Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Reading

First, this happened. Always exciting to have something published in a journal as great as Prairie Fire, to have a respected writer like contest judge Wayne Grady say complimentary things about your writing, and to keep such exciting company.

As I mentioned previously, I have picked up a houseguest and have been "on vacation," which is a stay-cation next door, at our camp. Except for showers. But before that, I had a bit of a writing retreat. It wasn't long, but it was useful. I actually started when I left here, because I "primed the pump" by reading through notes on the project, then mulled them over on the six-hour drive, and jumped right in when I arrived. Yes, I'd do it again, and for a whole weekend.

I've also learned the hard way that beach read-type books aren't necessarily my preferred summer reading. I bought one with beach umbrellas on the cover because I felt as if I should, but I could predict too much of the story, the end included grafted-on "meaningful" pieces, and basically I didn't enjoy the experience. So I'm back to my normal "to be read" pile, which includes lots of things that make me think.

In other news, summer has arrived. Warm days--some dry, some not--and nights that still try to be cool. I'm madly making notes about things I forget during the long cold spells. (Like how much grows up within two feet of the ground. Just when I have thought everything was fully leafed and summer was here, up pops grass and bunchberries and all sorts of undergrowth.) However, I suspect whatever I write won't seem real in February, just as it's difficult today to remember what this place looks like covered in ice and snow.

Speaking of ice...I wonder if we have any popsicles!
Thursday, July 2, 2015


So, last week month (really? a month?) when I wrote here, I was sharing the contents of my email spam folder because I had some thing to finish up.

After taking on a couple more things, I did finish all the things. And we went to Toronto for a cultural writerly thing and took a break. Which was great.

And now we're back, so I write today of the "writer's retreat."

Many writers have a lot of success getting away from it all for a weekend to do some focused work on one particular project. Some of the people I actually know who like retreats, being the wonderful and generous people they are, are planning a writing retreat in the fall for like-minded people.

The "retreat" concept is a little difficult for me. I've been a working writer for decades and freelancing for ahem also decades. Whether I was writing or editing, working for someone else or myself, I've been on a schedule and deadline. No time for inspiration when your piece is due at 4 Eastern on Wednesday! So the idea of having to go elsewhere to write is foreign to me. If I have a keyboard, I can give you words.

Not only that, I live in a pretty wonderful place. We're in a rural area, I work from home, my husband is also a writer, and we're compatible in our work habits (mostly). I love love love living here, even when the long driveway needs the snowblower or the lawn needs mowing. So yeah, I live in a place where other people might retreat to. (Or vacation--which is another whole concept I'm redefining, slowly, through decades.)

So I kept thinking, "Retreat? Not sure I need that."

BUT. I've also had some success with a similar concept. On Fridays, I meet two other writers at a local coffee place. Sometimes it's purely social, sometimes it's kind of social, and sometimes we're all business. One of the ways I've coped with the demands of working for money while also doing my own creative writing is to compartmentalize the "work for me" to Friday mornings. That novel? The multitude of essays I keep having ideas for? The deep revision to this story that just isn't working? Friday mornings. That may not be the ONLY time I get to it, but it is A time I get to it.

Designating specific projects for Friday morning helps in a couple of ways. First, it ensures that I'll at least check in with these projects once a week. That helps keep momentum going. Second, it helps dissipate any resentment I may feel at doing work to pay the bills--as long as I take those two hours on a Friday morning for MY work, I don't fret about the work-work.

So, recently, we went to this cultural writerly event. We stayed in motels. Motels where someone else cleans the bathroom and sheets, and the supply of water isn't limited by the size of the well. Motels with refrigerators, hot breakfasts, and restaurants nearby. Motels where my to-do list isn't, as long as I don't bring it. Motels where even generic space is different from my regular space, where my mind could possibly break free from its ruts.

A little, very little, light bulb went off: THIS is what other people like about retreats.

So I'm trying one of my own. In a couple of weeks, I'm picking up a guest in Minneapolis. I'll go down a little early, stay in a motel, and have a teeny mini-retreat. I'll bring only what I need for this draft of this essay I'm struggling with, and my only goal will be to get the draft down on paper. It'll be kind of like an all-day Friday.

I'll report back--but possibly not this week month. The guest I'm picking up will be here for a couple of weeks, so I'll get to experience a little vacation, whatever that means, too!

Enjoy the season you're in, everyone.