2016 Writing Retreat Report

2016 Wiring RetreatThis year was a disaster – for a start my writing buddy left the cottage, actually went outside, to walk in the fresh air every day, and exercise. I found the break with tradition distressing. And I should have joined her.

But other than that, we actually got quite a lot done. As always, I came away with the feeling that I could have done a little more, but then I did complete what I planned to: the final edit of Raven’s Dawn. It was such a relief to get it finished and ready for beta-readers on my return to the real world.

There were some odd little things that popped up. As I read through the last of it before the final edit on the first day I discovered a problem. I had cut an earlier scene that had a key point that carried through the rest of the series. In a late scene in the book when someone refers to what was said earlier I realised the mistake, for the earlier comment no longer existed. I made a note, found where it use to be in an earlier draft and carried on.

I worked hard through the last edit, moving slowly through each chapter and then revising it as a whole before moving on to the next one. Some only took half an hour or so, others took much longer. But I was happy, the story was working well, the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my head. Little typos and strange punctuation were tidied up.

And then I swore.

I had come across the same problem. I still hadn’t inserted the conversation into the story to fix my little error. I just needed a couple of lines. I had inserted a new scene with the key characters and so I went back and inserted the required dialogue into that conversation. Re-read. And yes it flowed. Or at least it appeared to.

I finished the edit to elation and fist pumps and a little happy dance that I won’t subject you to again. But I was sure it wasn’t too bad, it might even be good. I have put quite a lot of work into this, although not quite at the pace I could have, but it was a good story and I was happy.

Fingers crossed the beta-readers feel the same.

I realised on that last day of the retreat, that I was so keen to get the work done that I hadn’t even photographed the first day set up as I did every year. But you can be assured that despite my writing buddy’s deviance from tradition, we did sit on the same sides of the kitchen table we did every year, we gravitated to the same couches and despite my offer to change it up, we had our usual rooms (mine musk, hers green).

The kitchen table on the last morning.
The kitchen table on the last morning.

We discussed families and frustrations, American grammar and whether we should be writing toward a particular continent; as well as other projects that would bring in the cash so that we could live our dream and write full time.

Despite talk of trying somewhere different, we feel comfortable there. It is our own little hideaway, that isn’t quite as deeply buried in the bush as I originally thought, but it is distraction free. I didn’t have to worry about the kids or the cats, the ballet exams and the piles of washing. I could concentrate on just the writing and that is what I did. I may have consumed too much sugar and maybe a little more wine than my usual weekend. But I got to live in my pj’s for a few days, sleep well, soak in the bath or simply tie back my crazy curls and sit on the couch with the laptop.

We are going back next year. We’ve already decided. Although, my mother threatened my life is she had to supervise participation in another classical ballet exam; we might just need to double check the dates before we book.

Planning for My 2016 Writing Retreat

Last year's retreat Day 1
Last year’s retreat Day 1

It is time to start preparations for our annual writing retreat. This will be our fourth year away and I think we have it reasonably well organised.

Each year our time away grew and so did the amount of stuff we took with us. But then every year we bring just as much food home as we took – or so it seems. This year we are away for four nights and we are just taking what we know we will use.

In previous years I have taken note books, text books, white boards and far too many pens. This year I am just taking my Raven Crown Series note book, white board and laptop (plus relevant chargers). Other than the writing supplies we don’t need too much, and we get to live in our pj’s for the whole time we are away. Wine and treats is all we need to plan.

Despite the talk of chocolate we are going away to write, and my main aim for this retreat is the Raven Crown Series.

 

Raven Crown Book 1 – Raven’s Dawn

I want to finish it as best I can. My current edit has got it reasonably close but there is still some work to do.

I have booked a slot in with the proof reader for my return so the pressure is on and I’m hoping to have my beta group ready to go.

 

Raven Crown Book 2 – The Caged Raven

I have been working on the first edit, as I drafted all three together.

It runs directly on from book one but I am still working through scene order and finding the plot holes (some of which are huge).

If all going well and I get my work completed (fingers and toes crossed) for Raven’s Dawn, I’ll spend the remainder of my time on this edit.

 

I always say that I should journal more, but never do. While I’m away at the retreat I do at least keep a very good record of what I do and how it is or is not working. As I am electronically isolated while away, I have a great record to create a report for you about the retreat on my return.

I’m so excited. I always come back refreshed and energised despite hours of writing. It strengthens the writing muscles after all.

Preparation for My Writing Retreat

Last year's retreat - day one
Last year’s retreat – day one

My Annual Writing Retreat is only days away and I am buzzing with excitement. I am so ready for some time away and real focused writing time (‘cause I haven’t been working as hard as I should have been lately).

Not that it will be a holiday but we do get a break from all the things you can’t usually get away from – cooking, cleaning, children, husbands, pets and the day job.

And it isn’t that we don’t love these things (the family and pets, maybe not so much the other) but they always there and always need attention. When we are away there is nothing competing for our time. There is only writing.

I have the shopping list ready and the bottles of wine (although we drink little while writing – despite the stereotypes) and the treats. But I also have a crate slowly developing with writing materials – whiteboards, pens, notes and notebooks and scrap paper (although the white boards are great for doodling and then snapping a pic to keep track of).

I have the outline and plans for my new novella series ready to go. My plan was that the series (or at least the start of it) would be my focus this year. My editing has been much slower than I thought it would be and so I’m taking that with me too.

Having two projects to work on means that if I struggle with one I can switch to the other but at this point I have no real plan as to what to focus on first. I am desperate to start the novella series, but then I really need to get on with this edit.

This is our third retreat and previously I have focused solely on one project and that has worked really well living and breathing one story for a week. And in the six days I could finish the edit or finish the first book. It might be a wait and see.

While away we are out of phone and internet range which helps reduce the distractions but it means no contact at all. I plan to post about how the retreat went on Monday 31 August. But I may share some news of the retreat on Facebook or Twitter between our return to the world and my next blog.
Have you considered a retreat – what would you want to do and how long would you like to go for?

Have you considered a mini writing retreat?

mini retreat

Every year in August my writing friend and I head off for a week of pure writing fun. This will be our third year and we are already planning. The retreat is booked for our preferred dates, leave forms submitted and approved. Goodies we keep forgetting to take are listed (like pillows, extra milk and eggs). It has worked really well both times and we are sure that it will not only be just as good this year but will continue on every year.

We were recently talking about how we wish we could go twice a year but it isn’t possible. Then over the last weekend we had the chance for a mini retreat when my friend’s husband was away on business. And it was as simple as me turning up after ballet classes were finished and staying the weekend.

It was a true retreat for me, given that I didn’t have to worry about pets, kids or the like. I had even left a volunteer at home doing the washing. All I had to do was write (and a little cooking/food preparation).

The key to any retreat, whether self-organised, time with a friend or a professionally organised one is preparation and focus. OK, so that is two things. But I find that once you are organised and ready for the time then the focus follows along easily.

I started the mini retreat with a plan (although rough):

  • write 1000 words a day for my current big project,
  • edit current short story,
  • draft a couple of blog post ideas,
  • spend time planning writing ideas (although this one is a bit of a procrastination tool because if I am honest I have my writing and publishing plan pretty well set).

Retreats need to be away from the pressures of life. I have mentioned that I am living with my parents and I find that even when my daughter is away with her dad and I think I have some time, Mum finds something to talk about or check, or ask or get me to do. Life will be different once I have my own space but it is nothing like working in a space where you only need to write.

A retreat can be a bit like working in a library, with a kettle and fridge handy. You just get on with the work at hand. If you do this with like minded people then you can enjoy it even more. Not everyone wants to write for 12 hours a day on a retreat – some may like a walk at lunch time, or a visit to the shops in the afternoon or movies every night. We like to write for 12 hours a day and so that is what we do.

Some people like to sleep in or go to bed early. We are a bit different there and on our last retreat we found that sometimes one of us wanted to stay up late and the other would get up early. It is a matter of respecting the other person’s (or people’s) needs and being quiet while they sleep, and so they don’t wake you when you want to sleep.

Honestly, I think we jagged it. Not everyone is as lucky as I am with my writing buddy. And in some ways I am sure I get more from the friendship than she does because she is much more driven than I. Without her there typing away I am sure I would get distracted and watch TV or wander out for a walk or a run. It is a bit like my bike class at the gym. Quite often I think I would have given up but with the trainer pushing from the front and the others riding along beside me I have no choice but to go with it. And I am all the better for it at the end. Completing the class proves that I can do it. Sometimes we need that little push by doing something with others that we would not get by working alone. And other than the ideas planning, I achieved everything I wanted to.

How could you find a little writing retreat? Could it be a day in the library? Do you have someone that will keep you going that might like to join you?

Writing Retreat Report



1409122106562

 

This year’s writing retreat was a dream. I was unsure the best way to share the experience and have attempted a day by day run down (if you find that too much, skip ahead to the summary).

 

1409122109173Day 1 started as a comedy of errors, or at least it did for my writing buddy as she tried to find my house to pick me up. I was packed and ready to go hours before she was due and the waiting became quite difficult. After a couple of phone calls she was only 10 minutes late in the end and the journey began.

And began it did, too eager to get to our destination we didn’t even pause for coffee until we reached the nearest town to our cottage. We parked the car and headed off on a short walk, on which we discovered most of the little shops we had perused the year before had closed and we were so keen to keep moving we didn’t really look at those that were open.

We had coffee and a waffle (disguised as lunch) and then hit the supermarket. At which point my brain froze because the whole cooking thing freaks me out. So we went for simple stuff and lots of snacks knowing there would be some stuff in the house already.

Finally we made it. There was less stuff in the fridge than we imagined and the house was cold but we rectified that quickly and before we knew it rooms were assigned, bags stowed, food put away, computers and notes littered the dining table and we were writing.

I must admit that I was somewhat nervous, despite all my outlining and note making, to actually start this new project but the words flowed quickly and the characters began to take real shape.

The afternoon was amazingly productive.  I am currently making notes on how long I spend on all my writing tasks and outputs.

My target was to reach 50,000 words during the retreat and my first afternoon yielded an average of 1500 words an hour. It was looking like an achievable goal.

 

Day 2 started at 4.30am with the story already screaming to written down. I spent a little time making notes as to what I had done the day before and started on my draft by 5.00am. I wrote reasonably solidly throughout the day but by 3.30pm I was spent.

I had written over 12,000 words and my brain was close to snapping.

The story, at least, seemed to be driving itself and I was just hanging on for the ride. I struggled to find some names for some new characters, but even just marked as Bob they were introducing some new directions. Yet the main characters were more or less following the plan at this point.

There were too many sex scenes written. Why, I’m not sure. They just seemed to appear. But they are a useful tool for getting to know the characters and could be an interesting blog point. Or I need to change my genre. Chances are they will be cut from the next draft without a second thought.

I also created a lot of exposition. Some paragraphs I know will expand out another thousand words or so, but it is a start and it is the blah/blew/vomit draft. So it was more important just to get the story down.

Allowed a little rest time to sooth my mind, including a hot shower, movie time and an early night.

1409122107485

Day 3 also took off before the sun, waking at 4.10am and super keen, again.

I spent a little time catching up on yesterday’s notes and then straight to it. Nerves threatened and the number of days left seemed both too much and too little. I began to fear a hideous block.

Yet the words flowed, the characters took off and I found myself writing for longer periods of time and churned out 16,000 plus words. Some characters seemed to develop a bigger part than others, but there is far more words needed to fill the first book alone.

I didn’t quite feel the same brain drain at the end of the day and worked until we had to stop for Dr Who.

We also cooked ourselves with the wood heater, my buddy confident in the hot burn, me too scared I would kill it. But we didn’t freeze.

 

Day 4 was the slowest start, rising at a lazy 7am and felt that I had wasted hours before I had left my room. Too much had raced around my head the previous evening and it had taken me a long time to sleep.

I found my writing buddy on the couch as her room had sprung a leak.

Started off a little slower but the end of book one became clearer with some planning time on the floor with a whiteboard. Only 11,000 words written but I took some time to read through much of what I had written looking for gaps and made notes of missing characters and errors and ideas.

Worked much later than I had previously.

 

Day 5 started stiffly at 6.00am. I hadn’t stretched as much as I should have the day before. I spent time planning out the events for book 2 before I started writing, not sure at the time exactly what I could do with the end, but the beginning and middle very clear.

A hugely productive day as I wrote almost 20,000 words and although I struggled with one main character’s story for the second book, another’s has taken off. Some new and interesting characters have come into play, including a few more soldiers but this time all with pure thoughts although one relationship has changed in unexpected ways.

Wrote late, read later.

I had trouble sleeping as the story continued to bounce around my brain and decided to read someone else’s book and sat up until it was nearly time to get up again.

 

1409122108400Day 6 I started at 7am freaked out that it was our last morning and we only had mere hours to go.

Some more words in – if only 2500 and then it was time to pack up and leave our little house.
We were sad to go but keen for next year which we are sure would come around quite quickly. We hadn’t even taken the time to stand at the fence to play with the ponies this year.

I looked back up the little hill I had wanted to walk on, on the first day and voiced my desire to walk more next year. But we laughed, we were there to write and write we did.

Overall this retreat was a huge success

70,000 words in five days.

I started off a little nervous at the number of days I would have to sit and write and I wondered if there were that many words in me. I had also spent a long time planning this series (years in fact, when I retraced my notes back to the original idea).

Yet the words flowed easily, running across the page. Then my ideas changed as the characters took the story where they wanted it to go, others not behaving as I thought they would at all and new ones popping up and interrupting my plans further. But I took that all as a good sign, the story was there and keen to be written.

I knew where I wanted my characters to get to and they seemed to be moving that way just not quite as I thought they would.

I ended up with the main points for the first book, the first half points for the second book and a clearer idea of how it will all come together.

Not all of the words will live through the next draft and there are lots of gaps to fill but very excited about what I did achieve. And so looking forward to next year.

1409122105500

Try it yourself

All we did was rent a little house for a week. Just me and a trusted writing buddy. We both had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve and had everything we needed with us to do that.

(and that wasn’t much for me – notes, laptop, charger, whiteboard and pile of pens)

It does not have to be extravagant and it doesn’t have to be too far away from home. It just needs to be somewhere you can relax and concentrate on your writing.

Go on, try it.