Sunday, February 13, 2011

Scenes from a Writing Life

Last weekend, my dear friend Alisha and I took our writing life on the road. She's been working on her memoirs of four years living in England, and as many of you know, I'm rushing to the finish line to complete my novel by this summer.

I've been dreaming about getting the time to be totally alone with my novel, preferably somewhere far away (maybe all new mothers dream of themselves on remote islands at some point). I've been craving the space to work without all the lovely interruptions of my real life, at least for a little while.
An excerpt from an essay I wrote about the longing last fall:

I imagine myself in a cabin on an island in the Puget Sound somewhere, steely water lapping the rocky shoreline. A low-slung marine layer filters the cool grey light on tall evergreens. I have a fire going in the woodstove. The hours stretch before me silent and pristine with my laptop, pen and a few books.

We were delighted to find just the place: a Barn Loft cottage out on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound. As a bonus, we would be catching the ferry there from Anacortes, so I got to show off my old stomping grounds to Alisha.

Friday morning we packed up my truck, did a little grocery shopping, and hit the road North. We stopped for lunch at my favorite Skagit Valley curiosity spot: the Rexville Grocery.

"Writer's Tuna" sandwich--I took it as a good omen

By the time we got to the ferry line, we were ready to get down to business. We made prime use of our 1.5 hour ferry ride too. (Ok, I admit I napped for about 1o minutes too).

On Orcas, the light was already failing, so we buried in for the night with our woodstove going and our pomodoro ticking off set after set of 20 minute sessions, after which we would pause, read aloud what we'd just written, and get back to writing. By the time we hit the sack, we'd done 4 20 minute pomodoros, and a 25 minute set that went on and on well after the buzzer rang. I was 7 pages and 2000 words up on my manuscript.

I had hoped to sleep in, since I never get to with Avonlea up before 8:00 every day. But I was awake by 7:45. I like to think I trained her sleeping, but I guess she's got me trained too. Alisha decided to join me a little later and we set out to take in our lovely surroundings: the Barn Loft, the gardens, and the beach.

And here's the inside of our sweet accommodations. More blessing than curse, we only got reception/ wifi if we stood near the West Window. We also brought flowers and fruit to make our space homey.

The morning (powered with coffee and 3 minute eggs on toast) was nearly as productive as the previous night. I was 11 pages and over 3000 words ahead after several longer pomodoros. We decided we deserved a well-earned lunch break and headed to Eastsound village, about 15 minutes away. We loved Rose's Bakery and had foody-worthy soup (crimini, potato and thyme for me, and harvest squash for Alisha) and shared a beer while reminiscing about our own childhood vacations and how we'd love to bring our theoretical children here someday.

After a visit to the bookstore, the wind and rain drove us back to our cottage, and we settled in for another afternoon and evening of writing. Dear chocolate, thank you for getting us through many more pages.

Another friend from our writing group sent along her manuscript, which is nearly complete. We were both riveted, up till 12:30 reading.

The next morning we had to leave our sweet place, heading home to our sweet husbands who held down the forts for us while we were gone. Of course, we pomodoroed our way through the ferry ride, and our lunch in Anacortes before heading home.

Final page count over the weekend: 19 pages and nearly 5000 words. Possibly the most productive weekend I've ever had in my writing life. On top of that, I was able to share my work with Alisha and give and receive feedback, which was wonderfully valuable. I also edited and finalized a one-page summary of the entire novel and an excerpt from it that I'll be submitting for a literary contest.

How to go on a writing retreat:

1. Bring a friend, at least the first time. Must be as motivated as you are and have an active project they are working on. Alone, you might go crazy with how to attack your project and spend your time. Together, you can encourage, find a rhythm, stop and read aloud what you're working on, and laugh.

2. Eat lots of healthy food so that you have no scruples over the copious amounts of chocolate and coffee you consume late into the night.

3. Pick a place that's beautiful, but not too distracting. Somewhere you can walk outdoors to clear your head, and be cozy and warm inside. Wood stove is not a prerequisite, but a plus.

4. Use the Pomodoro Technique liberally. One double-spaced page for every 25 minute pomodoro is ambitious, but do-able. 50 minute pomodoros are nice once you get into a groove.

5. Limited wifi might seem crippling, but it can also be that updraught you need to get up above your normal life.

6. Traveling there can pique the imagination, but the real work starts once you arrive. Try not to go too far away and stay at least two nights.

Happy writing!


Arielle said...

I knew I recognized that garden! We stayed in the Lummi cottage for a week for our honeymoon! I LOVE that place so much. We can't wait to eventually be able to leave the kids with the grandparents and go back for an anniversary someday!

splatter's film blog said...

Thanks for the tips! Sounds like a lovely and illuminating and productive weekend! I'm so proud of you two. Can't wait to go on one! much LOVE!

Jenny said...

What an inspiring weekend...too bad I don't write but perhaps I could substitute crafting?! Thanks for sharing this splendid recap!

Sue said...

Sounds like the weekend was awesome. As always, your description makes me want to go there, experience the woodstove, the outdoors, the cozy surroundings. Hope you get to go again soon.

Anna said...

I loved reading this. Your tips are great. You were so productive!

lauramenenberg said...

Wow...what a great use of the pomodoro technique. I'll be curious to try that on my next project that I need to just get done. Thanks for sharing!