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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