Saturday, March 7, 2015

Beach Writing Retreat

blurry sunset in Manzanita


Last weekend I did my first writing retreat in over a year. Well, there was this one a year ago but I was still in recovery mode from finishing DREAMS and didn't do *much* writing. (Though I did write pitches for the next two books I wanted to write, one of which is underway now, more on that soooooooon :-)

But the last real writing intensive was when I was finishing DREAMS. There were two, actually, a week at the beach where I almost finished the book but not quite, and then a few follow-up days at a hotel in town when I did--at the end of a 22-hour stretch of writing the likes of which I have never done before. 

Retreats are amazing. To be able to immerse your whole self in the world of your story all day for days in a row? To not have to emerge and handle the usual matters of life? It makes a huge difference to me. Sometimes my brain really needs these long stretches. I think part of the reason for this is that I don't have a naturally puzzle-solving brain. I've always hated Rubik's Cubes and given up on them instantly. Yet, I love plots that are puzzles. I love the moment when you twist the cube the final few times and the colors all come up. (Which has never happened to me with an actual Rubik's Cube. But speaking metaphorically.) Magic.

It's the ultimate satisfaction. When strands of story that have been entwined for several hundred pages suddenly form a beautiful pattern. Love it. 

But these plots don't come easily. This is usually how it goes: I'll have a character and a situation. Say, an art student raised by monsters. That's how it started with DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. A day of freewriting for much-needed fun yielded these characters Karou and Brimstone and they were crazy alive and real and I loved them BUT. But I didn't know any more than Karou did. She didn't know why she was raised by monsters? Neither did I. She didn't know why she couldn't touch the wishbone? Neither did I. She didn't know what Brimstone did with all the teeth? Neither did I! 

And I didn't come up with the answers overnight. I basically wrestled a Rubik's Cube for many demoralizing weeks trying to come up with answers that had the potential to form an intricate plot pattern that could come together and feel like magic. I discarded barrels full of ideas.

And then finally, the right ideas collided and made that perfect sound -- SNICK!! -- and it all fell into place. But this was still just the premise, not even an outline. I still had to write it and, damn, that Rubik's Cube would turn out to have a thousand sides to solve before the end. 

Anyway. Last weekend I went on retreat to the gorgeous Oregon Coast. I love it out there so much. I swear I step onto the shore and feel my shoulders go down like three inches and my breath fills me more deeply and I'm just BETTER. 

It blows me away how minute to minute it changes. Well. There are the boring blue sky days, even in Oregon, but thankfully not too many of them. Give me a crazy cloud show any day.

It'll be like the above looking in one direction and the below when you turn your head, then the one after that when you turn your head the other way. Literally, these three pics are taken: straight ahead, to the left, to the right within seconds. Like three different worlds in one.

 And the show just goes on and on.


Oh, but it's fine to the right.

And like this seconds later.

I want one of these houses. Not asking much. Just a big one with huge windows. 
And a hot tub.

 Look. Blue sky. Nobody around.

I made a friend. Hyuk hyuk. "Made" a friend. Get it? ;-)

Here's my room. Went for an ocean view this time.

Here's the hotel from the sand dunes.

Manzanita from above:

Just around the point:

So how did the retreat GO? Well, it went well but wasn't as insanely productive as most of my others, because mostly I go at the final stretch, and that's the easiest part of the book for me. I'm in this phase where I've written a lot but there are still things that don't feel right, things I haven't figured out. And Saturday was a horrible day of realizing a big chunk of several chapters (which I loved) were just the wrong direction and had to be removed. So it was a bleak day of darling-killing and diminishing word count. 

But then. THEN. What usually happens when I've cleared out something that isn't "snicking" (when it doesn't feel like the perfect meant-to-be fit)...I've opened the way for the right thing to finally, finally settle into place. And it did. Late late late Saturday night. Finally one stray thought led to another to another and I started to sit up straighter and I'm sure my face started to look less mopey and dire, and then I was writing stuff down and getting more and more excited...

And Sunday I wrote more words than I'd deleted and they were THE RIGHT WORDS and my enthusiasm was back times a thousand and I'm more excited than ever about the book. Hurray!! 

I often think how a book is a product of the moments you spend writing it, and how it would be a different book if you wrote it in different moments. What would this book end up being without that Saturday night at the beach that turned from awful to wonderful due to pure bull-headedness? I can think back to every single book I've written, how there's always this moment when I've fully committed, but I've lost the spark of initial enthusiasm, and things I thought were so cool and fresh when I began just aren't anymore, and I can't feel the shape of my story, and nothing is right, and it's a miserable time. 

These miserable times only pass if you make them pass. If you keep stirring things around in your brain until you come up with something that excites you again and makes things start to click. If you give up and start a new project, the same thing will happen with that one. It's almost guaranteed. Writing a novel requires total commitment. 

It doesn't require writing retreats, but MAN do they help!

the very last drip of sun


Unknown said...

So encouraging to hear that you wrestle to find the right words and get that Rubik's cube of a story to click into place, too. I'm right in that place of revision where I'm struggling to let go of some great moments to develop better moments. Clinging to those darlings ;) Thank you for sharing your insights. So encouraging and inspiring.

Shveta said...

As always, Laini, thank you for the inspiration. ♥

Laurence King said...

Oh Laini, how I love these posts when we get to peek into your writing and creative process. This post couldn't have come at a better time: my writing has fallen into a slump, and my muse has been lying inert like the deep freeze outside. Reading this reminded me of the ups and downs of the creative/writing process and the need to trust that it will bloom again when all you feel is doubt and misery. You sparked renewed energy in me like a lonely snowdrop rearing its head until it pierces through the mounds of snow above it...Thank you, Laini, so much :-) And these pictures are surreal!! I went to the Oregon coast some years ago, and was blown away by how majestic and gorgeous it was. And...I can't wait to hear more about your new book :-) XO

Andrea said...

I'm at a similar point in my novel--may have to cut some chapters going in the wrong direction! It's miserable. And I could jump to a new fun project... but I need to finish this novel. I needed to hear your little pep talk this morning. Thanks for sharing!

Joanna Roddy said...

Your retreat posts are my favorite. I'm just finishing a residency on the Washington Coast this week, also working on a first draft. I'll be linking to this post in a post I wrote about my retreat that goes live on Monday on Project Mayhem, if you care to go have a look. Cheers!

Unknown said...

I can't wait to read your next book. Keep up the retreats!!

Katie Anderson said...

thank you for this. So encouraging to hear you echo things that I am struggling with right now :) Best of luck to you and your new book! I've never seen the Oregon coast so that was cool, too.


Melanie said...

Laini, Laini, Laini.... thank you as ALWAYS for your insightfulness! Yes I fall in slumps all the time, and when I just keep digging down and down, I do get rescued by the hero of the *shiny new idea* and yes, you are right - it happens ALL OVER AGAIN. I needed to hear this today :)

Selena said...

I just discovered your blog and I'm really enjoying it. Thank you for writing! I'm also an Oregonian and have traveled the world by sea(I'm a navy vet), so I've seen coastlines around the world. Nothing beats the Oregon coast though! I can't wait to read what you've worked on someday :)

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