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DL's Writers Retreat

It's a hard fact for us aspiring writers -- those of us with full-time jobs -- that time is a rare commodity and finding enough of it to ply our craft is easier said than done. Before I get lambasted by stay-at-home mom's or dad's, I realize that finding time to write for them isn't necessarily a piece of cake either. We all have our struggles with this, which I've lamented the point on numerous posts here before.  We each find a way to carve out just enough time to hold that fire inside of us at bay, a fire that can only be quelled by ink and paper.

Some of us are night birds, preferring the wee hours of the night to write, a time when most of the world (in our time zone) is asleep. Others are early-risers. Again, a time when many are still slumbering and the stillness enveloping the world has yet to be disturbed. We often choose these times to let our imaginations loose, and its because we don't want disappoint the people in our lives by withdrawing into our writing shell while they are still active. So we wait, anxiously, for a time when one of our passions won't conflict with the others. It comes with a price, however, and usually it's paid by sacrificing our own respite. No one ever said this was going to be easy...right?

I've found my own way to tackle this time issue, and it's in the form of my own personal writers retreat. At various times over the course of the year I'll pick a weekend, timing it with key development points for my projects, and I'll schedule a full-time writing weekend. Usually I'll tack on a couple vacation days to make it a long weekend, trying to maximizing my time, but it's not a requirement. I'll make sure it doesn't conflict with a family event or something that all of us would want to take part in, then I let everyone know what I've scheduled. I give plenty of notice (at least a month) and everyone in my family has been really good about working that into their own calendars.

When the weekend arrives, I've prepped as best I can (i.e. research, critiques, music playlist, coffee, etc.) and as soon as I leave work that first night I dive in. I write, revise, edit until late at night, grab a couple hours of sleep, then get right back to it first thing in the AM. I'm wearing my headphones the entire weekend and no one disturbs me, because they all know what is going on.  When I come up for air (or a potty break), the family will ask how the project is going or if I need any pages read (which they are always ready to do), but no one is there trying to pull me away or assign a chore. The entire weekend is just about writing...and it is pure heaven.

I've never been to an actual writers retreat.  The picture below kinda represents what I think one would be like -- seclusion in some hard to reach location, all the needed tools, and an environment conducive to creative thinking. From what I understand the only thing mine is missing (other than an exotic location and the exorbitant price tag that goes with it) is the interaction with other writers. That's a key omission, one that could prove really useful when brainstorming plot points or character traits, but usually I've already worked through that sort of stuff ahead of time with my critique group. All I try to achieve with my retreat is seclusion, focus, and acceptance from my family by pre-planning it so it has minimum impact family activities.  Doing it in a chunk, rather than depriving myself of sleep (which is never a smart thing) over the course of weeks, just seems more effective to me. I'm also one who doesn't enjoy reading a book and having to put it down lots of times. Given a choice, and the time, I'd consume it in one sitting. I guess I write the same way.

I have another retreat planned for the coming 4th of July weekend. I have a major revision to my latest lined up and its time. Wish me luck.

How about you? How do you manage your writing time?

The Pull

Today I’ve decided to try and tackle a topic that I know will be difficult to describe, but it’s something that I believe all writers feel at some point and therefore no matter how bad of a job I do explaining it, you’ll still know what I’m talking about. Let’s see how this goes.

A question I’ve frequently been asked by my non-writing friends (Muggles) is, when did I know I wanted to be a writer?  I’ve thought about this a lot and I think a better question might be, how did I know I wanted to be a writer? The when is simple, and it actually revolves around two different points in time.  The first was after I received recognition for a short story I wrote for a school project (which was to impress a girl), documented here on this blog numerous times. The second when was 30+ years later after I wrote another short story, this time relating true-life experiences from a memorable trip to the Florida coast during a summer-break from college. I can point to both of those events and say that is when I first had an inkling that writing would be part of who I am, but that doesn’t really tell the inquisitive mind what it wants to know. How did I know?  What signs were there that made me decide to take this hobby seriously, make we want to think of it as a craft and therefore work to improve my mastery of it and strive to become published? The answer to that question was much more difficult to put a finger on, but it boils down to one thing. I call it…the pull.

When I completed both of the short stories I mentioned above, a feeling remained that I had experienced before, but not quite in the same way. It was kind of like the excitement you feel when you really really look forward to something. Maybe it’s the sensation of a movie you’ve been wanting to watch for what seems like forever is about to be released, or the tickle in your stomach the days right before Christmas, or unfettered joy you feel leading up to being reunited with a love interest you’ve been separated from. And the only way to quench that yearning…is to write. I call it the pull because of the way it draws me back, either to a particular piece of work, or a blank piece of paper with nothing but the inkling of an idea to lead me.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that for me the pull isn’t constant. Right after I finish working on a project, whether it be a first draft or a final revision, the pull disappears altogether. It might return quickly to nudge me towards a different manuscript, but I’ve always needed a cooling off period after a major endeavor.  Maybe that’s because I pour so much effort into a project when I’m in the midst of the story, or maybe my creative juices need time to recharge, who knows. But being a writer isn’t always about writing (especially if you’re a plotter – like I am), and I am limited because of my full-time job and responsibilities at home, so not being constantly subjected to the pull isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ll tell you this, I LOVE the feeling of the pull when it’s in full-force and making me crazy. The longer I resist it (which I never purposely do, but life does get in the way), the more and more it will consume my thoughts until there is only one narrative that makes sense – the one where I am writing.

In case you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m in the thralls of the pull right now.  I finished the first draft of my latest and greatest months ago, but now the pull is telling me it’s time to dive into the first revision. I’m stoked!

What about you? Can you relate to this…or am I talking out of the side of my mouth?

Book Review - UNITY

It’s been a little more than I year since I read the first book in this series, SCHISM, and I’m happy to report that the follow up – UNITY -- was easier than I expected when it came to picking up with the characters. When I read Laura Maisano's first book, I said then - For me, one of the traits of a good book is when it’s able to overcome one or more inherent prejudices of the reader. Urban Fantasy is not a genre I'm particularly fond of, nor are books that are obviously part of a larger series, but neither of these elements prevented me from enjoying what turned out to be a very enjoyable reading experience. That sentiment still holds true here. The second book resumes the action three months after the events of the first book and it doesn’t take long before we’re back in the thick of things. With the Winged are defeated back in Illirin and Gabe struggling with his part of the slaughter, the plot kicks into high gear when Matt (the Reaper) sends Earth a message: he’ll provide access to unlimited power without the harmful effects to the environment, in return our leaders must simply submit to his rule. The thinly veiled threat sends Gabe and Lea back to Illirin to deal with Nor and fulfill the prophecy Lea has been struggling to come to grips with.

I’m not a big fan of multi-part series that seem to go on and on just for the sake of selling more books, so I was pleasantly surprised with the ending of UNITY. Each of the characters, both new and old, have a carefully laid out arc that had me invested in their journey, which even included the “bad guys”. My biggest compliment has to be saved for the conclusion, which brought forth a very satisfying (and a bit surprising) close. Once again Ms. Maisano has done a wonderful job interweaving resonating emotional content inside a very detailed plot, and making it all seem effortless. Her knack for believable world building, something that is far too often overlooked in books of this genre today, shines here.

No matter what genre you prefer, this is a pleasant tale that almost anyone would enjoy. I devoured it in a single day, which was a shame, because the experience was one I would have enjoyed drawing out for several.

You can pick up your copy of UNITY here - Amazon.


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