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.