Liars Club

To retreat, or not to retreat?

by Simmons on September 7, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life,The Writing Process

Time for a new Burning Question about writing and publishing. Check in daily to see how we Liars respond. To see past answers to other Burning Questions, click on our For Writers page.  And if you would like to pose a Burning Question for our group of authors to ponder and post about, just shoot us an email or post a comment, and we’ll be happy to consider it!

Burning Question #9: What’s Your Writing Process?

Liar Kelly Simmons kicks this one off:

Many writers and would-be writers I meet talk about the notion of a “writer’s retreat” with reverence and longing.  The desire to disentangle from the detritus of ordinary life and concentrate fully on the task of writing can be as coveted for a writer as a trip to Europe.

As a veteran of 2-day, 4-day, weeklong and this past summer, a cherished and longed-for 4-week sojourn, I offer some advice.

1. Have a goal that reflects not who you are, but what you need.

If you don’t have a concrete realistic goal, you may end up wasting whatever time you have set aside –and then feeling extremely guilty about it. Most people perform best with a goal – unless you are the type of person who always sets goals.  That type of person might truly need unbundled, open expanses of time purely for brainstorming. So be sure to give yourself what you need, not what you want.

2. Limit distractions, but provide counterbalanced distractions.

It’s one thing to focus on your writing, it’s another to put yourself in prison. I once organized a trip for myself to go and write in a nice hotel in another city where I didn’t know anyone, eating room service for breakfast and lunch for four days, emerging only in the evening to exercise in the hotel gym and have dinner at the hotel bar. I allowed myself a massage at the spa after two days as a reward. This sounds, on the face of it, like heaven, doesn’t it?  Focused and contained. Room service!  A spa!  But it was truly painful because it was too one-dimensional.  I needed fresh air, rolling hills, and someone I knew to have dinner with to counterbalance those long days writing inside at the desk.

3. Layer in rewards.

I know what you’re thinking:  the retreat is the reward, because it obviously requires money, time, and sometimes precious airline/hotel points to put it all together.  But you would be wrong.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or as expensive as a massage (although after a day hunched over the keyboard, a massage is a kick-ass reward if you can swing it).  I have kept myself on track writing with as little as a bag of almond M&Ms.

4. Set realistic expectations.

Although we often see books with dedications that say things like “thanks to James & Emily for giving me their space to finish this novel” there is no guarantee that retreat = genius.  I am just as apt to write something brilliant when I am busy and crazed with my day job as I am when I am relaxed and open in a quiet, sun-filled space.  You just need to put in the hours – wherever they are spent.

Kelly Simmons is the author of Standing Still (Simon & Schuster) and coming in February, The Bird House.


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