Writing Retreats

I’ve been to two writing retreats in the last six months, and they were both wonderful (and an extremely rare experience for me). I don’t know what your writing situation is like, but let me tell you a little bit about mine. I retired in 2009, after nearly forty years in the workforce (thirty of it in educational fields), determined to develop a new career as a writer. I had been trying to fit writing into my spare time for the previous two decades (with some limited success). “Now,” I thought, “I’ll finally be able to write full time.”

Life rarely works out the way you expect it. How does the saying go, “Men make plans, and the gods laugh?”

Two weeks after I retired from Rice University, at the end of September 2009, my mom died after an extended bout with Alzheimer’s. My wife’s parents were also experiencing a variety of health problems at the time, and were beginning to require continual care, but wanted to stay in their home. 2010 turned into a year of driving from our house to theirs several times a week (round-trip about thirty miles), and dealing with keeping them fed and medicated, and making trips to take them to the hospital for falls and other medical emergencies.

2011 was a year of upheaval. We moved Minay’s parents from their home to a nearby assisted living facility, and moved ourselves to a new house (which cut the round-trips to about twelve miles). We needed to visit them less, but still needed to supply them with toiletries and a few other things. That whole year we were trying to settle into our new home, prep both of our old homes for sale, and still deal with calls in the middle of the night when one of them fell or needed something, plus take them to doctor’s appointments, etc.

2012 continued in a similar fashion, with a few more medical scares, and dealing with both of the old houses until they finally sold. Minay’s dad died early in 2013, and her mom was moved into the memory care unit of her facility, where she is now, and just celebrated her 90th birthday. We don’t drive as far anymore, and there haven’t been any emergencies lately, so …fingers crossed. There are still the usual interruptions, of course (errands to run, a lawn to mow, etc.).

Was I getting any writing done during all of this? Of course I was. Was it completely-uninterrupted, free-to-cogitate-on-anything writing? Almost never. I have brief periods of blissfully-alone writing time, sometimes an hour or more when I can focus intently on the task at hand. I do have a study  to write in, and books and equipment to use (I’ll do a post on that next), but the interruptions are there, and I need to write around them.

They made an announcement at the 2013 Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference about conference attendees being able to get a discount for WLT’s Summer Writing Retreat. The reduction in price made it very tempting, and I wanted to do some polishing on my thriller, The Jagged Man, before I sent it to the agents I had pitched it to at the conference. I called Minay and asked her what she thought. Being on a fixed income now, we discuss any large purchases in advance. She said I should do it. At the time, she was in the middle of a three-day break from me for the conference. Maybe the thought of an extra five days when she could eat anything she wanted (I’m a picky eater), and work on her quilts without interruptions from me (it works in both directions), sounded good to her.

At any rate, I signed up for the retreat, and a month later found myself in Alpine, Texas (in the far western part of the state) for five days of intensive study, writing, and restructuring Jagged Man. It was just the push I needed. I spent a couple of months after that, polishing and trimming; and ended up completely rewriting about a third of the book before sending it out to the eight agents who had asked to see it (as of 1-25-2014, six of them have responded with rejections, but very nice ones). I’m going to send out another round of queries in a few days.

In December I got an invitation from my friend, Dominick D’Aunno, to attend something called Artist Retreat III, which was held in Galveston for the first week of 2014. It was more freeform than the retreat in Alpine, and I was only there for the first four days, but it was wonderful to be able to focus on one project (or a dozen if I wanted) and just write or edit or take pictures (all of which feed my soul). I ended up making some long-overdue decisions about how to market my first novel, If a Butterfly, and began taking steps to prepare it for a re-edit in Scrivener and a conversion to several e-book formats.

Both retreats were worthwhile experiences because of the progress I made each time, but I still haven’t been able to manage to replicate that kind of productivity at home. I’ll add posts about each of the retreats in the next couple of weeks.

What have you done to maximize your writing productivity? Do you have any suggestions?


About michaelsirois

Just a retired educator taking a stab at the Great American Novel.
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