Retreating to write

I was bogged down. I could force myself to sit in the chair in front of the word processor and get words on the page, but I wasn’t inspired and I certainly wasn’t enjoying it. Not only that: I wasn’t getting enough words on the page, so I was falling behind on the word count necessary to meet my November deadline.

Not good.

That’s when my brilliant husband suggested I go on a one-woman writing retreat: rent a room somewhere for a few days and do nothing but write. (Did I mention I love my husband?) I’ve never tried this before and I was a little dubious but I needed something to kick start my writing again. So I cleared five days on my calendar and went looking for an inspiring place to stay.

I found it at the Inn at Glencairn near Princeton, NJ. I write contemporary novels, but I adore the history of colonial America. The oldest part of the Inn at Glencairn was built in the mid-1700s, while the “newer” part (where my room was) was built later in the 18th century. The British confiscated and occupied the house during the Revolutionary War. I decided my Muse would really like this place.

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And my Muse did.

Innkeepers Patty and Mason Tarr very kindly moved an antique table into the Hunt Room to serve as my desk. I set up my laptop and attached my favorite ergonomic keyboard. And I was off and typing.

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My goal was to write 10,000 words (about 40 manuscript pages) in my five-day stay. I’m not a speedy writer so that’s a lot for me.

So here’s how I set up my days. The Tarrs provided a fabulous gourmet breakfast every morning at 8:30 when I got to chat with fellow guests. I met some delightful folks over scrumptious banana-walnut pancakes.

After eating way too much, I went upstairs to my room, did a minimum amount of social media and answering emails (so my friends and colleagues wouldn’t think I’d fallen off the face of the earth), and then started in on the book. I didn’t stop until I had written at least 1,000 words.

Then I took my “lunch” break. I use the term lunch loosely because it was usually about 3:00 by then. I’d jump in my car and drive to Princeton or Lawrenceville to grab some food, and then I’d find a place to walk around for about an hour. My brain works better when I get kind of exercise every day. I roamed the Princeton University campus, strolled past mansions in the town, and hiked the tow path of the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

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Then it was back to the keyboard until I’d hit 2,000 words for the day. When I got stuck, I’d wander downstairs to have one of Patty’s sinfully delicious homemade cookies with a cup of tea. Or take a complimentary glass of Pinot Grigio out onto the stone patio behind the house and contemplate the beauties of Mother Nature for a half an hour. If I was lucky, I’d run into Patty or Mason and have a nice chat. Writing is very solitary so I enjoyed a little human contact in the evening.

But mostly it was nose to the keyboard.

And I did it: I wrote 10,000 words. I even think they’re pretty good words. In addition, I learned some valuable lessons about my writing process that I hope to incorporate into my daily working routine.

1)      Forcing myself to keep my head in the story for a lot of hours every day got my creative juices flowing in a way they hadn’t been before. I came to know my characters much better which brought forth all kinds of new ideas for scenes and conflicts.

Lesson: Try to work in two writing sessions a day instead of just one, so my mind is on the story more hours a day.

2)      Taking a break between writing sessions freed my brain to play with ways to strengthen the scene I was working on. Then I was excited to get back to the story to incorporate the new material I’d thought up.

Lesson: Take regular breaks but keep thinking about the book while I’m walking…or drinking wine.

3)      Limiting my time on social media and email made me a lot more productive, not just because of gaining use of the time itself, but because I didn’t keep getting pulled out of the story. (Yes, I knew this already, but sometimes I need a strong reminder.)

Lesson: Use that Anti-Social software I downloaded that locks me out of Facebook for X number of minutes.

4)      A change of scene kicked me out of my rut and made the writing seem fresher.

Lesson: Try working in a different room in the house or even outdoors for a little while, just to shake my brain up.

Now I’m back on track to meet my deadline. Phew! I hope to do another one-woman retreat next year because it’s a wonderful way to really immerse myself in my work-in-progress.

I’m thinking maybe in Provence…

 

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3 responses to “Retreating to write

  1. Fantastic post! This is exactly what I needed to hear as I tackle the first round of edits from my publisher. The two sessions and no social media really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing. We could all use a little inspiration 🙂 Have a wonderful time a RWA! I’m rooting for you to get the RITA!!!

  2. What a wonderful and supportive spouse, kudos to him! Sounds like a great idea (and I am fascinated to discover that there is something to make you limit your social media exposure…I have refused to join FB, Twitter and Pinterest because I KNOW I do not have enough time to wander around the sites that I currently belong to, without adding more, lol). Thanks for sharing your process and congrats on what you have accomplished, I will look forward to reading your next wonderful creation!

  3. Sounds like a delightful time for you.

    Another adventure .

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