L.K. Madigan (lkmadigan) wrote,
L.K. Madigan

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The Secret to a Productive Writing Retreat


Crazy, I know.

Self-indulgent, yes.

But I can assure you that if you spend money to go sit alone in a room with a bed and a desk, you will become very focused on your manuscript. You do NOT want to pay good money just to sleep in or watch TV. At least I don’t.

My life has been A Series of Exciting Events for the past few months, culminating in The Biggest Thrill of My Writing Life last week. I am one lucky author.

But you’re only as good as your last book, right?

And my work-in-progress was languishing, month after month, while I whirled and spun. Every time I opened the document to re-acquaint myself with the characters, something shiny* would distract me. Or my son would say, “Mom, want to watch Monk/The Office/The Simpsons/etc. with me?” And I love that my son still wants to do stuff with me, even if it’s just watch TV, so I found it hard to say no. Then there were the usual dishes/laundry/dog walks/daily duties needing attention. And once in awhile, my husband appreciates a little attention.

I needed to go away so I could think about NOTHING BUT THE NEW BOOK.

When I broached the idea with my husband and son, they said cheerfully, “Sure! Go ahead.” The gleam in their eyes said, We’ll be fine … eating pizza and frozen waffles … playing video games and falling asleep with the TV on.

I checked into my hotel Friday after work … seven whole miles from my house. Yep. It was NOT about location. It was about that one room with a bed and a desk.



This was only my third writing retreat in three years – I don’t gallivant off every few months. I go when I’m really desperate. :-)

I wrote, I got dinner, I wrote some more, and then I was tired. After all, I’d already worked a full day. I watched 30 – 45 minutes of the Hope for Haiti telethon, but then I started crying too hard to watch any more. kellyrfineman I did get to see Justin Timberlake’s beautiful “Hallelujah.” I now own (counts) five versions of that song. (It’s #1 on iTunes today.)

I went to bed and slept fine. Got up at 6:15 the next morning, brewed my little instant Starbucks (it’s not bad), ate a protein bar, and started writing again. At 7:30 I went out for a walk. It was still dark out, and downtown Portland was still mostly asleep. But as I walked along the river, a new scene for my book presented itself to me fully formed. This scene was such an epiphany that I stopped to take notes. I walked and took notes … walked and took notes.

By the time I got back to my room, it was almost 9 a.m., but I buckled right down to work. The words gushed out.

Then I wrote one perfect sentence.

I sat back and looked at it in surprise.

Then I looked at the clock. 10 a.m.

I broke my “no Internet” rule long enough to email a couple of friends and say, “Sometimes you have to write for an hour to get one perfect sentence.” Then I re-unplugged. **

The hundreds of words that came before that sentence? I don’t know if they will survive. But I’ve got that one. Perfect. Sentence. It would be nice if ALL my sentences came out like that, but o my friends, it does NOT work that way for me.

I went out for lunch and dinner, then I wrote some more. If I wasn’t writing, I was staring into space thinking about my story. That’s one of the most important elements of writing: the luxury of staring into space.

Sometime after 9 p.m. I got tired and shut down the laptop. I watched the last 45 minutes or so of “Meet the Parents,” which is a pretty good way to end the day … a bride with a black eye, sewage spraying all over people, an impostor cat, and a happily-ever-after.

I got up at 6:15 again the next morning (okay, I lied: I hit the snooze button once. I got up at 6:25). I brewed another instant coffee, then I went outside, because my new scene demanded I walk around dark downtown again.

Back to the hotel room for one last burst of writing.

Around 10:30 a.m. I started losing momentum. My gush slowed to a trickle. I checked my word count. Almost 4500 new words in my 40-hour getaway. That’s a LOT, for me. I took a shower, which shook loose one more idea (showers are a great source of ideas), and I added it to the story.

Then I went home.

My husband and son were out with friends. :-)

When they came home, I watched The Office with my son.

* Netflix, book event, DVR’d shows, book event, Hulu, book event …

** Remember that Office episode where Dwight is shunning Andy? But he has to talk to him about something, so he makes a parking-arm gesture and says, “Un-shun,” then “Re-shun.” That’s how I felt.
Tags: writing life

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