Last week, I drove two hours north to the Pennsylvania woods, where I rented a cabin with Maria V. Snyder for a week-long writing retreat.
I suspect some of you are wondering why I’d do something crazy like that. I mean, I have the luxury (and the responsibility) of writing full time. Why spend a total of four hours in the car to go to a place where I need to carry in bedding and pots and pans and food, all to write, just like I write at home? (For reference, I’ve written an article about writing retreats — how to set them up and why do do them — here.)
Short answer: It’s not just like at home.
For one thing, I’ve driven two hours to get there, and I’ll drive two hours to get home, so there’s a time cost to going there. Far more importantly, there’s a family cost to going there — I’ve left behind my husband and our cats, upsetting human and feline schedules alike. I’ve turned my world and the world of those I love upside down.
So I damn well better be productive while I’m there.
In an ordinary week, when I’m writing at full speed, I produce 15,000 words of solid first draft. Those words aren’t perfect, and there will likely be fairly substantial revisions in specific language, but the plot is set and the general sequence of events and the backbone of the writing.
In the four full days of the retreat (Monday through Thursday, plus a few hours on Sunday after I arrived), I drafted almost 30,000 words. That’s one third of the new Jane Madison novel, JOY OF WITCHCRAFT. Those words are more likely to survive editing than my usual words because they were written quickly, in close proximity to each other. (I find that I do my best writing fast.)
In addition to drafting all those words, I also built a Scrivener file that contains all the Jane novels in one large project. That file makes my writing vastly more efficient — I can search one file to see if I’ve used a name before, or to track down the characteristics of a crystal or an herb, or to recall the name of a spell. It took me a few hours to do the work (see, Sunday evening), but the labor will benefit me for all the Jane novels to come.
Usually, I alternate writing time with breaks — taking long walks in the woods, heading down to the lake, etc. On this retreat, alas, it rained *buckets* on Monday. And then on Tuesday, the temperature didn’t get above 25. (I took a short walk, but I headed back when the wind nearly blew my frozen ear lobes off my head.) On Wednesday and Thursday, the words were flowing and the temps were still glacial, so I kept my head down and wrote, wrote, wrote. On Friday, before we left, I did take one relatively long walk, but it was mostly a chance to say goodbye to the site.
Maria, I’ve discovered, is a great retreat-mate. We keep very different hours. I wake up relatively early, write a chunk in the morning, break for lunch, write a chunk in the afternoon, break for dinner, write a chunk in the evening, then go to bed around 11:00. She wakes up much later (around my lunch time) and she works must later (till 3 or 4 in the morning.) Therefore, we both have “alone time,” the same way that we have “together time.” It works out well.
I have two other retreats already scheduled in the new year — mini-retreats that last a weekend and take place at the homes of writer-friends. I’m looking forward to them, to the socializing, to the discussing business, to the short intense bursts of writing.
But I’m also already planning my next retreat in the woods. Because I’ll have another third of a book to get drafted. I always do.Read More