Look how perfect! As I sit down to finish writing the epilogue of DREAMS OF GODS & MONSTERS, a reader sends me this. Thank you Anna! It was her birthday cake, but today it is my mental book finishing day cake. (Funny, there's a recurring theme in the book about cake, i.e. you have to finish your dinner before you can have cake. Metaphorically speaking :-)
So this will be quick because the epilogue beckons. Wanted to check in and say hi! I did another retreat last week, as these are desperate times. (Here is the last, just a couple of weeks ago.) Wednesday through Saturday morning this time, and I did not leave this room:
Okay, actually I left twice. Wednesday and Thursday evenings I went down to the lobby and absconded with a free glass of wine (there's a chapter in the book called "Abscond." See how everything is book-related to me right now?) This is the Hotel Vintage Plaza in downtown Portland. I've retreated there before, but this was a better room than the last one. I splurged a bit for windows, so I wouldn't feel like I was in a cave. It was worth it, especially with all the never leaving!
I actually assumed I would leave the room. I always have in the past. Out for dinner or air or something. But this time I wanted and needed every single second. Friday I did something I've never done before and that was write for 22 hours straight without a break or a nap or anything. And ... I finished the book! Epilogue not included. (And I've been dreaming of writing this epilogue forever. I'm so excited!!!) I was asked in comments to my last retreat post about advice on how to make the major splurge of a retreat really pay off, and I totally get this question, especially coming from a fellow mom. It's hard to get away. Really, really hard. And each time I've done it, I've had major anxiety about whether I could make it "worth it." I mean, if you spend the money, and put your family through the unbalance, etc, you'd better come back with some serious words to show for it! Nothing like a little pressure:)
So, advice. Necessary disclaimer about how this will be different for everyone. This was my 5th one, and locations have varied, but the essentials are the same, and this has worked for me.
-- Go alone. I think a group retreat would be an absolute blast, getting away with writer friends, sharing meals and support. And I mentioned before that I did this once, on the weekend I started Daughter of Smoke & Bone back in January 2009. It was lovely. It was the beginning of a book, and not the heavy pressure days of approaching deadline. I would definitely retreat with friends if the chance arose, but not at deadline. For that, it's just going to be me in a room.
-- No internet accesss. This is very important. Go to a hotel without free wi fi and do not buy a connection, and do not ask for a password. Just don't ever go down that path. NO. INTERNET.
-- No anything. Don't even bring a book. Don't ever turn on the TV. Go for walks if you have to, but your brain is reserved for your story alone during this time.
-- Everyone has their own rhythms, sleepwise, but personally I sleep as little as possible, and find I need less sleep on retreat than at home. I usually get up at 4 a.m. on retreat because I looooove having written so much by lunchtime.
-- Be ready. Have your supplies so you don't have to go out. Coffee or tea, easy lunches, or plan on room service. This most recent retreat was the only time I've relied heavily on room service, because I'm cheap and I don't like to pay for room service, but in this case, once I was in, I didn't want to leave. At my recent coast retreat, I had a kitchenette and made most of my own meals. And by "made" I mean: poured water on ramen, or whatever. I bring a big bag of clementines, some trail mix, honey for my tea. I had double tea fail on this last retreat. I hurry-bought 2 boxes at Whole Foods and one was decaf in the tiniest letters of all time, and one was loose leaf, and said so nowhere on the box. So I mostly ordered carafes of coffee from room service.
-- Be READY. Not supplies. Your brain. Your story. If you want to maximize your output, plan your retreat for a time in the process when you know you can make the most of it. For me, this is when I pretty much know what's happening, and what I need to write, and I just need the time to do it. If I were to do a retreat during a time of noodling and mulling, when I'm feeling uncertain of the story's direction, I think it could still be helpful, but not massively effective like I want. Of my 5 retreats, 4 have been at book's end, with deadline breathing down my neck. I'm waaaaaay faster at the end. It's like a stone rolling downhill for me at that point. I did one quick retreat last February when I wasn't anywhere near the end but I did have a series of story beats I was trying to hit and I got a ton done.
-- Give yourself visual proof of accomplishment. This is what I taped to the window next to my table at my coast retreat:
The word count calendar and stickers, plus word counts in increments of 1000 to check off (the pink post-its), plus a list of the major beats I need to hit, with big glaring spaces awaiting check marks. I find this stuff so motivating. Break each day into a series of small goals. Hit 2k by lunch, or finish this scene before bed, whatever works.
Okay, I think those are the main pieces of advice that I would give. I can't even tell you what a gift and godsend these getaways are to me. I can squeeze a couple of month's worth of work into a week, but again I have to stress that it has to be the right time. I do not believe that at the beginning of a book, when I'm in full discovery/invention mode, I would be able to do this. That's when I'm walking on the beach (metaphorically speaking) and stopping to pick up every shell and turn it over in my hands. I don't think sprinting would serve me well at that stage.
More later, and feel free to ask questions or tell me your own tricks and secrets. I'm going to go write my epilogue WOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!!!
Euphoria. Pure euphoria. :-)