Another Friday rolls around and here’s a look at the week…
What I’m Learning: More is more. Of course, some might say this has been my motto all my life. Sigh. But what I mean is that sometimes it is easier to do more than less. Like more writing. I know, I hear you groaning. A full post will follow in which I will explain all.
What I’m Reading: Turns out I don’t much care for mysteries which feature animals who talk, and so I’ve ditched The Oat Cake Crag, following the advice of Austin Kleon in his post, How to Read More.) I’ve just finished The Unlikely Lavender Queen from last week and am about to dive in to Ethan Canin’s new book. I’ve got a stack of women’s fiction I’m eager to read, but the Canin book comes from the library and its got a gazillion holds on it so I can’t renew it so it has to be read first.
What I’m Working On: Besides my writing, office organization. Yes, again. I had some boxes stashed upstairs that came down and things had to be put away and in the middle of putting together a file box, I got distracted by Lord only knows what so everything is piled up on my work table.
What I’m Writing: Just passed 75K words on the project I thought I wouldn’t finish, the one I started one lovely afternoon in Collioure last September. Coming down the home stretch! I’m actually really enjoying working on it. I also have an absorbing new ghostwriting project, working on a book proposal for a very intense and topical book.
Who’s Helping Me: My grandson Henry, who is stapling, hole punching, drawing and playing with Washi tape next to me as I write this. When I was little, the favorite game of my sisters and I was Office. Our father built us a little wood room in the basement and brought home cast off office supplies from his printing plant. So I figure I can start Henry early, too. Alas, his cousin Olivia could care less, but she is obsessed with dolls and stuffed bears, which were my other love. So live is good.
What’s going on with you? What are you writing? What are you doing in the rest of life? Do tell.
I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days. Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS. So I am distracted. And when I am there I will be distracted. (Because, Barcelona, people. Paris. Collioure.)
And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist. No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing. Antsy. A little anxious. Like something is missing in my life. Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)
I just feel better when I am writing, period.
You may be distracted, too. By summertime travel. Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs. Or caring for an aging parent. Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.
I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this. Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed. And because, writers write. Period.
So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land? Here's how:
Use what you've got in front of you. When you're traveling, this is obvious. Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it. But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life. So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job. Of such conflicts many books have been born.
Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have. So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes. Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house. I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time. On the days when I have all day to write I fart around. I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't. But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.
Carry pen and paper with you everywhere. Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up. (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.) Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early. (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper. You know the drill. But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.
Remind yourself why you love writing. And why it is important to you. And thus why you are going to take just a few–a very few minutes–out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it. I can't answer this for you, but you can. And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about–or ponder–why you love the project you're working on.
Quit worrying about not writing. Because, what you resist, persists. What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write. A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room. And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy. I think a lot of us are like that. We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.
Just take notes. Or make lists of things you want to remember. Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding. I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes. And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.
If all else fails, have yourself a good think. You're gazing out the window of the plane. Think about your plot. You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night. Figure out your main character's backstory. You're sitting by a hospital bed. Ponder deep themes. I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers. But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.
Those are my suggestions. What about you? How do you deal with distractions? Leave a comment!
It is a seaside town with mountain views, and also the twisty, curvy medieval streets I love so much in part of it. Tons to explore in the town itself, and many wonderful things to see nearby. Collioure is in the Languedoc-Roussilon region of France, and I can personally attest to the wonderfulness of their wines. It is near the border with Spain (you could take the train from Barcelona if you so desired), in the south of France.
So, yes, that's the location. But let's not forget that this will be a writing retreat/workshop. I've had some questions about how this works, so here is the scoop: Every morning (Sunday-Friday), we meet from 9:30 to 12:30 for the workshop. This time is devoted to mini-lectures from Debbie and myself, and discussion about the designated subject (an aspect of writing). We assign a book in common for all to read, from which we draw examples. There's in-class writing and every day, we give an assignment, which will then be discussed in-depth the next day. (For an example of this year's schedule, click here.)
But we're not all work and no play. Huh-uh. Yes, you will have assignments to work on, but there will also be plenty of time to explore the town and a field trip or two to other locales. And we have been known to enjoy the local wines, um, quite a bit, when we reconvene in the evening for talk and food and drink.
There's also the option for staying on for a second (non-writing) week.
Stay tuned. Debbie and I are meeting next week to work on the schedule, and we'll have that posted as soon as we can. We've got quite a long list of people who have expressed interest in the workshop this year, so drop me a line if you want to nab a space!
Yes, I'm returning to France this year, and you can come, too, if you would like! (You know you want to.)
My business partner Debbie and I have been running writing retreats together for the past few years. This one will be our third, our second overseas. Last year we went to Ceret, and our participants had a blast–and got a lot of writing done. This year we are going to Pezenas, in the same region, and we've got a gorgeous house right in the middle of town–which means you can walk to shops and cafes (where you might want to partake of the French habit of a glass of wine mid-afternoon while you write).
This year our workshop will focus on character. The way it works is this: We meet every morning from 9:30 to 12:30 to discuss our topic, workshop your writing, and talk about the book-in-common we all will have read. Debbie and I are both published authors with many years experience teaching, and we guide our classes with a supportive yet firm hand.
After the workshop, you're free to explore and write (you will have assignments) all afternoon. Sometimes we do group activities but we also like to keep it loose and open so you can do what you want. In the evenings, we reconvene for wine and dinner (again, you're free to do what you like, but our groups tend to be wine-focused convivial).
You guys, this is as good as it gets for writers. Trust me. It's wonderful. But don't just take my word for it. You can read testimonials here (and also learn a lot more about the retreat).
It truly is amazing how much you can get done when you are away from home. In case you've not yet gotten the retreat bug, here is a collection of posts from previous retreats and workshops I've participated in, which will help to give you a flavor of them:
I’m beyond excited to be returning to France to co-lead another workshop/retreat. We’ll spend a week in Pezenas, a lively city in the south of France, where we will write, eat French cheese and chocolate croissants, drink good wine and write some more. Interested in joining us? We’d love to have you, but spaces are limited. For more information, check out our website.
3. Doing all of the above has not left me much time to write.
And, let me just tell you in all confidence that the result of #3 is a cranky Charlotte. A cranky Charlotte who is desperately seeking ways to enjoy a writing retreat. And so, herewith, my pithy thoughts on writing retreats and how you (and I) might nab one for yourself:
1. Find an organized retreat, where a group of people come together to create time to write. Sometimes other activities are planned and in most cases, these activities are optional, should the writing be going well. I'm the writer-in-residence at one of these retreats in Nashville, Room to Write, held in December and April. You can find others at Shaw Guides, or if you're looking for the best of both worlds–instruction and time to write check out my retreats at Let's Go Write.
2. Band together with a group of friends and create your own retreat, as I have done on several occasions. Going in a group can reduce expenses considerably, and the camaraderie after writing sessions are over is priceless. Some writers like to read their work at night, either what they've been writing that day, or finished work, and some prefer to keep to themselves and ponder the next day's session. You can rent a house, stay in a bed and breakfast, or find a resort. Just make sure everybody is clear on the ground rules from the outset.
3. Design a personal writing retreat. When you're coming down the home stretch on a project, going off by yourself to work on it can help you finish. Hours of solitude devoted only to your writing fuels a lot of inspiration. Find an inexpensive room in a nearby city and take yourself away to work. I have a friend who often takes personal writing retreats at a college town, because accommodations are plentiful. Resort towns in the off-season are also good. Or check out this site for more options.
4. Go to a writer's colony. This is a bit different in that there will be an application process involved. Writers apply for residencies of anywhere from a week to several months, and in many cases, meals and everything you need are provided. Competition is fierce, especially for the most prestigious colonies, such as MacDowell. But there's also quite a list of lesser-known colonies that might interest you. Either google or check them out here.
5. If all else fails, design your own retreat while you stay at home. Inform everyone you know that you'll be focusing exclusively on your writing and then follow through–turn off the phone, shut down the email boxes, refuse to answer the door. Because in reality, retreating is a mind-set more than anything else. It is committing to keeping outside influences at bay while focusing deeply on your own work, that which is most important to you. And that can be accomplished anywhere.
What are your experiences with writing retreats? Have you gone to an organized one? Created one for yourself? I'd love to hear about them.