By Brenda Buchanan
I was blessed to have the opportunity in late September for a writing retreat on Peaks Island, where I lived year-round for a dozen years a decade ago, and where, incidentally, my first protagonist Joe Gale came into being.
I was in need of a deep dive into Big Fish, my book-in-progress, a head-first immersion to tighten, clarify, sort out, button down, amplify, sharpen and better describe a hundred (maybe a thousand) details. And revise a scene or two. Or maybe eight.
Thanks to the good people of the Illustration Institute (for more about this amazing organization founded by my friends Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson Nash, go here: http://www.illustrationinstitute.org/) I was able to stay for an entire week at a marvelous, century-old cottage in the heart of a forest glen tucked above the backshore.
Chock full of art and books, the cottage was an inspiring space that offered several possible writing nooks. I chose a spacious table in front of two huge swing-up windows that overlooked the peaceful (except when a rafter of wild turkeys sashayed past) woods.
Once settled, I wrote. All day, every day. After an early morning walk along the shore or through the woods, a quick shower and a cup coffee, my hands were on the keyboard by 7:30 a.m.
When my stomach growled at midday I wandered downstairs for a sandwich and a cup of tea. Then it was back to the writing desk to take apart each chapter of Big Fish, then each scene, each paragraph, and finally, each sentence. I worked until well after nightfall, stopping only when the dark fully enveloped the house and the night insects hummed outside the screens of its only illuminated windows.
When I had no more words to write or reconsider, I sat on the screen porch and recharged my brain listening to my beloved Red Sox on the radio. Later, my characters showed up in my dreams, blurring the line between sleep and wakefulness when the day’s first light filtered through the surrounding trees each morning.
I was following in the steps of some of my MCW colleagues who’ve found opportunities to get away for periods of intensive writing. Kate Flora spent two weeks at a prestigious writing center a couple of springs ago. Barbara Ross, Jessie Crockett and several of their Wicked Cozy Writers blog mates hold a group retreat each spring. Most recently (maybe even the same week I was on Peaks) Maureen Milliken was holed up at a friend’s lakeside cabin.
I’m sure they agree it’s a gift beyond measure to have the time, the space, and the solitude to immerse oneself in the imaginary but very real world that is your book, and to stay there for hours on end. Stepping away from routine allows a level of focus that’s increasingly elusive in our busy lives.
In another measure of grace, the Illustration Institute and the Friends of the Peaks Island Library organized a reading for me one evening at the beautiful Fifth Maine Regiment and Museum.
I enjoyed having the opportunity to introduce Neva Pierce, my protagonist in Big Fish, to talk about writing and creativity and about how the island is the kind of place one can slip into the magical zone and stay there all day and into the night.
My time on Peaks was extraordinary, and I thank all who made it possible.
Writers and other creative types who read this blog: Does it help you to get away when you need to do a significant piece of work? For the non-writers, do you seek out a retreat for other reasons? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Brenda Buchanan’s Joe Gale mysteries feature an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. The first three Joe Gale books—Quick Pivot, Cover Story and Truth Beat—are available in digital format wherever ebooks are sold. She’s now working on a new series featuring a Portland lawyer named Neva Pierce.