I was bogged down. I could force myself to sit in the chair in front of the word processor and get words on the page, but I wasn’t inspired and I certainly wasn’t enjoying it. Not only that: I wasn’t getting enough words on the page, so I was falling behind on the word count necessary to meet my November deadline.
That’s when my brilliant husband suggested I go on a one-woman writing retreat: rent a room somewhere for a few days and do nothing but write. (Did I mention I love my husband?) I’ve never tried this before and I was a little dubious but I needed something to kick start my writing again. So I cleared five days on my calendar and went looking for an inspiring place to stay.
I found it at the Inn at Glencairn near Princeton, NJ. I write contemporary novels, but I adore the history of colonial America. The oldest part of the Inn at Glencairn was built in the mid-1700s, while the “newer” part (where my room was) was built later in the 18th century. The British confiscated and occupied the house during the Revolutionary War. I decided my Muse would really like this place.
And my Muse did.
Innkeepers Patty and Mason Tarr very kindly moved an antique table into the Hunt Room to serve as my desk. I set up my laptop and attached my favorite ergonomic keyboard. And I was off and typing.
My goal was to write 10,000 words (about 40 manuscript pages) in my five-day stay. I’m not a speedy writer so that’s a lot for me.
So here’s how I set up my days. The Tarrs provided a fabulous gourmet breakfast every morning at 8:30 when I got to chat with fellow guests. I met some delightful folks over scrumptious banana-walnut pancakes.
After eating way too much, I went upstairs to my room, did a minimum amount of social media and answering emails (so my friends and colleagues wouldn’t think I’d fallen off the face of the earth), and then started in on the book. I didn’t stop until I had written at least 1,000 words.
Then I took my “lunch” break. I use the term lunch loosely because it was usually about 3:00 by then. I’d jump in my car and drive to Princeton or Lawrenceville to grab some food, and then I’d find a place to walk around for about an hour. My brain works better when I get kind of exercise every day. I roamed the Princeton University campus, strolled past mansions in the town, and hiked the tow path of the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
Then it was back to the keyboard until I’d hit 2,000 words for the day. When I got stuck, I’d wander downstairs to have one of Patty’s sinfully delicious homemade cookies with a cup of tea. Or take a complimentary glass of Pinot Grigio out onto the stone patio behind the house and contemplate the beauties of Mother Nature for a half an hour. If I was lucky, I’d run into Patty or Mason and have a nice chat. Writing is very solitary so I enjoyed a little human contact in the evening.
But mostly it was nose to the keyboard.
And I did it: I wrote 10,000 words. I even think they’re pretty good words. In addition, I learned some valuable lessons about my writing process that I hope to incorporate into my daily working routine.
1) Forcing myself to keep my head in the story for a lot of hours every day got my creative juices flowing in a way they hadn’t been before. I came to know my characters much better which brought forth all kinds of new ideas for scenes and conflicts.
Lesson: Try to work in two writing sessions a day instead of just one, so my mind is on the story more hours a day.
2) Taking a break between writing sessions freed my brain to play with ways to strengthen the scene I was working on. Then I was excited to get back to the story to incorporate the new material I’d thought up.
Lesson: Take regular breaks but keep thinking about the book while I’m walking…or drinking wine.
3) Limiting my time on social media and email made me a lot more productive, not just because of gaining use of the time itself, but because I didn’t keep getting pulled out of the story. (Yes, I knew this already, but sometimes I need a strong reminder.)
Lesson: Use that Anti-Social software I downloaded that locks me out of Facebook for X number of minutes.
4) A change of scene kicked me out of my rut and made the writing seem fresher.
Lesson: Try working in a different room in the house or even outdoors for a little while, just to shake my brain up.
Now I’m back on track to meet my deadline. Phew! I hope to do another one-woman retreat next year because it’s a wonderful way to really immerse myself in my work-in-progress.
I’m thinking maybe in Provence…