Run away! Run away! Writing retreat redux

posted on July 15th, 2009





Slippery Rock Campground, July 9, 2009

Calgon, take me away! What is the equivalent of the Calgon bath for a writer? For this writer, it’s a self-imposed writing retreat—away from as many distractions of family and home life as possible—in order to concentrate on a particular writing project that has stalled or that sits at a crossroads and needs to move in an entirely new direction. Sometimes rethinking a project means I need to get away from the daily routine long enough to ponder, refocus, or reimagine a scene, chapter, or entire concept. I feel an omnipresent sense of duty to family members when I am home. There is always another load of laundry to do, or another meal to shop for, prepare, and clean up after. Teens need rides here or there. Preparations need to be made—for weddings, remodeling projects, birthdays. There is always another task more urgent than revamping chapter 12 of the latest novel in progress.

And so, a few times a year, I take advantage of a blessing that has fallen into my lap in the past decade. My mother-in-law lives in Florida but allows us to use her little trailer “vacation home” in Slippery Rock, Pa., about an hour from where we live. It’s a marvelous place to go to relax—complete with air-conditioning, indoor plumbing, a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath—and to get away from at least the Internet and most household chores. It’s a private community campground, so people cannot just stop in. No salesmen. No phone calls (except for the cell phone—thank God for caller-ID). Just a little bit of television.

And, time. Lots of time. Unencumbered, unfettered time. I can pack a duffel bag with my netbook and the barest of essentials (since we keep the place well stocked with all the basics in toiletries and food) and dash up here on a moment’s notice. I can unpack and be working within the first hour of arriving. And even the winding drive up here is pleasant and peaceful.

I am blessed with a place to get away like this, and I thank God for it often. It’s free, it’s close by, and it affords me just enough privacy and space to unwind, write, and be productive. I can’t begin to quantify the value to me to have a place like this at my disposal.

Post-Retreat Update (July 15): The time alone last week gave me the answers to two sticky plot problems in my novel Gray Area. They both came after I got home, but were directly caused by the time I had last week to ask myself the same questions about those scenes, over and over again. Once I got home—and opened a book on plot given to me by my dear friend Mel—both answers dropped into my lap. As a writer, do you sometimes need a little more privacy than you can get at home or at the local library or coffee shop? Is there somewhere you can go where you have some extra time alone? I’m curious to hear what works for you … and what gets in the way of your writing.



Post-Conference Debriefing

posted on July 10th, 2009


Two weeks ago I was scurrying around the house with a packing list and a to-do list, getting ready to leave for my seventh year at the week-long St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference. This year was special for me. This year I had been given Responsibilities. This year I had been entrusted with Important Tasks. And, by the last three days prior to the conference, I was feeling the burden. When I wanted to prepare for my class on Social Networking by teaching myself PowerPoint (a long overdue task), I instead had to finish up a few loads of laundry and make sure the fridge and pantry were well-stocked for family members left to fend for themselves while I was away.

I also had to finalize the layout of a template for the daily newsletter, for which I was primarily responsible this year for the first time. I had to be sure my new netbook was going to behave with my multifunction laser printer/copier, and I was continually debating the pros and cons of packing my 19” monitor to supplement the netbook’s cute but layout-challenged 10” screen. Add onto this being responsible to get a faculty member to the airport on the last morning of the conference—in my 11-year-old Lumina with known stalling issues and no air-conditioning—and moderating a panel discussion on the Writing Life with five faculty members (none of whom I knew personally before the conference started), and you’ve got the fixin’s for a mighty nervous, panic-stricken writer.

That would be me.

Oh, and did I mention the stress-induced dermatological event that decided to take place all over my face about 36 hours before I left? Yeah, that was fun. It was going to be an annoying exciting week.

And yet, the conference has been over for nearly two weeks, and I look back on it with a wistful fondness. The faculty was unusually diverse and cohesive, covering nearly all aspects of writing among them. I had arrived on the campus of Grove City College that Sunday, moved into my room, and decided that I had too many outside responsibilities this time to enjoy the classes. I’d reconciled myself to this weeks earlier, and seeing the week’s syllabus in my hand didn’t change that decision. I simply had too much to do to indulge in class attendance.

Well, that idea flew right out the window during the opening plenary session, with a keynote speech by Vonda Skelton ( We got to meet the faculty members briefly that evening, and I knew I’d somehow find time to
get to a class or two. By the end of the week, I realized I’d attended as many classes this year as I attended in previous years. I had somehow added on the relatively new responsibilities of newsletter production, contest judging, class teaching,
panel moderating—and, of course, nightly Farm Town harvesting in Facebook with Mel R. (Nothing says “writing conference responsibilities” like shouting across the dorm hall to Mel, whose room often smelled of her latest Bath & Body
Works discovery, “Hire me so I can harvest your sunflowers!”)

Somehow, in spite of all the added tasks that befell me this year, or perhaps because of them, I came home from the conference feeling ready to tackle the world—well, the writing world. And so I have begun to do. I immediately began
making plans to get up to our little trailer in Slippery Rock for a self-imposed writing retreat … where I am writing this post.

But, the subject of writing retreats is for another post.