What really happens during a writer's retreat

Wow. WOW. I just finished a week-long writer's retreat and it wasn't at all what I expected. In some ways it was amazing, but in other ways it was a harsh reality and an emotional roller-coaster ride.

I set myself up at a Canadian-log cabin in the woods, overlooking a frozen lake surrounded by a snow-covered forest--a true winter wonderland! I couldn't have asked for a more perfect environment to inspire my writing. However, even though I was set for a productive week, I still had some setbacks as a result of my own flawed expectations. I went into the retreat wanting to complete a minimum of 20,000 words of new content, when clearly my body and mind had other priorities. Here's a recap of how it all went down.

Hits and misses of my writer's retreat

- I didn't come close to the amount of actual "writing" I thought I could accomplish with all of my free time, so in a way that's disappointing. But I did write a lot of content in a non-linear sequence. So even though it doesn't appear as if I've accomplished that much, I actually strengthened the structure of the entire novel from beginning to end.

- I came down with a bad cold a couple of days before arriving at the cottage, so I was constantly coughing, sneezing, and blowing my nose, as well as fighting off mental fog and a sinus headache. But I couldn't have asked for a more comfortable, warm, relaxing environment to recover in, and since I worked at my own pace, my sniffling didn't really get in the way too much. 

- It was quiet in the woods--like really quite--so when I actually heard a noise outside (or in the pipes), I got super paranoid at what it could be (think Abominable Snowman). Of course, this would take me away from my writing as I peeked out the windows and paced around the rooms to work off nervous energy. 

- I ate delicious, healthy meals but I snacked like crazy on chips and chocolate cake...like everyday! I can't remember a time when I've eaten so much chocolate cake. It's amazing how important food becomes when you're all alone with it! So this meant I had some crazy sugar rushes to deal with while trying to focus on my computer screen.

- I worked at the dining-room table, which wasn't entirely ergonomic, but it gave me lots of space to spread out my papers. It also forced me to put on my snowsuit and go outside for much needed stretch breaks and fresh air. 

Stacey D. Atkinson on a writer's retreat

- I had moments of panic when I thought I'd never make it as an author because I was writing too slowly, so I spent a couple of hours on my Elance.com account bidding for editing jobs. Then I got mad at myself for wasting my precious writing retreat on the Internet, and forced myself to write some more pages even when I was clearly losing focus.

- On the sixth day, one day before the end of my retreat, my ink well runneth dry. I literally had nothing left in me to write, partly from the fatigue of the cold and partly from simply writing and thinking about my book morning, noon, and night.

Finally, instead of forcing myself to keep writing, I decided to leave the cottage a day early. I showered (finally, ha!), packed my things, and drove to Kingston to spend the afternoon with my friend Patricia, who's the real-life inspiration for my new book about her amazing life as a British midwife to Aboriginal and Inuit families living in coastal Labrador (NL) in the 1970s, and how she became a doctor to work with Parkinson and dementia patients, only to succumb to the diseases herself. After a week of being alone, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed her company. Plus, I learned that sometimes just being with people, especially brave and interesting women like Patricia, can offer the best kind of writing inspiration of all!  

Stacey & Patricia in Kingston

Happy writing everyone! May you find a time and place for your own writing retreat, even if it's in your spare bedroom.

Stacey D. Atkinson is the author of the newly released novel Stuck, which she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.

Leave a comment

Add comment