Why Retreat When You Can Write Full Time?

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.

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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.  :-)

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What a Way to Celebrate!

Well, I’m a year older now.

Okay, technically, I’m a day older than I was yesterday, and three days older than I was on October 12, my official birthday.  But you know what I mean.

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This year, we decided to take advantage of a relative’s kind offer, and we spent my birthday (and a long weekend!) at the beach — Duck, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks.  We typically go down there once or twice a year, usually in the heart of winter.  Duck is a wonderful place off season — nearly deserted, with most businesses closed up tight, with nearly no one on the beach, and with cold, bracing winds that can howl all night in classic nor’easters.

Not so much in mid-October this year!

The temps were in the 80s — I dramatically overpacked for cool weather and just got by with the T-shirts I brought (and I mourned my failure to bring shorts or sandalsl!)  On Saturday, the beach was actually *crowded*, and there were lots of folks on the sand every day.  All the businesses were open (even the Dairy Queen :-) ), and the roads were surprisingly busy.  In short, “our” Duck looked completely different from the Duck we normally encounter.

Of course, it was enjoyable, all the same.  We took walks on the sand (with surprisingly high tides and lots of waves!), and we indulged in meals at our favorite restaurants.  We got a lot of reading done, and we watched a lot of movies — binged the second half of HOMELAND, Season 3, and the BEYOND Linklater movies, and an odd, well-made little film called A SIMPLE PLAN.

All in all, a perfect birthday weekend, brightened by the Facebook posts of many, and emails from even more, and cards and phone calls and, and, and, and…  I feel well and truly spoiled!  (I also feel like I’m never going to eat anything other than salad and lean grilled meats, for the rest of my life :-) )

And that is why it’s time for me to get back to work :-)

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9 Uses For a Flip and Tumble

Flip and Tumble — brand name for a light cloth bag that folds into its own pouch and can easily be tucked into a purse or, in a pinch, a pocket.  (First pointed out to me by Justine Larbalestier!)

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  1. Hold snacks purchased for early morning flight from Washington DC to Albuquerque (by way of Minneapolis, because why shouldn’t one fly north to end up south?)
  2. Hold rental agreement on “compact” car, which turns out to be a Chevy Malibu the size of the Queen Mary’s younger sister, because no “Corolla equivalents” were available in the parking lot.
  3. Hold funky keys for room at the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe, which looks like it could be the movie set for a film about convent life in the old Southwest (if, you know, the nuns had king size beds in their bedrooms and massive multi-jet showerheads in their bathrooms and drank lemon ice water every time they passed through the hotel lobby on their way to some fun exploration).
  4. Hold refillable (and many, many times refilled) water bottle for use at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival, where over 200 artisans from dozens of countries display and sell handmade art and crafts (along with a fun international “food court”, and a surprisingly cool breezeway at the top of the hill, just perfect for taking a break in the hot-but-not-blazing (it’s a dry heat!) afternoon.
  5. Hold raincoat for afternoon gulley washer that created a 15 minute deluge followed by 15 minutes of light rain.  Oh.  Wait.  I left my raincoat back in my room, so the Flip and Tumble wasn’t any good for this.  But I was under shelter for almost all of the rain, so no big deal.
  6. Hold guidebook with information on Tia Sophia’s, a hole-in-the-wall breakfast restaurant with a yummy, yummy, yummy breakfast burrito featuring sausage, potatoes, cheese, and lots of red chili sauce.
  7. Hold cell phone used for navigating from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, where one can watch a fun short documentary about the “town with no name” where the atom bomb was developed.  One can also peruse the science museum on site, but one might want to have higher degrees in science to understand some of the exhibits.  Or, one can play with the brain-teaser games on spacial relationships that become addictive the closer one gets to (not) finding a solution.  (Don’t rely too much on the cell phone, though, because coverage will cut out about 5 minutes away from the museum.)
  8. Hold laptop and Kindle while attending the Annual Feast Day dance at the Cochiti Pueblo, because even though it’s warm in the shade and hot in the sun, it’s much, much cooler than the trunk of the car, where the suitcases are waiting for their return journey home.
  9. Hold snacks purchased for on-flight dinner, after a cross-airport sprint when Leg One of the return flight lands 35 minutes late, due to weather in Minneapolis.

All in all, my mother and I had a wonderful trip.  We found amazing treasures at the Folk Art Festival, spoke with dozens of friendly, kind people, and truly enjoyed our mother/daughter break!

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Retreating from Retreat

I’m back!  And I’m sitting at my computer!  At my desk!  With wifi at the ready!

And I’m guessing my productivity is going to plummet…

Here’s where I spent most of last week writing:

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I was at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania, where I started my writing retreat speaking to a great group of writers with interests as varied as memoir, short stories, journalistic articles, and novels.  We had some great talks, great meals, an amazing campfire and, oh, a little writing time.

They left on Sunday, alas, but that only meant that it was time to dig in for the serious work — a writing retreat with Maria V. Snyder.  Maria and I spent five days in a cabin (yes on electricity and water, no on wifi, TV, radio, etc.)  I wrote 35,000 words and edited 3/4 of STOPPING SHORT (Book 6 in the Diamond Brides Series) — and I talked with Maria about writing and family and life, and I ate way more food than I should have, and I talked with Maria, and I took a couple of easy hikes, and I talked with Maria…  Well, you get the idea.

Here’s the writer, in situ.  (And no, you can’t see the dive-bombing carpenter bees that became my constant companions):

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I drove up on Friday, discovered that I’d locked myself out of the house by forgetting to bring my house keys on retreat, wrote at the local library until Mark came home to spring me, and spent one night in my own bed.

Then, on Saturday, I spent the entire day with the Washington Romance Writers, doing two presentations and a reading with Lady Jane’s Salon.  By the time I got home Saturday night, I felt a little drunk (although I hadn’t touched alcohol) and a little hoarse!

Sunday was a day of rest, with time to chat with my mother :-)

And now, I’m back in the saddle, with a ton of writing on today’s to-do list.  And so…  I’m off!

How about you?  Did I miss anything major last week!  I won’t be able to catch up on everything so shout out if there’s something I should know!

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Open Letter to New York City Denizens

So, we took a trip to New York this past weekend.  Our main goal was to see PIPPIN (comments to follow in a later post), and we took in ALL THE WAY (a play about LBJ, starring Bryan Cranston — comments to follow in that same later post).  The trip started out beautifully, with a whole slew of New Yorkers being fun and inviting and just about the opposite of every stereotype of New Yorkers.  (I’m talking about the guy at the fast food counter who made me laugh, and the guy in line at TKTS who joked that he was buying up the last 60 tickets for GLASS MENAGERIE and giving them away to people who could answer Tennessee Williams trivia (only to discover that I stage managed a Williams play and knew more trivia than he’d bargained for), and the dozens and dozens of people who seemed to be in just a good mood, making our trip fun.)

And then a Bad Thing happened.

We were heading for dinner at Katz’s Deli, walking from the closest subway station, and we hit a patch of black ice, out of nowhere, in the middle of a block that had been perfectly clear at the corner.  I was just about to tell Mark to be careful, when I saw him fall.  His feet swept out from under him, his back hit, and then his head smashed — hard — against the sidewalk.  I yelled for someone to call 911, and the closest two people stopped, but they were from out of the country and didn’t have working cell phones.  The third closest guy stopped, and called.  I thought at first Mark was having a seizure, but then I (slowly) realized he was just trying to breathe.

In the midst of my panic, and waiting, waiting, waiting (it seemed like forever, but was probably 10 minutes), Cell Phone Man stayed with me.  And dozens of people who walked (skated!) by stopped.  People offered to help, offered to call, offered to do anything they could.

When the EMTs arrived, they took a quick assessment, attaching a cervical collar and getting Mark on a back board.  (Their treatment was interrupted by two other people slipping on another section of the same ice — those people weren’t injured, just shocked.)  It took me and a helpful bystander to brace the gurney for the EMTs to shift Mark onto the device, and then the EMTs needed to “sled” the gurney down the ice before they could raise it.

Mark was conscious, but somewhat disoriented, and the EMTs recommended that we go to Bellevue, because it’s the local trauma center.  We agreed, and they took us there.  Along the way, Mark’s memory continued to clear (although he *still* doesn’t remember falling.)  At Bellevue, the EMT walked us through the triage process, and we only waited about five minutes before a doctor came by for a preliminary exam.  He strongly suggested a CT scan, which we agreed to.

We waited an hour for the exam (having been moved from our original emergency room bay, after they brought in an agitated, aggressive man who seemed to be drunk or high — there were police in the emergency room for another case, and it seemed the hospital workers wanted Mr. Agitated near the cops).  Ultimately, the scan results came back, showing no bleeding in the brain (YAYYYYY!).  We talked to the doctor one last time, were told that the dizziness and headache and memory problems could last for days, weeks, or months, and Mark was discharged.

Everyone at the hospital was wonderful.  Nurses kept us informed and answered questions about timing and waits with patience and accuracy.  The doctor was reassuring and kind.  The man who handled discharge patiently explained where I could get food (it was nearly 9:00 when they took Mark to the scan, and I’d only had a bowl of soup for lunch hours ago….) even though he must give those directions dozens of times a day.

The next day (yesterday), we headed down to Penn Station, hoping to change our tickets to an earlier train.  The gate agent was wonderful, slipping us onto a virtually sold out Acela (a faster, more comfortable train than the regular, with priority on the rails, in case of backups), for only the difference in ticket price.  A Red Cap escorted us to the train for pre-boarding, so that we didn’t have to deal with the scrum that always forms, as people with reserved tickets jostle for seats as if it’s the last train leaving Saigon.  (Okay, *trains* didn’t leave Saigon, but you know what I mean…)

In the end, we got home about six hours earlier than we would have.  Mark is sore from the fall, but the bump on his head isn’t as troublesome today.  He’s still getting dizzy if he moves too fast or leans over, but he’s feeling much less foggy.

And I’m left more than a bit unnerved about how bad it could have been.  And so grateful for so many people who stopped to help strangers.  And wishing there was some way that I could thank everyone involved.

And thinking I’ll only try to go to Katz’s in the summer from now on…

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Retreating from Retreats

Wow.  I hardly recognize my office.  My writing desk.  My cat-trap blanket…

What?  You don’t have a cat-trap blanket?  It’s a crucial tool in my writing arsenal — a lap blanket knit out of Heavenly yarn.  when Poppy decides she needs to sit on my keyboard, to supervise my work, I lure her onto my lap with the cat-trap blanket.  She makes bread, and I get work done.

So, I’ve returned from my back-to-back retreats.

For those playing along at home, I spent five days on my first retreat.  I left you some clues along the way, but no one figured out where I was — Orlando, Florida, staying at the Disney Yacht Club Resort.  (The giraffes were viewed from a “Sunset Savannah” room at Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The Eiffel Tower was viewed from the edge of the EPCOT park.)

While in Orlando, I ate my body weight in whole-grain croissants, and I drank a tanker full of tea (with coffee for those couple of mornings when I was nearly too exhausted to write.)  I worked during the days, then spent the evenings with my best friend.  We stayed up talking *way* too late most evenings.

I rewarded myself with the Cirque de Soleil show, La Nouba, and it was magical.  I despise the regular circus, with its animals and noise, but I love, love, love these shows that walk on the edge of Magritte.  They trigger a million writing ideas, and all the while I’m simply astonished by what some human bodies can do.

I came home from Orlando and spent about 24 hours with husband and cats before heading off to my “local” writers retreat, a couple of hours north of here, in Maryland.  This is a group of four other authors; we get together a couple of times a year.  The stay isn’t nearly as productive (there’s only one full day, with people arriving and leaving on Friday and Sunday), but it’s always fun to check in on everyone else’s careers, and to get *some* heavy lifting done.

So, my total, for the week of retreating:  Approximately 25,000 words drafted, and approximately 38,000 words edited.  Today, I’ll wrap up THE VERY FIRST TIME (the third of the Diamond Brides books.)  I’m pleased!  And eager to move on to the fourth book!

So?  What did I miss while I was out of touch?  What’s new with you?

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