When a (Writing) Retreat is a Step Forward

DSC02539Lea 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.

Pics are views from the porch of the home where I was staying.

Pics are views from the porch of the home where I was staying.

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.DSC02560

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 bneeson@live.com (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 

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13 Responses to When a (Writing) Retreat is a Step Forward

  1. Bravo! You do the job however you can get it done. I also faced a deadline challenge recently when I was in the process of moving from a home I lived in for 33 years, having my husband face surgery, all while on a five week trial in my law practice. I am not a night owl, but come morning, I am alive and charged. I got up at 2:00 a.m. and wrote until it was time to go to court. Next time, I’ll head to Maine and book the Neeson’s place. Best wishes for a quick recovery for you both!

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  2. This is an inspiration, Lea — you are an inspiration — and once again, I applaud your tenacity. Wishing Bob continued progress with his recovery and wishing you a smooth second surgery this week. I will be keeping you in my thoughts.

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  3. Lea Wait says:

    What a time you’ve had, Michele! Hope life is smoother for you now! I’ve been doing a lot of editing in the hospital (when Bob was there,) and am now entering all those edits … I know I’ll lose more days after my surgery. Biggest problem? Exhaustion. Sounds as though you pulled on reservoirs of strength to avoid that! Congratulations!

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  4. Edith says:

    I so need another solo retreat. I’ve borrowed several friends’ homes on occasion, including Kate’s Maine house! All those tips are perfect and are the way I conduct my retreats, too. At home I never write in the afternoon and evening – when I’m on retreat I just keep going. So glad you found a good solution. And I hope your friends are ready for a barrage of emails!

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  5. Heidi Wilson says:

    Best wishes on your current difficulties, Lea, and many thanks for a great blog, and especially for the Neesons’ contact info. You may see me and the spouse there one of the these days.

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  6. Lea Wait says:

    So glad my experience may help someone else! I agree — a week away once every 2 months would make an enormous difference in writing output! Maybe some day … !!!

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  7. Gayle Lynds says:

    150 pages in less than a week in draft is awesome, Lea. Kudos! And all best wishes for you two fine artists to put this challenging health period behind you quickly! x

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  8. Barb Ross says:

    Best for a continued recovery for Bob and we’ll be thinking of you this week.

    I keep thinking that since the kids are grown and I don’t have a day job, I shouldn’t need writing retreats, but I have to admit, yours sounds wonderful.

    I think we are book twins upcoming. Dangling by a Thread and Eggnog Murder come out the same day.

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  9. Lea Wait says:

    Thank you, Gayle — and what fun, Barb! I see dual signings ahead! 🙂

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  10. Glad to hear things are progressing. Power to you for your fortitude and determination! Keep us posted. things here are only slightly dicy. I did finish the 2nd edit of 100 pp. More another time. Love, Sherie

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  11. Jane Sloven says:

    Dear Lea,

    What a challenging year for you and your husband! Your attitude is amazing. I wish the best for you and Bob in recovering your health and in your continued pursuit of your creative work. Your comments over the past few months about the stress of producing book after book give me pause as I sort through the pros and cons of self-publishing vs seeking an agent and publisher for my mystery. Thank you for speaking about the realities.

    Take good care,
    Jane

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  12. Lea Wait says:

    Jane — Thank you so much! There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of publishing. I’ve been with large, small and medium publishers – and even self-published one book. I prefer being traditionally published: someone else to take on the major jobs of marketing and distribution. Most public relations chores are the same with both traditionally and indie published authors … but publishers are able to seek publicity in ways authors can’t — or could do only with a lot more money and time than I have!
    Best of luck to you in whatever path you choose!~

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  13. Skye says:

    Lea; I was so taken with this post the other day that I needed the time to quietly reflect on it. I truly feel for you in your current situation, and I also empathize with your difficulties; however, I admire your fortitude and determination. Thank you for posting this.

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