Some Thoughts After a Writing Retreat

I’m back from a three-day weekend spent at a cabin in the Black Hills on a little “writing retreat.” I got two full days of writing in, and discovered … that two full days wasn’t big enough for my ambitions.

I so rarely get the chance to get away from all other responsibilities and focus on my writing, so I think I had superhuman expectations of what might happen the first time I tried it. Still, I managed to do some journaling, a critique for my writers group, some website admin work, some editing for a friend, and a bit of related reading from Publishing e-Books for Dummies.

I spent most of my time preparing my novella, Rumpled, for release as an ebook. I’ve rewritten, edited, and proofread the manuscript dozens of times over about three years, so I thought it was in pretty good shape. Before this weekend, I hadn’t looked at it in months. I worked on some formatting issues and then decided to do a read-through just to make sure the formatting was clean throughout. That “read-through” ended up swallowing most of my weekend.

I cut one whole scene, I rearranged paragraphs, I deleted sentences and hundreds of words. And just, generally, felt a little dismayed that after all my work and all the readers I’ve shared it with, I still found so much to change. It reminds me of that quote about writing never being finished, just abandoned. I guess for most writers, getting a piece published serves as the ultimate permission to abandon it. But with self-publishing, that line is no longer so clear.

The weekend also overwhelmed me with the realization that I will never have enough time to do all the writing that I want, to perfect all the writing I’ve done, to learn everything I yearn to about the craft. Here, for the first time in my life, I set aside a whole weekend for my writing, literally left the rest of my life behind, and still came out with a “to-do” list that is barely shorter than when I went in. Yet, I also left with the realization that I want to keep striving to find that time, and understanding that this feeling that there will never be enough time in the world to do all the writing I want to do affirms that this really is a spiritual path for me, a lifelong journey, something that I am rather than something I do, with or without any outward signs of success. Now, if only that pesky need to make a living could be somehow dealt with …

I’m going to leave you with a quote by Gish Jen that I have hanging above my desk:

There is never enough time for writing; it is a parallel universe where the days, inconveniently, are also 24 hours long. Every moment spent in one’s real life is a moment missed in one’s writing life, and vice versa.

To write is to understand why Keats writes of living ”under an everlasting restraint, never relieved except when I am composing.” It is to recognize Kafka’s longing to be locked in the innermost room of a basement, with food anonymously left for him. It is to know why Alice Munro describes the face of the artist as unfriendly; and it is to envy Philip Roth, who, rumor has it, has sequestered himself in a cabin in the Berkshires. He is writing, writing, people say, writing without distractions, only writing. To which the news part of us asks: Is that a life? Can you really call that a life? That is our sanity speaking. But another part, the writer part, answers, yes.