How do solitary writers function at writers retreats?

The first time I went to the Hepcats Writers Retreat I didn’t get a lot accomplished. There were plenty of distractions — friends I hadn’t seen in ages because we live in different towns and only get together at conventions; new friends; and a new environment to check out. I also was beginning a new project, and starting is always a barrier to progress. In fact, none of what I did last year will likely make it into a new book, although nothing is ever wasted. It’s just backstory.

I was determined not to let that happen this year and I was largely successful.

This year, I went in with a plan. I had a project that I’ve been working on quite steadily, and I knew what I wanted to accomplish in terms of getting scenes down.

I knew I would have limited time; I only have one full day of writing, as the drive up to Oklahoma is roughly six hours. So I made sure that I would start writing on Friday night, after the socializing was done (and before the drinking got well underway). I didn’t want to rack up word count that first night, but it was crucial in establishing what I was here for. In this case, editing the previous day’s work is usually a good way to get me into the right mindframe for a productive writing session.

I set an intention. This is something I’ve learned from my yoga practice. Mindfully establish what you want to accomplish from that day’s yoga session, and work toward that. In yoga, it may be setting one’s mood for the day or something as pragmatic as working on loosening up a sore joint. My writing intention was to get down at least 2,600 words and ideally 4,000. I ended up with close to 4,000 although I didn’t count exactly; I did a lot of editing to seed in some foreshadowing.

I didn’t make it a death march, but I went outside my comfort zone in making myself keep my writing commitment. There were a few times when I wanted to stop and take a break, but I knew if I did I would probably not get back into the work. So I kept going, promising myself that dinner would be my reward (and not to make you jealous, but OMG, dinner was HELL YES A REWARD!).

I knew there was one thing I wanted to do outside of writing that weekend, and that was visiting the museum on campus. At first that was going to be my reward for being disciplined but I changed my mind and went for a couple of hours first thing after arriving and checking in. It was the right decision. Since this was part of my goal for the weekend — visit the museum, get inspiration from the collection, and visit dinosaurs and inspect arrowheads — I accomplished one of the objectives of the weekend. Nothing succeeds like success.

Similarly, although it was not exactly one of my goals, I made time for a walk around campus. Walking, decompressing, just plain moving, is important to me. It lets me clear my head, get the lungs and the heart and the muscles going, and it gives me a bit of an endorphin fix. The University of Oklahoma campus is rather stately in a Midwestern university kind of way; manicured lawns, brick (lots of brick) buildings, pragmatic architecture, and well-kept sidewalks with lovely streetlamps. It was freezing unfortunately, but I thought ahead and brought my wool coat and was comfortable. But man. Freezing.

A writers weekend can be a tremendous boost, because writers are such solitary creatures. There’s lots of socializing and writerly talk and commiseration, and yes, plenty of drinking (although I’m pretty much a lightweight). As I found out, it can be very distracting, and it can be easy to get off track if you aren’t careful. This year, just by going in with a plan and a set of intentions — this is what I’m working on and this is what I want to accomplish — I made a great deal of progress compared to last year.

So how do you plan for your writers weekends?



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