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).
Day 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.
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.
Day 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.
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.