Friday, January 17, 2014

Preparing to Retreat

Next week I will be in Charlotte, North Carolina taking part in a writers retreat sponsored by Sister in Crime. There will be about thirty-five of us, writers from all over the country, staying in a lodge. The lodge is a part of the Ballantyne Hotel property, and we will have it to ourselves. After our Monday evening dinner, socializing is optional. Box breakfasts and lunches will be available. We'll be able to spend the day at our computers and only go out to eat in the evenings. For those of who are need exercise before we settle into our writing day, there are facilities available.

I'm really excited. This sounds perfect. I can't wait to get there. But this week, I began to think about what I need to control about this situation. As it turns out my fellow retreaters are also pondering this. Some of us have been sharing our writing goals on our discussion board. We'll share those goals at dinner on Monday evening -- a public announcement that will both help us all to commit and send us all to our computers with a rush of energy. Not that this group needs more energy. We are writers with a mission -- to make maximum use of our rare, uninterrupted time to work. Some of us are arriving with deadlines looming; others with projects that we have been wanting to start but haven't been able to fit into our schedules.

In my case, it's both. I must finish the proposal for my non-fiction book about clothing and crime. I've been working on this proposal for months. I have the outline, the table of contents, portions of the sample chapters I want to include. I need to get it done before I go back into the classroom for the semester (the day after I return from the retreat). My other retreat project is my 1939 historical thriller. I've been thinking about this book for four or five years, not sure what it would be or who would people it -- only knowing that it somehow linked Billie Holiday performing at Cafe Society (a club in Greenwich Village), the New York World's Fair, and the premier of "Gone with the Wind" in Atlanta. In November, when I was in Atlanta, I did research on the four-day premier of the movie. Over the holidays, when I was in Washington, D.C., I realized my thriller should start there rather than in NYC. At the retreat, I want to do my character bios, a plot outline, and, three really bad first chapters. I'm also going to outline the next book in my Hannah McCabe series. I need to get both started now, or I will spend the writing time I have back at home trying to get started.

Sounds like a lot to pack into a week, right? And it is. But there is something about a retreat that seems to work for me. It's like when I'm going stir crazy in my house, can't work in my office at school, and have a deadline looming. That's when I check into my favorite hotel down the street from where I live. Paying for a room (even one that comes with a free breakfast) focuses my mind. So does knowing that the clock is ticking on the time I have available. One summer, years ago, I had the opportunity to rent an apartment in a small town in the Adirondacks. The apartment was above an antique store and looked out on Main Street on one side and the harbor on the other. There was an ice cream shop next door. For ten days, I wrote for hours a day -- ripping apart a book that had gone astray and putting it back together again. I had to get it done because it was due to my editor. I walked out of the apartment at the end of my ten days with a revised and much better manuscript in hand. On the other hand, I once spent a portion of November (while on sabbatical) on an island in Maine. It was everything I had hoped it would be. A lovely small town and people who befriended me. I had a house to myself, only condition that I make a donation to the local hospital. I was there for two weeks. I did some research, got some writing done, attended community events, had a terrific time. And, that was a part of why I went there, to unwind and relax. Writing was important, but secondary to why I was there. I would love to go back to that island on a retreat, but if I were going back with writing as my primary reason for being there, I would go with a deadline looming.

That is something I finally have accepted about myself. I get work done under ordinary circumstances, but I do best when I have deadlines. With several projects going on at once, I need -- and I know I keep saying this -- to get organized. I need a writing calendar. I also need a "life goes on" calendar. I am still recovering from all of the things in my life that I didn't get done in November and early December. I was busy with school, focused on the December deadline for my new book, and mail went unopened on my desk, gifts went un-shopped for until the last moment, house went uncleaned, etc. Therefore, one of my goals this weekend -- in preparation for my retreat -- is to set up my two master calendars. Of course, life will intervene. But, I need to anticipate as much as possible and get out ahead of what I can. I need to create my own self-imposed structure with ticking clocks. Clocks that are realistic and don't leave me frazzled and allow me to do what I need to on a daily basis.

And then -- assuming the snow that is on its way doesn't throw a wrench in my plans -- I'm going to retreat to Charlotte and write. I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Yes, let us know. Ideally, I would shut down the blasted email on my computer. It's my biggest distraction. And a real curse. If I open it in the morning before I start to write, I end up answering or reading it.