Monday, January 17, 2011

writing retreat

My writing group took our annual retreat to Duck, NC in the Outer Banks. This is my second year with the group, and therefore my second retreat, though it is the third year running for them in the same house.
At a bit of a block around midday of the first full writing day, I took a walk along the boardwalk over the dunes to the Currituck Sound, and snapped this of the house on the way. Dreamy, isn't it?

The first night, two of us arrived just in time for dinner, while the rest had arrived and worked earlier in the day. We found a great pizza place called Cosmo's, recommended by locals, if you're ever in the area. Be aware, though, there are two unaffiliated Cosmo's Pizzas. The one that serves an Alla Bianca and something they call The Percolator is the one you want.

Since this past summer, two of our group have moved away from our local Historic Triangle, VA area to parts far and wide, Nebraska and Alabama. It was great to see them both and to hear their input on my manuscript. One of these women, AV, very sweetly gave us each the gift of a wise owl to watch over our writing. She had wrapped them in tissue paper and when we were done stuffing ourselves with pizza, we unwrapped them and oo'ed and aaah'ed at the cute little Peruvian critters.

My fat little owl has a perch on my dusty bookshelf now, in front of my theater and plays section. He looks right over my left shoulder as I type.

Then I said, "Bring it on..." and boy, did they!  Funny, most of what they had to say, I was ready to hear and it mostly confirmed what I already had instincts about but had been ignoring.

The owl's tissue paper came in very handy, when the critique and ideas were popping.

I restarted the manuscript, pretty much from scratch to take care of some technical problems I was having and to simplify making the sweeping changes from earlier drafts.
I'm tired of trying to just make cutting and pasting work. I need to write again, make the flow of the words work better, renew my drive through the story. I am cutting huge aspects of it out, and reformulating aspects I previously felt were set in stone. I have a new motivation for the bullying part, for one, which made for a need for yet another new opening to the book.

So I am reinvigorated about the manuscript, even though what I started at the retreat has a very low page count. But it's the beginning of the book that needs the most work anyway.

To break up the tension and monotony and to stretch out our hunched-over-laptops necks and backs, etc, we took walks.  There was no wind which was a nice change from last year when the cold was truly brutal and windy. This year, we had nice brisk walks, usually around four in the afternoon.

First some Sound side shots from my solitary midday walk mentioned above.

The boardwalk over the dunes leads straight out to this peer, which was locked, but I enjoyed the view, especially these shadows playing on the water. In the distance you can see mainland North Carolina. There were some swans on the water in the distance, but too far to get a good shot.

Flotsam and footprints under the peer, off season presence of a less human nature.

Oceanside, approximately four thirty in the afternoon. The ocean's roar was huge!

The views from the house are stunning. I may have been the only one enjoying pink sunrises, but we all took in these gloriously deep-hued sunsets near the end of our writing time each day.

We deeply appreciated the time and space together, to hold each other accountable and to encourage each other in our editing and writing endeavors. We also deeply appreciated each other's cooking, as we each were responsible for a meal other than opening night's pizza run.

Of course we appreciated the wine and hot tub under the half moon and stars on deeply clear nights, below freezing air and the steam rising off of us.

I am sad to share that for the last day of writing, I awoke at 3:30am from vivid dreams and with stomach cramps. By the time real morning arrived, I was nauseated, and worse, dizzy and needed to stay horizontal. I managed to make it upstairs around lunchtime to eat some soup, but skulked back down to my bed.  It was a shame, so much writing I wanted to do before packing and leaving later in the afternoon.  Poor JD had to pull her car over on the ride home for me, too.

I felt lousy all through that night, all day yesterday, and still have remnants of the yuck today. Turns out the stomach ache Captain Comic had last week, that kept him out of school for a couple of days wasn't a fake or stress-induced. It was an honest to goodness virus that I may have spread throughout my fellow children's authors....For their sake, I really hope I haven't. I've already apologized profusely.

But otherwise, the retreat was exactly what I needed and at exactly the right time.

I highly recommend finding a good creative group for whatever your art may be. My writing group is all working on children's books at the moment. One is a Young Adult novel, and another is currently undecided whether hers is more YA or middle reader, leaning toward making her protagonist 15 rather than 13, based on aspects of her story. Our styles and genres vary widely, but we all are able to give relevant critique, and loads of encouragement. We typically meet twice a month. We have these annual retreats in the winter, as renting off-season in highly desirable summer vacation spots is vastly inexpensive, especially when split six ways. We also do a 'writing camp' at one of our homes in the summer time. For one week, we come together every day from 10am-4pm to write.

When it comes down to it, those of us (mothers for instance) who find it difficult to find uninterrupted time on a regular basis can really benefit from this type of experience. It's been of monumental importance to me.  Mostly just knowing we are not alone - we have others to share the struggles and triumphs of our creative lives with can make all the difference in the world.

I know it does for me. And the retreats and camps are a major therapeutic bonus to my mental state. As much as I adore Honey and the kids, it's good for all of us when I get away once in awhile and focus on just writing.

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