Lea Wait here. Many of you know this has been a challenging winter for my husband and for me. As I’m writing this he is in the hospital having two stents put in his left leg. He’s been there a week, and has another couple of days to go before he can come home. This is his third hospitalization since mid-January. And I had kidney surgery last week — and will have it again this Friday.
Of course, our top priority has been taking care of each other and our health issues. But the reality of art galleries expecting new paintings from Bob, and my next mystery due to Kensington on May first, in a year when mystery authors are being dropped left and right, has meant we can’t divest our artistic obligations.
It hasn’t been easy. I was especially worried since I sent my previous book in at the end of January, and knew I only had a little over 3 months to complete the next one.
Somehow I wrote about fifty pages. A pittance.
Bob was doing better, but, even with only two of us at home, after his stroke I’d picked up the cooking and chores he usually did, and was the one organizing doctors’ visits and paying bills. I wasn’t writing. I was beginning to panic.
Once a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to leave home and spend five days alone, doing nothing but writing. It was an incredibly productive week. I have a writing friend who takes herself on solo “retreats” several times a year — checks herself into a hotel in a remote spot and writes. So when Bob and one of our neighbors suggested I take a week away from home I hesitated, but then couldn’t resist.
I left Bob with casseroles and sandwich makings and frozen pizzas and spent 6 1/2 days at the neighbor’s house, semi-closed for the winter, on the edge of the sea. The neighbor made sure the heat was on, a telephone was available, and I had internet access. I brought simple food with me for the week.
And I wrote over 150 pages. A first draft, sure. But not a bad one. I kept in touch with my husband by telephone, and the neighbor stopped in several times. Bob was fine. In fact, he produced two paintings that week.
And my deadline looked within reach.
For anyone else considering such a step, here are a couple of suggestions, based on my experience:
- Prepare outlines, character sketches, plot lines — whatever you need — before you go. You’re there to write, not research. Leave blank spaces in your manuscript if you must.
- Take food that is easy to prepare and light. You don’t want to fall into a carb stupor. Ditto alcohol. I did take a bottle of sherry and treated myself to a glass at the end of my writing day. (I also took jelly beans!)
- Don’t worry about clothes. You won’t be seeing anyone. Comfort is the key — sweats, slippers — whatever is relaxing for the season. (You also won’t need makeup. But I did take bath salts. Working at a keyboard 10+ hours a day is rough on back and shoulder muscles.)
- Give yourself a break from your manuscript at night. Watch light tv, or read something in a different genre from the one you write in. You may still find thoughts of plots flickering through your brain, though — make sure you have paper and pencil wherever you are.
- If you can, depending on season and weather, take a walk each day. Or at least breathe some fresh air.
- Don’t worry about word or page counts when you’re working … just keep going. But keep track, so you can pat yourself on the back as the words add up.
Bottom line: would I do this again? Without a doubt. I felt peaceful, productive, and, best of all, not distracted by issues at home. It worked.
For those of you who can sit at home and write 20-25 pages a day on a regular basis — Bravo! (or Brava!) But I normally produce 5 to 10 pages on a good day. Allowing myself the freedom just to write was a great gift.
And, although life has tumbled around me again, I’m still hoping to get my book in on time.
For me, that almost-one-week retreat was a major step forward. I can hardly wait to do it again. I recommend it to anyone who’s in a tough writing space.
P.S. If any of you are interested in duplicating my retreat, the home I stayed at belongs to Barbara and JD Neeson. It’s in Spruce Head, Maine, and is isolated — no other homes around – rustic, built in 1905, with 5 bedrooms + 2 baths — and books and art everywhere! To find out more, check with them at firstname.lastname@example.org (They said I could post that!)
Lea Wait writes the Mainely Needlepoint series (the most recent of which is Thread and Gone) and the Shadows Antique Print Mystery series (the most recent of which is Shadows on a Maine Christmas.) New books in each series will be published later this year. Lea also writes historical novels set in 19th century Maine. http://www.leawait.com