Approximately fifteen years ago, I became serious about my writing career. That is, I realized I would need to do more than edit and re-edit and shop around and re-shop around the same epic fantasy novel. I was determined to write a new novel, and to write it in approximately a year (a substantial improvement on my earlier, five-year-for-a-novel pace.)
The only problem was, I worked full time, as a litigator for a large Washington, D.C. law firm. While I attempted to write before work, there were only so many days in a row that I could wake up at 4 a.m. And I tried to write after work, but midnight has never been my power time.
Still, I wanted to be a writer. And writers write. And so I invented (for me — others probably invented it long before I did) Writing Marathon. With Writing Marathon, I would take one week off work — five business days, plus the weekends on either side. For those nine days, I would do nothing except for write. (Okay, bodily functions were accomplished. But otherwise, writing all day, every day, with a heavy reliance on snack foods and prepared meals.) In one week of Writing Marathon, I could create about 40,000 new words. That left me with about 60% of a novel to create using slightly less dire means. Using the Writing Marathon technique, I wrote my first nine novels (The Glasswrights’ Apprentice through Magic and the Modern Girl, for those who are counting.)
Skip ahead in time. I left behind the litigator job, and the librarian one too. I now write full time. I can pretty much set my own schedule (around pesky things like running the house, providing emotional support for my family, etc.)
But I still indulge in a modified Writing Marathon, now New! And! Improved! under the name of a Writers’ Retreat.
I retreat approximately three times a year, with the same group of four writer friends. We pummel our schedules into submission to choose a date when we are all free from Friday until Sunday. We gather at one of our homes, on a rotating basis. (For those of us, like me, who have too small a home to host five writers, we host at the house of another retreat member.) The host is responsible for feeding us meals; everyone else is responsible for bringing one sweet snack, one savory snack (and, usually, a bottle of wine.)
Each of us has different approaches to writing. One of us stays up until three or four in the morning, waking up around noon to resume her writing day. I stay up until around midnight, then wake up by no later than seven to get back to work. Some of us connect up to the host’s wi-fi. I studiously avoid all Internet connections (relying solely on the email capacity of my phone), due to the inherent distractions therein. Some of us work on outlines, or short stories, or editing works in progress. I concentrate on new words, and I do my damnedest to be teetering on the edge of a muddled middle when I arrive, so that I can get the most out of the retreat time.
At last weekend’s retreat, I had been wrestling for weeks with a recalcitrant novel. I had 7500 words down, but I had edited them nearly a dozen times, and I still could not find the right tone, could not layer in the right emotion.
But the dam broke at Retreat. By the time I drove home, I had a total of 22,000 words. I had reworked those original 7500 (I hope, for the last time), and drafted all those new ones. Perhaps most importantly, I filled out a very specific timeline, based on a very specific real-world calendar of events.
That wasn’t my most productive Retreat, in terms of pure number of words. But it was my most productive, in terms of grappling with a difficult beast. My energy and enthusiasm for the project have carried over upon my return home; I’ve completed two consecutive 3000-word days, moving the draft forward to its conclusion.
So. Retreats. They’re what makes it possible for me to be a successful writer. Even though I’m a full-time writer.
How about you? Have you ever tried a Retreat? If so, how have they worked for you? What techniques do you have to share for increasing meaningful productivity? And if you haven’t tried a Retreat, why haven’t you? Do you use some other form of “power boost” for your writing?