Saturday, July 3, 2010

Writing first thing

Today was my fourth day of writing first thing in the morning. The last three days weren't easy. I wanted so much to follow my familiar routine of brushing my teeth, making tea, checking email, writing in my journal. An easy, comfortable hour has been going that way each morning for many years.

Here instead, I've been getting up, brushing my teeth, making my bed and opening the blinds onto the lush early morning garden of lilies and robins, goldfinches and astralomeria. I get dressed, put on my slippers and go across the covered breezeway to the main kitchen. I put the kettle on, do some stretches, and make tea. Then I pad back across the breezeway to my room and turn on the computer.

Today for the first time, there was no resistance to wade through before the writing started. Today, I woke up early (just after 6), shook myself from an unpleasant dream, and starting thinking about Doug and Ellie, my characters, and what was going to happen next. I had a good idea for an upcoming chapter but I needed an interim piece and as I lay there and thought about it, it all came clear, so that by the time I had tea in hand, I was ready to go. And by noon, with an hour out for a brisk walk, I'd written 2500 words, about average for these four days.

There are too many variables for me to accurately guess the cause of my prolific writing this week. We're in silence most of the day so I can stay with my characters. I stay off email and there's no phone service. My day to cook was early in the week so I just show up for meals. In other words, I'm pretty well taken care of and can just focus on the writing.

I've also much less to distract me here. No household chores when the imagining falters or the characters won't behalf. I guess I could fold and refold the underwear in the drawer, but that seems pretty pointless.

Anyway, I did want to report that I've been in the writing waterfall for 4 days and it's been glorious.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 3 of the retreat

Yesterday, I didn't write in my journal first thing in the morning for the first time in more than a decade. (Well, there was one other day in 2002, the Sunday morning that my dad died). It felt odd not to have that meditative, wake-up journaling activity, but I had decided that for the next five mornings of the retreat, I would write on my novel first thing as Eric Maisel, my creativity mentor, and other writing coaches recommend.

I sat in resistance for about 10 minutes and then slowly I began to write. As I had resolved one of the logistical issues the day before, I had several avenues open to me. And I had also realized the day before that some of the chapter order was off and that too seemed to give me license to just plunge in out of order and write what I felt like. And then it began to flow and I worked steadily for 3 hours with a brief break for breakfast, then walked an hour, then came back and wrote another hour. In all, I drafted about 2,000 words. What's more, I felt reimmersed in my characters and their dilemmas, in the flow of thinking about them.

This morning I resolved to do it again. It was harder. I hadn't slept as well and didn't feel rested and rarin' to go as I did yesterday. I missed my journal routine, slow meditation and contemplation over tea, rather than this attempt to get my brain to solve problems and generate ideas. But I hung in there and after about a slow 20 minutes, I was writing again and did so until lunch.

And while I know that 5 days is not going to instill a new habit, I can begin to see how I might be able to do this at home, if I got up two hours before I went to the gym or to work. I could then have about 90 minutes to write, a long-enough time to get out a page.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 1 of the retreat

I'm loving being here on retreat and I'm having a hard time settling down to work on my book. I trust that that will come, an engagement in the story and in the writing process, but right now it's a lot more fun to lie on the outdoor sofa and look at the lush gardens in the crisp marine air that's the perfect temperature and snooze and read a little of Stephen King's book On Writing.

I did spend some time this afternoon reading through my five pages of notes, and I think I have solved the issue of the missing computer and how Hansen, the detective, is going to find it. I've got a number of ideas for chapters that I can get started on but all of them have a logistical issue like that that needs to be resolved. Not necessarily before I start writing on them but it would certainly help. Knowing now what the car and the anagramed registration name is a big step in the right direction.

Our day at the retreat is spent in silence (except for meals) and that prolonged quiet, whether I'm actually at the keyboard or not, is tremendously helpful because it gives me a chance to stay with my characters and my plot and let my not-quite-conscious brain keep working on the issue.

It's also clear to me how tired I am of being at the keyboard (I've been particularly busy at my paid work lately) and so it has been lovely to do some long journal entries and just cogitate.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Off to camp

When I was a kid, the week or two that I spent at camp (first Campfire Girls, then church camp) were the highlight of the summer. I saved my allowance and chore money to go. Today I leave for writing retreat, one of my most favorite times of the year.

A group of women friends, all writers, are headed up to Aldermarsh Retreat Center on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. We'll spend the next week writing on our projects, communing with nature and our spirits, eating well, and having a lot of fun.

To create the maximum space possible for the projects, we keep silence until 4 pm each day so that there is plenty of quiet in which to breathe, dream, write, sleep, rest, read, and just be. Then we meet for circle, share our writings and our joys and obstacles, and check in on what we need from each other. Each person has a day she is responsible for meals, with license to be as simple or as extravagant as she likes. After dinner, we play games, collage, do art, talk, and some of us go back to the computer if the writing is going especially well.

It's an amazing experience to have all the time you want for writing and thinking about writing and reading about writing and talking about writing. Each of us tends to get a lot done in one realm or another and we come back more solidly inhabiting our writer selves.

Hurray for camp!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ignoring the practicalities

I've been reading Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, a 1988 compilaton of "329 keys to powerful fiction." While I don't agree with all of his advice, sometimes things are just spot on.

In a section called "Don't Postpone Your Novel," he lists all the arguments to do so. It takes years to write a good one. You don't have that kind of time. You won't get published anyway. No agents are interested in new writers. You're probably not all that good to begin with. Maybe you should take some more classes first or go to a few more workshops or find another writing group.

Instead, he admonishes: Ignore the practicalities and embrace the vision. Believe in yourself, your abilities, your talents, your sense of self. Hone your discipline, your persistence. It's that old saw about courage. That courage isn't about waiting until we have no fear, it's about moving forward anyway. And so what if your first novel isn't all that great? At least you'll have written it. That's more than the talk-about-writing folks can say.