writing life

Writing in Community

I just got back from a week-long novel-writing retreat in Wisconsin. After recovering from the shock of stepping out of the airport into 95ºF with 80% humidity (and it’s not even June God help Kansas), I thought I’d share some reflections from that experience.

We often think of ourselves as solitary creatures of coffee shops, basements, closets, and libraries, ink stained, prone to eye strain, our preferred writing utensils now just another extension of our bodies. Popular media portrays writers this way, too, and to an extent, it’s accurate. The work we do involves the page and the brain. This caricature is the bare minimum of what we need to do our thing. I don’t know about you, but bare minimum has never been appealing to me.

Working intensely in isolation may be productive for a while. I need these times, when my ideas are mine and nobody else’s opinions are in the mix. But it gets…exhausting. The task takes on Herculean proportions. Everything is endless and impossible.

Change of scenery is medicinal in and of itself. Being surrounded by people–writers!–who are passionate and determined about their own projects? Inspirational.

Never imagine you can’t learn something about the craft. Even if you have every upper-level degree and tons of industry experience, hearing another writer describe their process in their words can open up new ideas and ways of understanding your own work that you would never have come to by yourself.

I’ve also come away with a greater sense of pride in the work of writing. Because it is work. It is a job. Getting published is an entirely different animal. It’s always nice, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the work of writing. We write. We’re writers. We do our work.

I had the chance to practice pitching to three agents. All of them were taken with the premise of my novel-in-progress (hugely encouraging!), and talked to me about next steps. Step One, finish the book. And they talked about that step so matter-of-factly. It wasn’t a matter of whether I could finish it, but of HOW and WHEN.

So I’m working on my self-discipline. I’m working to keep to a stricter daily routine, to spend increasingly longer periods of time writing, and to always write at my desk. In the end, writing is really up to me. Though some of my fellow retreaters might get after me from time to time, no one will hound me. If I give up, no one will make me start again. It’s down to me.

So I’m plunging back into the solitary part, refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to finish this dang book.



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