A Week at the Beach

I’m home from my little retreat (I got back on Wednesday night). I know some of you are probably curious to hear how it went, so I thought I’d talk about that today.

It was a lovely time. The beach was beautiful. My condo was kind of a hole, which is why it was so cheap, but aside from the one lively roach I had to battle (barefoot!), that didn’t bother me. The view is what mattered, and I had a gorgeous one.

Top left: sunrise from my balcony. Bottom left: from the rocky pier. Right: catching some sun.

Top left: sunrise from my balcony. Bottom left: from the rocky pier. Right: working on some new freckles.

The first two days I was there, I spent most of my time staring at my computer screen and metaphorically pounding my head against the wall. I came to work on Book X. I felt sure I would explode with inspiration, since that book takes place on the beach and I’d set up my computer to look out at the beach. I’d unplugged completely from the internet and I was alone. No distractions. So why weren’t any words coming?

Literally hours a day were spent getting maybe 2,000 words total. This is really bad for me. Usually when I’m drafting I have a word count minimum of 3k a day. On my last retreat, I wrote 5k every day. And this time I was getting 1k and not even loving it? I planned to be working on what I’m calling in my head “my life’s work.” Instead, I found myself drafting a very early reader called “The Sounds of Pooping.” O__O (Don’t ask.) Needless to say, something was off. More than my sanity, I mean.

Luckily, the hub-a-dub and I planned for him to come stay with me for two nights in the middle of my trip. By the time he got there I was so mad at myself I’d nearly given up. I felt guilty and awful for wasting this trip I felt so lucky to have. Then it occurred to me: I’d been comparing my retreat to my last retreat, in which I was revising an already existing novel. I was writing thousands of words a day because I knew what to write. It was not a retreat of inspiration, but productivity.

I was also comparing my retreat to my past vacations. I came up with the idea for Book 2 on a ride from my hometown, and then Book 3 on a trip to Colorado. On these trips, I didn’t write anything. I just absorbed inspiration like a sponge and let ideas tumble around my head.

What I was trying to do with this retreat was both. I wanted the magical rush of ideas from old vacations, but I also wanted the dedicated productivity of word count from my last retreat. I suddenly felt sure that this was the problem. I couldn’t have both.

So I spent the next two days enjoying the beach with my husband – almost no writing at all. We went to an aquarium, a museum, a couple of restaurants. We had a blast, actually. It was an unexpectedly fun mini-vacation for both of us. When he left, I felt refreshed and less stressed.

Poetry started pouring out of me like blood. I couldn’t have stopped if I tried. I put together a new chapbook. I got two new short story ideas and started them, letting them drop when inspiration turned into work. I decided that, hey, I can work at home. Inspiration is what I really needed. New energy, the tank recharged by solar power. I woke up to see the sunrise every morning. I laid out during the warmest part of the day. I took walks on the beach every night.

I realized that I’d tried to keep my muse on a leash, like I often do at home. But she wanted to play. I wanted to play.

Instead of sitting at my computer and writing new words, I started storyboarding for Book X. Yes, I have Scrivener for this, but it really isn’t the same. I wanted to walk around, gesture, get mumbly. I wanted to pick up my pages, run a thumb over the words, fucking roll in it.

There’s a quote by Tom Gauld: “I love using the computer but I try to stay away from it till I’ve done most of the thinking for an idea, looked at it from all sides, because I feel that once the computer is involved things are on an inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless.” Yes. That’s what I had been feeling.

I didn’t use my computer much after that. Just notepads, pens, sticky notes, sand, sun, and gray matter.

This WIP isn’t ready to be drafted yet. I don’t want it to be on the “inevitable path to being finished.” It has always been my “background project,” the one I come back to when I feel inspired. I was hoping that maybe over the past 6 years I’d gained enough to piece it together, but I haven’t. And this WIP means too much to me to force it. So instead, I relinquished the reins and played. And the rest of my trip was sort of magical.

The muse, after all, has wings; every once in a while you’ve got to take off the leash and let her use them.

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  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    So glad your muse got you to come out and play (SO important – as witnessed by your productivity once you relaxed). I really like, also, how you are taking the time to nurture the new story that means SO much to you.

    As for posting, I think you should announce all of your posts here. I, personally, would like to be updated when you’ve got a new Twitter post up, and want to read more here about other writerly things as well!

    • Thanks Melissa! If I announce my posts here, do you think I should just link to them in my regular posts, or give them their own? This is new territory for me! Thanks very much for the input.

      • Melissa

        I say link to them in your regular post (the way you did here). I confess, I got a bit confused by others’ comments. Was that the consensus?

        • Hehe, there was no consensus. Some say replace or add and others just say link in normal posts. I think I’ll probably just link to them in my regular posts without replacing them.

  • Melissa Frye

    I’m so happy your retreat refreshed your muse and you as well. It’s important to take care of our creative selves.

    As for your posts, I would link to them in your regular posts. We want a dose of Annie when we visit this blog and I personally will consider your posts at Writer Unboxed an extension of you. Did that make any sense at all?

  • Hi Annie! First time visitor (I know, I suck) and it was fun to read about how not writing actually got you writing! We can easily get sucked into our writer caves and not realize that getting out in the world is what inspires most of our writing in the first place! As far as posts go, I think you could substitute a regular post for your Writer Unboxed post because it is only once a month. I would link up to it here and then readers can head over there to comment. Nina did that on her blog and I think it worked out nicely. As far as tweeting it, however, I would just send people directly to the Writer Unboxed post rather than to your site. Gosh, hope this all makes sense. I look forward to reading your Twitterly posts!

    • Hi Hallie! You don’t suck. =)~ Thanks for stopping by. Yes, that makes sense! And I agree about tweeting to WU instead of here. I learned the closed-comments thing from Nina, so I’m totally with you. Thanks!

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I’m in the same boat as you with the posts elsewhere every other month (at Writer Unboxed, too — twinsies, right?!), and I’ve decided i’m going to add it to my posts (rather than replace it) on my own site. Otherwise I’ll get out of sync — in my own mind if nowhere else. Plus, I may not be writing about the same kinds of things or toward the same readership. I will likely tweet about them, but I don’t think I’ll link to them in my own blog (with an exception of the first time).

    p.s. wow, you were super productive with the storyboard, and it’s a very cool way of doing it!

    • Yes! We are Writer Unboxed twinsies! =D That’s true that it might not necessarily be the same readership. Hopefully there is overlap, but I can’t assume that all of my readers here are interested in Twitter. And yeah, I was pleased with how the storyboarding worked out. I really liked that I could just fold the whole thing up and bring it home, but after moving the sticky notes around so much some of them did start to lose their adhesiveness. =/

  • Regina Richards

    Love the idea of getting mumbly!

  • TrudieMarie

    The beach was gorgeous! As far as your posts go, how about taking turns? *add* then *replace* That could get confusing, but not for you! Try Super Sticky notes – you know I’m an expert! They’re thinking about making their way to some kind of folder – just thinking. And confused I’ve made everyone else – sorry!

    • Yes, but *I* know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. And unfortunately, I think they were super sticky; just not super enough, I guess. 😉

  • Barb Riley

    Hi Annie! If you and Julia are WU twinsies, then you & I are twinsies on the storyboarding-by-hand technique! I have Scrivener (and love it), too, but there is something about handwriting during the planning stage that triggers a different, and more creative part of my brain. (Omg, the Tom Gauld quote… YES!!) Btw, my “system” looks very similar to yours except I use a cork board & index cards. Glad you to hear your retreat left you feeling refreshed. I think these days with electronics available 24/7, more people will find that when they unplug, they might first have to sort of “detox” for a while before they can even *think* about using the time for any kind of productivity.

    Congrats on your new WU slot. I’m not on twitter, but I do read WU faithfully, so I will look forward to seeing what you have to say. 🙂

    • Hi Barb! Thanks for stopping by. =) Storyboard twinsies! Yay! I think yours is probably better, though, since my sticky didn’t stick for long; cork probably lasts. Although, can you move your corkboard around easily, or is attached to something? I don’t know if I have a large enough empty wall to do that…

      And yes, “detox” is the perfect word for it. I did notice that, too, while I was there. I’m glad I had a week, because it would have been frustrating to “detox” and get used to being unplugged only to go back right away. I think that’s important, though, to do occasionally.

  • jclementwall

    Laughing at your epiphany – I’ve had it too. Many times, only not usually in such pretty surroundings. Good for you for letting inspiration lead you in the end.

    I never thought about it Tom Gauld’s words, but when I’m stuck on any writing project, I grab a notebook and get off the computer. I’ve always thought it was just the change of perspective that helped, but I think Gauld’s right. In my notebook, I don’t expect me to be perfect, or even good. I scribble and rethink and doodle and draw arrows to link ideas.

    Great debut on WU! I need to scroll through your answers on whether to post here and there or just there with a note here. I’ve been wondering how to handle that too. (And comments. I’d rather have comments where my post is, so should I turn them off on my end?)

    • Yes, that’s exactly it. I used to draft all of my poetry by hand and type it up later; I think I’m going to go back to doing that more often. I really liked it. And thank you!

      There’s not much of a consensus, I’m afraid, except that they do think I should post a link to my WU posts here *somewhere*. It’s just a matter of making that my weekly post, adding it as a 2nd weekly post, or linking to it *in* my weekly post. I think I’ll do the last, so that my email subscribers don’t start getting tons of new emails. If I get worn down or really swamped one month, I might replace — otherwise, I think I’ll just add on. And as to turning off comments… I do. I don’t know if that’s the right choice, but in general we want to drive the comments to the actual post, and that’s the only way I know to do that.

  • Jolina Petersheim

    I’m actually at the beach right now and haven’t worked much on my WIP, though I brought my laptop along. I have read books and soaked up sunshine and people-watched. I feel ready to tackle my work on the way home. Loved visiting here, Annie!

    • That’s great, Jolina! People watching is something I didn’t get to do much of. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay! And thanks for stopping by. =)

  • TrudieMarie

    I sure liked what jclementwall said five days ago – “I need to scroll through your answers on whether to post here and there or just there with a note here.” Twas? very clever!

  • “The muse, after all, has wings; every once in a while you’ve got to take off the leash and let her use them.” This is just…perfect. I’m so glad you had a great beach retreat and that you got much-needed play time. It’s just as important as butt-in-chair time.

  • I’ve been meaning to post for a while because I love that you did this. I think it’s wise for a writer to travel in general and even smarter to just get away purely for work. It’s sort of glamorous even with possibilities of cockroaches, lol.

    I’m also curious about your story boarding. Do you have a post on your process for that that I might have missed? It looks like it’d be so handy.

    • I know what you mean. It was kind of glamorous, cockroaches and all. =) And no, I didn’t really post about the storyboarding, because I don’t feel like I have any good tips to share. I was totally flying by the seat of my pants, and I’m almost certain I could have done it in a more logical way. The only things I really liked about how I did it were color-coding by character and the actual board itself, which I was able to fold up and take home. Sorry!

  • Your application of the post-it storyboard was lacking in ambition 🙂