So what’s a writing retreat like? My last posts were full of speculation. Here’s the reality of how our weekend went:
(a) It is actually possible to put ten friends together for 48 hours and still get lots of work done.
(b) Ten writers “getting work done” is a very quiet process that will cause any necessary conversations to be spoken in whispers, akin to the type of atmosphere you’d find walking into a house with a sleeping baby.
(c) This phenomenon of whispering and getting work done will strike all of us as funny, prompting occasional giggles.
(d) It will also cause sheer disbelief as new writers trickle in: “You’re actually working? Oh. I guess I should get my laptop out of my car.”
(e) The more people to a room, the less sleep you will get. But since we’re all adults, most of us with kids who tire us out regularly, nobody really makes fun of you if you choose to go to sleep early.
(f) Having full days to write doesn’t mean ideas will flow as abundantly as the minutes. There will still be instances of writer’s block, and these are great times for snack breaks. The only complication is when some writers are breaking (i.e. talking while snacking) and others are intently writing; in these awkward cases, it’s great to have multiple rooms to slink off to and great that those on break understand.
(g) Chips and salsa is possibly the world’s perfect snack.
(h) When gelato shops close too early (apparently this is their off season), alternative forms of diversion include feeding dog biscuits to goats, watching The Young Victoria (so good I watched it twice later in the weekend), quickly giving up on Book Lover’s Trivial Pursuit (if ten avid writers/readers can’t answer those questions, who can?), playing House Rules Uno (each new dealer declares the rules each round), and determining president, vice president, working class, and scum (I’m the reigning VP!).
(i) Fiction can often surprise you, even when you’re the writer. As we asked each other how it was going, the answer was often, “This scene isn’t going at all where I thought it would.”
(j) Momentum must be built.
For me, my biggest goal of the retreat was to build up momentum for my fourth draft. I knew what I needed to fix, I even had rough ideas about how to fix it, but I was lacking in momentum. I needed to get some new scenes under my belt — and not just any scenes. They had to be scenes that epitomize the difference between the last draft and the vision for the new draft so that I have a feel for where I’m going.
By Friday afternoon, I was feeling like it wasn’t going to happen. I’d written one brand new scene that I loved, moved one scene from the fourth chapter to the first, and given up on a third scene that I’d envisioned but wasn’t working out. I spent the majority of the day scrolling through the 300 pages of my manuscript hunting for a spot that would allow me to make significant changes and get that momentum rolling. By the end of the day, all I’d accomplished was choosing the spot (Chapter 3) and mapping out how a new sequence of scenes would shape the chapter.
So it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I finally made amazing progress. I woke up early and wrote the first scene of the chapter, broke for food and shower, then wrote the remaining scenes. And it felt so good that two days later I’m still riding the high of feeling good about where this draft is heading.
And I wasn’t the only one. The few hours we spent together Saturday morning seemed to be the most productive of the retreat for several of us, all typing frantically on our laptops to get the scenes written before it was time to go.
Sound like something that might appeal to you? Grab some friends, find a place to run off to, and have a retreat! For some of us, it was the greatest thing we’ve done for our writing in a while.