Inward bound

writing-retreat

Silk’s Post #130 — Ready … set … retreat!

When the 5writers began discussing a writers’ retreat, the idea had just a slight whiff of desperation to it. At least it did to me.

The fact was that, for a variety of reasons – some no doubt avoidable, and others clearly inescapable – all five of us were struggling at times to maintain our writing practice.

In the “old days” (pre-2012) we’d produce 30 first-draft pages each month for submission, critique 120 pages of our colleagues’ manuscripts, and spend a few lively hours together every few weeks to discuss our writing progress, successes and problems. It was damn hard work, but it kept the words flowing and the enthusiasm level high.

It wasn’t perfect, and there were times when one (or more) of us would leave our critique session discouraged or confused. For me, though, it was just the discipline I needed and it was during this time that my commitment to being a writer – a real writer, a good writer – became carved in stone.

Then came our grand 5writers experiment in 2012-13: writing 5 novels in 5 months, followed by a critique extravaganza at a week-long retreat high in the mountains at Whistler. Another amazing learning experience. Although some of us fell short of the original goal, it was still exhilarating, and it gave birth to this blog.

Since then – let’s be honest – it’s been a bit more hit-and-miss. Life has thrown all manner of challenges and opportunities in our paths. House moves. New relationships. Business ventures. Health issues. Travel. Volunteer commitments.

Some of us have taken courses and forged ahead (kudos to Karalee), or taken off on great spurts of productivity (congratulations to Joe). But if you’re one of the loyal readers who’s still following this blog, you know that the thing we’ve been writing about most is how hard it is to get back to the “writing life” and make consistent progress.

And that doesn’t even touch the looming challenge of actually getting published – another whole learning curve in itself.

So back to step one: writers gotta write. We need to chip the rust off those brain machines and … Just. Sit. Down. And. Write. Somewhere away from all the distractions competing for our time and attention. Get the momentum going again. Get inspired. Get obsessed and stay obsessed, as one of my favourite writers John Irving would put it.

And so, we retreat this week to Paula’s idyllic Northwest home on the Sunshine Coast waterfront to pound out some wordage.

But how to prepare for this intensive experience? This inward-bound journey into our writers’ hearts and minds, in search of story? So I indulged my research geek side today and looked for “writer’s retreat” advice online.

I didn’t expect the deluge.

Why, oh why, am I surprised that we’re not alone in the quest for retreat? Oh, I know writers have been stealing off to focus on their writing – retreating temporarily from the inconvenient traffic jam of life – for years and years. It always sounded so exotic: the vagabond artiste, sojourning in some Tuscan villa, or mountain chalet, or hut on a palm-studded beach, writing Something Important in between long, soul-searching walks.

I just had no idea that writing retreats had already become such an industry.

Like the ubiquitous writers’ conferences, writers’ workshops, and writers’ courses, there is now a plethora of writers’ retreat opportunities to suit every travel whim, budget, and lifestyle preference. Some sound more like vacations than working retreats, but many include writers’ services such as coaching, critiquing and workshops.

The Write Life website lists “20 Incredible Writing Retreats” to attend in 2015, including an all-inclusive resort in Baja, Mexico; an eco-lodge on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast; an island outside Savannah, GA where such writing luminaries as Annie Dillard and Alice Walker have scribbled; a Colorado Rocky Mountain fiction writers’ getaway; a writing and mindfulness retreat on Maui with Cheryl Strayed; a nature-oriented retreat with workshops on the coast of New South Wales, Australia; a retreat for women writers in Florence, Italy; a proprioceptive writing retreat (huh?) at a traditional Irish B&B; an intensive learning experience at a private Texas ranch …

It goes on and on. Tuscany, Greece, Spain, the French Alps. Writing retreats combined with spiritual discovery. Writing and yoga in a Danish castle. Screenwriting in Spoleto, Italy. Weaving words among Peruvian tapestry weavers with a side-trip to Machu Picchu.

Closer to home, the Pacific Northwest is lousy with writers’ retreats, many of them combined with yoga, cleansing, meditation, nature, healing arts, self-discovery and god knows what other super-duper healthy holistic practices. Check out Retreats Online for a listing of artistic retreats so wholesome you’ll feel better about yourself just perusing them.

There’s even a website for those who want to set-up and promote their own writers’ retreat business – kind of like a literary airbnb network. The Writers’ Retreat Network tells all, for a membership fee of course, and includes a handy “Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up and Operate a Writers’ Retreat”.

Among all these packaged travel-and-writing experiences, I did come across a useful article in the Books section of Huff Post, where Holly Robinson tells us “Why You Need a Writing Retreat and How to Make the Most of It.” She offers good advice on types of retreats, differentiates retreats from conferences and workshops, and gave me fresh enthusiasm for our own upcoming retreat with these observations (loosely quoted from her post):

You can make your own writing retreat on the cheap

All you really need is a desk and a power outlet, she says, and it pays to look for a place off-season (if you don’t happen to be lucky enough to know Paula!). She says lots of people are happy to have you use their houses for the price of a cleaner’s fee (presumably while they’re off somewhere warmer), and she’s also found incredible deals at summer resort hotels in winter.

It’s more fun with two or more writers

This assumes a pretty high level of compatibility, of course, but splitting costs makes it more affordable to rent a place short-term, and meals are less work and more fun when shared. She also enjoys reading pages aloud to each other at night and having mini-workshops or social time to unwind.

When you go on your retreat, let yourself take breaks

Don’t be guilty about taking some time to chill, she warns. She reminds us that refuelling is part of writing, too, and she’s amazed how much more productive she is when she’s rested and clears her head now and then with some exercise.

If you can only get away for a weekend, that’s okay too

According to Holly, you can get a lot done in two or three days. She says to use the opportunity to focus on thorny issues like plot pacing, a conclusion, point of view, or any other sticking point that has kept you from progressing, so you can keep working on it after you get home again.

Do it four times a year

Okay, this was a “whoa!” for me. Four times a year? But Holly’s argument is that “we need to visit the muse” at least quarterly. Maybe she’s right. I can’t wait to see how our first Writers’ Retreat goes. (See? I’m already thinking of it as the first in a series.) If I find myself writing 7,000 words in a day (as Holly claims she did on a writing retreat to Cape Ann last November), I’ll be all over that quarterly schedule.

“I can’t be that focused at home,” she writes. “I bet you can’t either.”

She sure got that one right, so I’m paying attention. Wish us luck!

You can follow Holly Robinson on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hollyrob1

 

This day we write

this-day-we-write

Silk’s Post #127 — Last week, for the first time in our collective effort to blog our way to writerdom, four of the 5writers missed our posts. Ouch.

It’s time for me to step up to the booth and say my confession. Bless me, readers, for I have sinned. It’s been four weeks since my last blog post. I throw myself at your mercy. I’d welcome the chance to clear my conscience by saying 20 Hail Shakespeares. If it were only so easy!

But redemption doesn’t work that way for writers. As much as I cherish that writing flame within, being a devout, practicing writer really requires only one thing. And it requires it absolutely, as an article of faith.

You must write.

Even if it’s shit. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if your life is full of good, or bad, distractions. Even if you question your calling and are struggling to believe in yourself. Even if you’re overcommitted and all your time is spoken for. Even if you’re bored or uninspired. Even if your routine is disrupted. Even if you’re so consumed with guilt about your lack of productivity that you’ve gone into avoidance mode. Even if you’re too stressed, or too sad, or too worried, or too tired to care. Even if you’re consumed by some other seductive passion that demands your attention. Even if you fear your words have left you.

You must write anyway.

Or forget being a writer. Do something else. Find another route to spiritual, emotional, intellectual fulfillment.

Harsh, I know. The truth often is. And we sensitive creative people may wither in its presence. Or do the opposite: rebel, catch fire, grab the beast with two fists, bay at the moon.

Start writing again, just to prove nothing can stop us.

I sat down to write this post without having any clear idea of what I wanted, needed, to say. I just knew I had to explain to myself why I haven’t blogged in a month, or touched my manuscript in far longer than that.

My first stream of thought, unsurprisingly, was the litany of reasons why I’ve put off writing. As I enumerated and examined them in my head, disruptions that had been posing as perfectly good reasons were unmasked, one by one, and revealed to be mere excuses. Just a lot of blah blah blah.

And what I concluded was that none of that matters. The road to hell – to no one’s shock, I’m sure – really is paved with good intentions. No wonder it has so many potholes.

A few years ago at the Surrey International Writers Conference, we were treated to one of the most inspiring keynotes I’ve ever heard by bestselling author Robert Dugoni. It was his own becoming-a-writer story, and he told it like a song – or maybe a hymn – the narrative given power and energy with a repeated chorus: This Day We Write. SIWC has adopted the refrain, with Mr. Dugoni’s blessing, as its own mantra.

As T.S. Eliot famously said, “good writers borrow, great writers steal”, so I have no compunction about appropriating This Day We Write as my blog title. Repeating it, with appropriate devotion, is a penance that can save lapsed writers.

We need these rituals in our passion play.

Being a writer is, in a way, the simplest of jobs. You just write. You learn and develop craft with every word, every sentence, every book. There’s really no other secret to it.

The 5writers’ road to salvation will begin here. We’re planning a writing retreat, hopefully in June. The agenda is as simple as this vow: This Day We Write.

 

 

 

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!