Soon I’ll be going on my own writers’ retreat, so I invited my friend, N. West Moss, to tell us about her recent writing trip to Florida.
I just got back from a great writing retreat.
What made it so great? Well, it was in Key West, where I was visiting an old college friend who’s also a writer. The people you choose to go on retreat with are vitally important to the success of the retreat. Here, I was with a serious writer who wanted to write as much as I did.
I once went on a writing retreat that was a disaster because I invited someone who had different goals than I did. She wanted to socialize, and I wanted to write like crazy. She got mad at me for going back to my bedroom so I could more work done, and the retreat tanked. I felt guilty, tried to entertain her (unsuccessfully), didn’t get much writing done, and our budding friendship stalled and never recovered.
This time in Key West was heaven, though. I was with a friend I’ve known for over thirty years, so I am relaxed around him. I don’t have to dress up. I don’t have to be anyone but who I am, and that kind of relaxation is great for creative pursuits. He’s also a serious, professional writer, who (unlike me) writes for TV. What we have in common, writing-wise, is that we both had several projects with looming deadlines, so we were equally motivated to put in the hours needed to get real, tangible work done.
Every morning around 7am, one of us would text the other and ask, “Ready for coffee?” We’d meet at the Starbucks on Duvall, and then walk back to his place together, chatting and caffeinating. His computer was set up at one end of his dining room table, and I’d set up my laptop and my stack of index cards at the other end. We’d chat a bit, and then get to the writing, and we’d both write for a few hours before one of us might say, “I need coffee,” or, “I need a walk,” or, “I can’t figure out this scene.” We’d take a small break together, walking around the block and talking about the work, and then we’d get back to it. That’s how the day would go, with hours and hours of writing punctuated by coffee or a walk around the block. In the evenings we’d do something fun – go out to dinner or to a movie, or to a friend’s porch for cocktails.
Why was this better for me than writing at home? Well, I do most of my writing at home, but home for me is full of distractions. There’s the chair covered with cat hair that needs to be cleaned, and the pile of mail to be sorted. Everywhere I look is a chore or an obligation. When the writing gets difficult (which is often), I’ll choose to vacuum or clean the vegetable crisper rather than face the complex problems in my 300-page Work-in-Progress. Being on foreign turf means I am not thinking about anything but the writing all day long, for 7 or 8 hours at a stretch.
I crave this dedicated writing time, and I suspect that most writers do, and while I do apply and attend formal writing residencies whenever possible, I now try to have as many of these do-it-yourself writing retreats as I’m able to every year.
West (N. West Moss) will be at a month-long residency in Scotland during the summer of 2023, and will be Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library in Wales for a month in the fall. Her most recent book, Flesh and Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life (Algonquin 2021) was drafted at a friend’s house in Holland. She can be reached on Instagram @NWestMoss or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.