Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Back from Retreat – A Few Takeaways

Cacapon Retreat GoalsBefore I left for my writer’s retreat I set some pretty ambitious goals. When I got there, I wrote them down on a wall poster and hung it in the room where I did most of my writing.

(You’re seeing an early version of it here in the pic to the left. By the end of the retreat, I’d finished many more items than indicated in the photo.)

When I completed a task, I made an “X” in the box to the left of the task and moved on.

Other members of the group also wrote their goals on the easel pad and hung it, and as we worked, we were surrounded by these wall posters of what we wanted to accomplish. (It was gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d listed projects that should have been done months — if not years — ago.)

It was interesting to see the different styles by which we all worked. My list had no priority order, and I chose the easiest/quickest items to complete first and cross of my list. For me, it was motivating to see items checked off, and I built momentum as we went along.

Another member prioritized his list, then started from the top, working on each item in 30 minute intervals. Once 30 minutes passed, he added a tick mark to the item and moved on to the next: his method for avoiding writer’s block or getting discouraged by the length of time one item might take.

Another member just started from the top of her list and worked her way down.

When we rented the cabin earlier this year, we’d planned to work on card tables in our own rooms, but the “great room” of the cabin was so spacious (and contained a fire place!) that we decided to work together at the large dining table.

I wasn’t certain how that was going to work at first, and it felt a little bit like being stuck in “study hall” in high school, but it worked splendidly. We were quiet and industrious, with the occasional question tossed out to the group. I liked it better — and got more work done — than our previous retreat (though I enjoyed that retreat very much, too).

During the previous retreat, we lived and worked in separate rooms, dormitory style, and only saw each other for meals (at which time we weren’t allowed speak to each other).

I found this retreat much more enjoyable, even if we tended to spend too much time (IMO) socializing at meals. As a group, we’ve already decided to rent again at this location next year.

I find the benefits of “communal” retreating to be:

  • Having the camaraderie of like-minded, motivated people who are on hand immediately to bounce an idea off of or ask for a quick critique
  • The “immediate” presence of other writers encouraged me to write, even when I didn’t feel like it.
  • By the same token, the presence of other writers discouraged web surfing, excessive solitaire playing and general cat waxing. (In fact, I didn’t goof off AT ALL…and didn’t feel deprived, either.)

Another thing I learned: Don’t take too much stuff.

All of us over packed, including on food. “Starving Writer” would certainly have been a misnomer for us.

Beyond food, we brought a printer, extra cartridges and reams of paper which we never touched, as well as office supplies, some writing prompt books, and other things we never used. I brought two novels to read. Although I read voraciously at home, I found when I tumbled into bed after writing all day I was too tired to read more than a page or two. I’ll leave those at home next time.

We did coordinate supplies: a “you bring this and I’ll bring that” kind of coordinating, but I think we’ll do more of that next time.

On the last day, I packed up my goals poster and brought it home. It’s now hanging on the wall over my desk. There’s nothing like staring at a list of “unfinished projects” to keep you moving. When I’m done with it, I’ll likely grab a new easel sheet and start another. And although I’ve got a ton more things to do than what’s on the list, I like the “finite” feel of the limited size of the wall poster.

Along with the poster, I’ve got an electronic “to do” list of things I need to accomplish now that I’ve returned. Many items on that list take the form of: “Send suchandsuch project to suchandsuch venue.” I’ve done a few of those tasks already, but I’ve more to do: all related to manuscripts completed on retreat (which might not have gotten done if I hadn’t gone away).

All in all: A huge success. It was a blast, and I’m ready to go again.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Gearing Up for a Writer’s Retreat

My face-to-face critique group and I are headed into the mountains for a four-day writer’s retreat at the end of the month. We’ve rented an 8-person cabin in a West Virginia state park and hope to get tons of writing done.

My list of writerly “to dos” is growing as the days go by.

Initially, my goal was to write 3,000 or more (no less!) words per day for each day we’re there. It doesn’t sound like much, but we can’t check in until four and must leave by ten, so it’s not really four full days. Maybe I should break the word count down hourly…

But now I’m toying with adding some “housekeeping” and “task” stuff to the list, like re-formatting some stories — whose rights have reverted back to me –for publishing on Amazon, Nook and Smashwords. Or updating the bibliography on my Web site. I could kill a full day doing that.

This retreat is different than our last. For one, we won’t be staying in a monastery.

This means (first and foremost) that we’ll be able to talk to each other. It’s tough for a bunch of writer friends not to discuss their work, but we managed. This time we’ll be able to chatter all we want. So I’m hoping not only for some writing time, but some critique time.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go away and bring back some polished writing?

I’ve starting packing my boxes to take with me, and making lists of things not to forget.

For writing, I’m taking both my novel work in progress and two short stories I’ve started. I’d like to finish the shorts and grow the novel by a third, but I’ll be happy if I can add 12k of words total.

Before I go, I’ll clean off the desk and empty out the mailbox. I’m sure there’s at least a dozen things I’ll add to the list.

If you’re interested in how I’ll go about preparing for a writer’s retreat (and ranking how I’ll choose items to work on), read this post I made before the last retreat. (There’s no sense re-inventing the wheel.)

Anybody else out there take trips with their critique group? I’d love to hear how you pull it all together. Do you schedule the time or just wing it? Do you do free-writing exercises, or only work on stuff you hope to market? Inquiring minds want to know!