Photo by Betsy Devany Macleod
As I was packing up the last of my things, my friend, the organizer of the retreat and owner of the beautiful beachfront property at which it was held (not to mention a published author), asked me if I wanted to read my first couple of pages in front of the group.
I did want to, but for some reason – I don’t know if it was pregnancy hormones or sheer nerves – I was terrified. As I read, my voice was shaky and I was on the brink of tears. I was out of breath. But I got through it and received a positive reaction from the group. It made me want to keep pushing on with my story.
This weekend was the first time I’d been on a writer’s retreat, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do. My writing life is usually filled with distractions and procrastinations. I’ll just start the laundry. Or do up some dishes. Sweep the floor. Organize the soups in my pantry by alphabetical order. It’s either early morning and my kids are up early and need something. No, usually everything. Or, it’s late at night and I am dozing off in front of my glowing screen. I can never seem to get any momentum.
So when I arrived on Friday evening, I was trying to visualize how I could get the most out of the weekend. Would the guilt of being away from my husband and kids kick in? Would I be distracted by the beach and sound of the glorious waves crashing against the shore? Would I sit there in front of my computer screen not knowing what to do next with my characters?
I have this really bad habit of self-editing while I am writing. I’ll write a sentence over 5, 10, 15 times before I can move on. It’s got to be perfect. This method hasn’t worked my whole life, but still I find myself doing it. I know it stymies creativity and halts any progress, but I can never seem to break the cycle. And yet, I always think back to what one of my college writing professors once said. “You’ve got to write shit to get to the good stuff.”
So, here was my plan. Write shit. Write anything. Just keep writing and don’t think about the perfect sentence or the household tasks that would be waiting for me on Sunday afternoon or the kids or my husband or the un-alphabetized soups in my pantry. Just keep those fingers moving over the keyboard and get some f’ing words on the screen, shit or not.
Saturday morning I woke up at 5am, laid out some fruit and breakfast bread for my fellow writers and got to work. I opened up my paltry manuscript and instead of reading over what I’d already written, I just set my fingers upon those keys and started punching. Sitting on the couch with my (very swollen, pregnant) feet up, the scene of milky white waves cresting just outside the door, I just started moving my fingers. As if writing was a physical task, not a mental one. My only goal was to keep up the sound of clicking keys. Surprisingly, I found that it was working. After a couple of hours, there was a few pages of actual words on my screen. No, not just words. While they may not have been Pulitzer Prize-winning (yet ), they were leading me to other places, places that I could never seem to get to because I was always worried about creating perfection right from the get-go.
Once the other writers began rising from sleep and opening their computers, I was worried that there would be a lull in my progress. We’d talk about how we’d slept or chat casually about our projects over coffee, or be generally distracted by just being around each other in a communal writing room. But….it was just the opposite. I found that being in a room of writers, keys clicking away, I was motivated. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to write. We all did. Hours would go by without conversation. One of us would get up and move from the couch to the table and begin clicking away again. Another would get up, make a quick snack, and then get back to it. A few of us went for a walk on the beach, returned to the house energized and refreshed, and began work again. It went on like this all day, until it was time to get ready for dinner out. The only crappy thing about dinner was that, being over 8 months pregnant, I could not partake in the wine. Other than that, it was a time to decompress from a full day of work, chat and look out into the dark sea right outside the window.
The next day went much the same, rising early and punching at the keys with abandon. Only, my thoughts started to turn towards packing up and heading home, thoughts that both saddened and excited me. I was missing my family. BUT, I was also thoroughly enjoying making progress on my story, something I hoped would become my first novel. And I was enjoying the beach and the quiet and the lack of responsibility save racking up a computer full of words.
Early that afternoon, I began winding down. I shut down my computer and began the dreaded process of packing up my things to head home. Let me make an important distinction here. I was excited to see my husband and my kids – it had felt like an eternity since I left the house for the beach – but I just didn’t want to stop writing.
And I won’t.
Now that the first annual Sandy Feet Writer’s Retreat is over, I’ll keep that momentum going. I’ll use the inspiration I received from my fellow writers – some old friends and some new friends I hope to stay in touch with – and keep up my progress at home. I may not have the ocean waves crashing right outside my window, or the luxury of writing without any other distractions for days at a time, but what I do have is progress. And, living in Newburyport, I can’t say there’s a lack of inspirational places to escape to and put pen to paper.
When I was done packing, and opened my computer again to read my pages aloud, breathless and my voice quivering with nerves, I realized something. First, I’d be horrible on a book tour. Second, while writer’s retreats are a luxury I’d definitely like to indulge in more often (hint, hint, husband), I don’t need one to do this thing. All I need is me, my computer and the sound of clicking keys to drown out all the distractions of daily life.
Until next year, Sandy Feet.