Diane, I’m so glad you reached out to share your journey here at A&BML. All I can say is YES girl! Write to your hearts content. I’d also like to invite you to my favorite hangout place of fellow-writer called Hope*Writers. They are my writing community people – where much support and coaching takes place. It’s a small monthly fee, but worth every penny! 🙂 Glad to have you here. 🙂 Betsy


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