Guest Blog by Amy Spalding: A Writer’s Retreat

March 19th, 2010 • Kate

laptopbeachLast Wednesday I said goodbye to my pets, hopped in a car with a couple other writers, and left my neighborhood for the desert setting of Palm Springs, where yet another writer would soon be joining us. I had never been on a writing retreat before–or a retreat of any kind, period–so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we actually work? Or would we get so distracted by our posh surroundings and the easily-walkable food and beverage that it would turn into just any ol’ vacation?

I did know what I HOPED to accomplish: new words. Lots of them. I just completed revisions on a manuscript that’s about to head into the dangerous wilds of submissions, and it was time to stop pretending I didn’t have to worry about New Book. New Book was now Current Project. And if I didn’t get a big chunk of it down, I’d keep thinking of it as something to work on later, not something that was underway. I’ve been writing for many years but I wasn’t convinced I could leave town, tell myself to write, and actually… do that.

Once all four of us had arrived, we sat down together to outline our retreat goals. I was actually the only person there desperate to write new material. One writer was beginning work on shaping her first draft into a real manuscript, while two others were implementing agent and editor notes into a new draft and a page-one rewrite, respectively. (I was jealous; my previous project seemed so much more inviting and comfortable than something new and unknown.)

After stating our goals (mine was the insane 5k words written a day) we shared chapters from what we were working on (everyone else) or something we’d recently completed (me). I was curious how my additions and reshaping of my basically-completed manuscript would sound to others, so it didn’t feel like cheating not to read my new project.

We decided to stick to a schedule, even though this was kind of a vacation, and I am very much a lady of leisure who prefers the sun to rise hours before she has anything to do with it. We were up at eight the next morning, and after a short walk to Starbucks (them) and Coffee Bean (me), we were back at the house, working on our projects. We didn’t socialize; I’m not sure a word was even spoken aloud once I was huddled up with my beloved MacBook.

Aaaand I wrote. I wrote so much my eyes ached from staring at the screen, and I’m pretty sure my brain ached too from the exertion. My insanity-motivated goal seemed unreachable, but I did churn out nearly 3k the first night, more than 3k the second day, and then. It happened. I hit the goal. And then I very nearly hit it again. When I arrived my little wisp of an idea consisted of some scattered scenes and ideas. It didn’t even top 3k. When I left it was at nearly 18k. 18k is a nice number. Hello, that’s how they classify GOLD.

The readings were more helpful than I could have realized too. Obviously it was fantastic to hear everyone else’s projects (there really is something special about hearing a writer reading their own work), and I am Anxious McGee to read them in full. But reading my own was exponentially helpful. I’d polished the heck out of this thing. I’ve edited it multiple times and had it copy-edited by an eagle-eyed spotter of mistakes. And yet aloud poor grammar and usage choices roared for attention. But also: it was good to hear when people laughed. It was surprising for me when people were moved emotionally. For me, there’s something about writing novels that leaves me alone in my own head so often it’s sort of amazing watching others’ reactions, like my brain is on public display, but in a good, unneeding of medical attention sort of way.

(Though, yes, this does mean I now have more edits to make to Nearly-Finished Novel. Books are like time vampires, you guys.)

In case you worry I took off three days of work to be All Work/No Play Ames, there was also food consumed, wine drunk, books read, and writing/rewriting/edits/agents/editors discussed. In short, this retreat was exactly what I needed, and I heartily recommend Getting The Heck Away From Life to any writer, no matter what stage of the game you’re in.

My 18k first draft agrees with me.

Amy Spalding has a love of shoes to almost equal my own. For instance, she owns these. Learn more about her and other kt literary clients here.

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10 Responses to “Guest Blog by Amy Spalding: A Writer’s Retreat”

  1. Chantal Kirkland Says:

    I wanna go on a writer's retreat! I'm so jealous. And it sounds like you met a goal, if not your initial one. Good job!

  2. Suzanne Casamento Says:

    I'm jealous too! Sounds like a great experience and congratulations on striking GOLD!

  3. Erin Schultz Says:

    Okay, I am totally inspired to do my own retreat during spring break next week!! Grad school still expects research, etc, to be done during break, BUT that doesn't mean I can't have my own little retreat in a coffee shop with an abnormally large, whipped cream topped mocha. πŸ™‚ (not my usual writing venue or beverage).

    Yes…I am SO going to do that next week!

    Thanks for the inspiration, Amy!! πŸ™‚

  4. Lisa Yee Says:

    Happy to hear your retreat was so successful!

  5. Carrie Harris Says:

    Yep. Now I'm wracking my brain for people I can invite to a retreat. Anyone feel like heading off with me to… uh… Detroit? πŸ˜‰

  6. Jennifer Anderson Says:

    Sounds awesome Ames! BTW loved the twit updates! I hope to get the opportunity to retreat someday; to get inside my own head (yikes!)and away from it all (kids and hubby)and just write. Sounds like paradise! Can't wait to enjoy your past projects, current projects and future projects with a filthy chai, lol!

  7. Amy Says:

    Yes, Jenni, the filthy chai is ESSENTIAL.

    Chantal, yes! I figured if I gave myself a crazy goal maybe I could come close, so it was fabulous I actually hit it once! (Though I'm not sure I can ever do 5k in a day again without fear of death!)

    Thanks, Suzanne!

    Erin, I hear you on grad school… my spring break was somehow, miraculously free of homework (though this had something to do with the heinous paper due a week before). Also switching up the coffeeshop routine TOTALLY works for me. I have gotten some awesome work done that way.

    Thanks, Lisa!

    Carrie – we totally must make it happen, somehow. Just, you know. Not in Detroit. HA.

  8. Stephanie Perkins Says:

    "18k is a nice number. Hello, that’s how they classify GOLD."

    *LOVE* that. Congratulations!!

  9. Becka (Fie Eoin) Says:

    Carrie – Detroit sounds great πŸ˜€ Can we go to Greek Town for some octopus? That would totally sell me on the trip! (Also, my in-laws live in Algonac)

    After this post I talked to my writing group about maybe having a retreat. We are thinking Atlanta, but so far the plans have been centered around food much more than writing…

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