Writer’s Retreat, Part 2

You can find Writer’s Retreat: Part 1 here

Part-reward, part-work, I spent five days of my Spring Break in central Michigan on the Muskegon River. I was determined to get through the first round of revisions of the manuscript. I had officially “finished” the manuscript a week earlier (though some chapters were absolutely rushed, and it did not have an introduction or conclusion), but I knew if I really wanted to get the revision done, I would need to take some time away from Louisville. At home, I could get distracted by wedding planning, grading, or lesson planning — or anything on social media. I can get sucked into Pinterest for hours, and it will win over rereading my manuscript most days.

After I finished my sandwich at Panera and decided chapters 1-3 were where I wanted them to be, I drove over to the Big Rapids Riverwalk for a short hike. The walk reminded me a lot of walking in Norway, actually. Long-time (long, long-time) readers of my blog might remember one of my earliest posts about Stavanger, Norway. Besides getting lost looking for my hostel, most of my walking into town went through a forest via a paved trail. There was construction on one side, and the forest was open enough that pockets of light left the ground polka-dotted. The riverwalk in Big Rapids, Michigan was just like this.

I also have not wilfully gone off trail because “something looks interesting,” since my time abroad, and I forgot how much fun that is. At one point in my walk a trail on the other side of the river looked more fun, so I figured out a mixture of jaywalking, stairs-climbing, and backtracking to get over there. I think that was when I really got to the “creative” part of my retreat. Deciding to be as open as when I was living in England just for the sake of seeing what was on the other end of a trail switched my mindset from “work” to “writing.”

I went back to the cabin to finish chapters four and five. I made substantial changes to chapter four, which started out as an exploration of the men in the Challenges and Possibilities program learning community values, but it moved to three narratives following only two presenters and their series: Strategies for Changing Your Life. In it, the reader sees the two mature women, Ginny and Harriet, tying blindfolds onto half of their men, individual men getting up to hula hoop in front of their group-mates, and two of the men laying on the floor whooping with laughter. I hope you get to read it someday!

After that, I worked on a puzzle. For the rest of this blog post, I want to talk to you about what I brought on the retreat.

What I brought:

Pre-packaged meals and snacks: Even though I love to cook, I knew that I would want something easy while working on the book. If I had not brought pre-packaged meals, my mind would have been on “what do I want to cook tonight?” instead of “Which TV dinner do I take out of the freezer?” and the second question takes a lot less time to answer.

A print copy of the manuscript AND my laptop: A lot of blogs about retreats encouraged its readers to go strictly old school and bring paper and pens instead of laptop or computer. I ended up bringing both, but I used my laptop much more than my red pens. If you are planning a writing retreat to a place without WIFI, though, make sure that your Google Docs are set to “offline editing” mode so you can edit without an Internet connection. This really became the best of both worlds — I didn’t have the distractions of social media, Netflix, or Youtube, but I could still easily read and edit my work. I could also take my laptop into town, do all my research and leave the tabs open, then head back to the cabin and pick out the quotes I needed there.

A sudoku book: I got this my second day when I realized my audiobooks were not going to make it through the whole trip. I needed something mentally stimulating that had nothing to do with words, so sudoku seemed like the perfect fit. When I felt overly exhausted from revising my work and wanted to take a break but not call it a day yet, I pulled out my sudoku and did a few puzzles. Then I felt refreshed enough to keep plugging along.

“Writing clothes:” There are clothes that I bet you have that are comfortable but also say “we’re doing stuff today.” These aren’t your leggings or pajama pants and hoodies, these are your skinny jeans that you’ve owned for three or four years and that sweater that fits well but still feels cozy. I brought along my writing clothes because if I brought my comfy clothes, I’d nap my whole retreat away. If you are going to take a retreat soon, definitely bring some comfy clothes with you, but don’t forget the clothes that will tell you it’s time to get down to business.

And here’s a hodgepodge of other things I found useful, but not useful enough to write an ode to: my stapler, my favorite books, a big book to use instead of a clipboard, slip-on shoes, post-its, a big ol’ candle, and a sense of humor about my own work (that’s actually pretty important, maybe more on that later).

I hope you take a retreat if you have a project you want to finish or if you feel weighed down by everything you have to do. I’ll keep talking about my experience over the next couple weeks, as well as another health update, a response to Restorative Justice, my plans for the next stage of the book, what it’s like to miss a physical location and not people.


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