I’ve been looking forward to this day for an entire year. It’s Sunday and I’m wrapping up another fabulous weekend of writers panels, catching up with friends I haven’t seen in too long, book shopping, parties, and people-watching with my husband, one of our favorite pastimes. I adore ConCarolinas, and I just got to see more friends than I dare name for fear of forgetting someone.
Earlier today I swung by Charlotte Airport and dropped off my husband. He’s going to fly home and spend the next week reassuring the cats I will return eventually. The little demons are usually good-natured, but when one of us is home and the other is not, the at-home body gets yelled at. A lot. I usually only have to put up with the abuse for the occasional weekend when my husband goes camping without me. He has to endure it for a week when I go the Retreat. He loves me a great deal.
So if my favorite Con is over, and I just said goodbye to my best friend, why am I so happy?
Every year on the Sunday that ConCarolinas wraps, the Roaring Writers start our annual retreat. We spend a crazy Sunday going to panels, checking out of the hotel, and managing the logistics of ensuring everyone who needs a ride to the house gets there along with their luggage. Sunday night is a general frenzy of figuring out who rooms where, moving luggage around, putting away groceries, ordering dinner, and a meltdown of “ohmigoodness, we’re here again and so happy to see one another” Sunday night talk that we need to get out of our system before we go to work Monday morning.
I get to spend an entire week in a large house we rent with people I adore, immersed in writing, thinking about writing, talking about writing. Actually writing. We talk about the business, genres, and other authors. Characterization, world building, and pacing. Punctuation, syntax, and writing mechanics. We talk about things that bore non-writers senseless, and I love it, every wonderful minute of it.
I won’t lie. We don’t talk about writing every second of the day. We tell a lot of jokes, have a lot of conversations, stay up way too late and have an occasional drink or two. I did mention we were writers, didn’t I? We also gorge ourselves on food created by our amazing Chef Judy, a friend who has assumed the task of ensuring we eat fabulous meals to fuel our writing stints.
A funny thing happened to me during my first Retreat. I thought it was the newness and it would go away the second year, but it didn’t. Typically I need eight hours of sleep. But both years, I roomed with another night owl and I found myself staying up til 2ish and getting up at 7:30 to 8 to the wonderful smell of Chef Judy cooking bacon. Those who know me well will laugh. I’m a horrible morning person, but frequently, I was one of the first ones awake after Judy or at least one of the first moving in the general living areas. Getting out of bed is one of my least favorite things. But at the retreat, I hop up, eager to get the day moving.
At home, I often struggle to write. I make up excuses that get in my way. I’m tired. My eyes hurt. I should be doing laundry. Cleaning. Errands… Or I fall down the social media blackhole. Yet, at the Retreat when I’m tired, I ignore the feeling. We have Wi-Fi but I tune out social media. I work long hours and want more.
The best I can figure is that my writing energy is sparked by a combination of factors. First, I know there’s a finite time limit. At the end of the Retreat after arriving home, first I hug my husband and reassure a swirling mass of cats. Then I crash into a long night’s sleep. I don’t believe I could sustain short-changing my sleep for much longer than the week of our Retreat. Second, the interaction with enthusiastic writers in a space outside my normal hangouts creates a wave of energy. When someone says this resource is helpful, possibilities emerge. When another person says I use this tool for something, I think about how that would help me. Sudden enlightenment of what I’m doing wrong or why what I’m doing isn’t producing the desired result impels me to fix to the problem and produce better prose immediately.
When at home, I slog. I produce writing that sits in a void. Of course, my Retreat peeps read my stuff if I send it to them, and every now and then we share a painful lesson learned by email, but that doesn’t have the immediacy and power of sitting in the same room, listening to their work as well as mine get critiqued. That may well be the crux point. Reading someone else’s work and hearing them critiqued is often more enlightening to me than hearing my own work examined. Perhaps because I’m not defensive about what they’ve written, and I always am about what I wrote, no matter how hard I attempt to view my own work dispassionately.
I could and have joined local writers groups, but they don’t provide me the same energy push. I spend so much time prepping for the local writer’s groups that I don’t do my own writing. Also the skill level in the local group is frustratingly uneven. Some are marvelous writers as focused as any of the Roaring Writers. Others not so much.
I was going to describe what you should do to establish your own retreat, but this post is running too long. If one of my blogging partners doesn’t choose to pick up that particular topic, I’ll tackle it in the future. For now, I’ll just finish by saying that I’m ridiculously excited and if you see me on social media over the next week it will be rare, because I’ll be sitting near the lake writing. Or I might be on the deck writing. Or perhaps even at the dining room table writing, because air conditioning and the bugs get annoying at night. But somewhere, writing.