I am not a writer who yearns for a cabin in the woods for weeks at a time. Being away from my life for long periods does not fill me with creative joy. I wish it did. Just like I wish I could write late into the night, not realizing when night became morning, churning out pages by moonlight. I am just not one of those writers. The word retreat does not bring up images of golden meadows, long walks, and charming cabins. In fact, when I hear the word retreat, my mind goes to the first definition that comes up in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable; the process of receding from a position or state attained. This is a definition I could relate to.
Since May, I’d been in a full retreat from my novel, a hard backing away from it, not in defeat, but definitely from a battle (it was a tense Incubator year, sparring with ornery characters and plot lines that strayed on and off the field). I had recently put my book aside to focus on other things.
But quickly May became June, and June meant it was time for my writing group’s annual retreat in Maine. The place is everything you picture a retreat to be – an old, rambling house, an ocean view, a big porch, silence, and space. It’s curious that while we retreat, we move forward with our novels. Though, I suppose, we are withdrawing from the daily grind of kids, work, pets, and chores.
It had been with great trepidation that I first went to Maine with my writing group (sorry fellow Salt + Radish Writers). I was a relatively new member. I already had this lack of desire to hole up somewhere to write. I worried I’d miss my dog (really, I was worried my husband would forget to feed her). That first retreat with them was fantastic. I got hours and hours of work done, and it was the same this year. There is a room or more for each of us. We always write down a schedule and stick to it. We spend hours not speaking, then reconvene for meals – lunches on the beach or dinners out. The sound of the ocean can be heard from the front porch. Stars are plentiful. It’s quiet. Sometimes we have music; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have mid-day cocktails; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we walk; sometimes we don’t. But we do get an awful lot of writing done. and we all move forward. I could go into what makes for a good retreat, but Anjali Mitter Duva does it so well here.
I’ve changed my thinking somewhat about retreats. Though I still have no inclination for a month-long residency in the Vermont woods, I am already looking forward to my group’s few days in Maine in 2015. It felt good to immerse myself in my book without having to think about what to make for dinner or where I should take the dogs for walk.
It’s funny, this writing thing. It’s such an intricate balance. Several months ago, I wrote a post about the importance of putting space between one and one’s work, arguing for time from it. Now, I’m lauding the immersion into one’s fictional world for days at a time. Once I can figure out the perfect balance, maybe I’ll be able to write that final draft.