Writers’ Retreat – December 2011, New Mexico

"We both do ghosts. And it's hot."

I am FINALLY writing this darn blog post about the Writers’ Retreat L. and I went on in December. I had always planned to, but when L. wrote her write-up of the same retreat and mentioned I’d be doing a lengthier one, she kind of tied my hands. Something I really do appreciate, so thanks friend!

First, this Writers’ Retreat post can stand as some sort of proof that L. and I really do know each other in real life. Because see, here we are, standing right next to each other:

We were heading out to dinner and decided we need the typical Look-At-Us self portrait. I am on the left, L. is on the right, and that’s what we look like. If you didn’t know. I gotta say, I was impressed with L.’s camera skills because she knew to use the hotel room’s mirror to see what was displaying it the camera before she snapped this. I wouldn’t have ever thought to do that. And you can’t see it in this picture, but you can in this off-center one…

…L. and I brought pretty much the same “nice-ish” outfit to wear to dinner due to the hotel restaurant’s dress code: sweater, skinnys, knee-high boots. So that’s my proof that we have, indeed, known each other a long time. Possibly, too long when we unintentionally bring the same outfit-style on a retreat together.

But seriously, aside from our odd fashion discovery, L. and I did a lot of real work on this quick 24-hour retreat. Here was our schedule:

Check-in to hotel at 3:00 pm. Drop off stuff. Head immediately to the nearest coffee shop. Which turned out to be a Starbucks because we picked, apparently, the only part of town without any local coffee joints. Which is maybe not so surprising in hindsight because we did say in the major tourist trap.

Work at Starbucks from 3:30 pm to almost 6:00 pm. I read L.’s various version of a query letter, and then gave her possibly the worst advice ever: slam them all together. But more on this later. L. read the first 20 pages of a quirky, fun WiP idea I started having in October, and said it didn’t suck. She even laughed out loud at one point. And then we took our stuff back, read the comments, and worked silently until I noticed there was an impossibly long line for the bathroom (directly in my line of vision) and L. realized she’d been staring at a teen boy for the better part of an hour (not intentionally, just mind-blanking in his general direction).

Head back to hotel. Decide to eat early dinner. Change into outfits shown above (spend 20 minutes commenting on the similarity & taking photographic evidence of similarities). Go to dinner at hotel restaurant around 6:30 pm. So here is about where the evening goes down hill. The food was absolutely horrible. I mean, awful. And expensive. And we are writers on tight budgets. So we each get a caprese salad, which L. thought would be a real salad with tomatoes and mozzarella, and which I knew was not a real salad and ONLY tomatoes and mozzarella. Needless to say, it was not a lot of food and we’d been writing for hours. Sitting still works up quite an appetite. But beyond that, we didn’t bring any other food. That was our biggest mistake of the whole retreat, not remembering to do something as obvious as BUY SNACKS for a trip that was about SITTING STILL AND WRITING for hours on end. Yes, so, we’re idiots.

By 7:30 pm, we’d paid our dinner bill and returned to our room, where we sat and worked some more. Really, we did. We both set up shop on my bed, and we pulled our work back out of our bags, and we asked claryfying questions about the comments & offered up possible changes. And then, we started tweeting each other in order to not break the Atmosphere of Diligent Work. At one point, this is where L. and I ended up while tweeting and working…

Shortly after this, around 9:30 or so, we decided to take another break from writing. Which then turned into taking the rest of the night off and just having fun being friends & catching up.

Fast forward to the next morning, at 6:00 am… The thing about not eating much dinner? You get really hungry 12 hours later. L. and I both woke up at the absurdly early and evil time of 6 o’clock. I told her to call down and see what time breakfast began, and she did, and thank gosh it started at 6 ‘clock in the morning! (Obviously this is for business people and not writer people.)  So we jumped out of bed, rushed downstairs in our PJs and socks, and ordered toast and OJ to go.  You don’t believe me? That’s OK. I got photographic evidence of this, too.

L. eating 6 am toast in bed

At 8:30, we woke up for the second time and waited on room service ordered the night before with our fancy room service voucher. Unfortunately, I’d put the wrong time on the card. I thought I put 8:30 breakfast. I put 9:45 breakfast. Not even close. This time, L. made me call down and ask them to bring up our food early. Fortunately, they did. Also, they included the pot of coffee we wanted for free! Unfortunately, breakfast was as terrible as dinner so L. and I pretty much just drank the coffee.

At 10:00 am, we settled back in to work again until we had to check out at noon. And work we did. It was a very productive two hours, with me on my bed, and L. on her bed, and no tweeting back and forth, and no staring off into space at other people. For the first hour, L. read me lines of her query. Turns out, “slamming everything together” involves taking each line apart and then putting each line back together again. (Sorry about that, L.!) We finally uncovered the exact what of what wasn’t working in her query, so that was successful. For the second hour, L. helped me outline the major scenes of my WiP, turning it from a quirky idea I had into an actual sketch of a novel outline.

So, all in all, L. and I had a very successful first Writers’ Retreat. For only having 24 hours in our winter schedule for this, I think we did a lot in a little time (considering we also had to catch-up as friends).

WHAT WORKED:

Setting goals to meet. L. wanted to get a basically final draft of her query letter done. Judging by the fact that it’s currently sitting in my inbox awaiting one last look-over, I’d say she accomplished that.  I wanted to have the major scenes of my new novel-in-progress identified, which I do. L. also helped me sketch out some world-rules for my novel-in-progress that really helped.

Mixing up locations. Not only was getting out of our houses and our usual writing haunts super refreshing, so was going between Starbucks and hotel room during the actual retreat. Also, it’s amazing how much a quiet hotel room really only leaves you with one option: actually working. (Of course, quiet is relative. L. was going to bash in our heater because it clicked.)

24 hours. Only having 24 hours for this retreat was, actually, rather beneficial. First, L. and I had to set reasonable goals to be met in the shortened time period. I picked something that I knew I could do if I just didn’t distract myself so much, something that I’d usually give myself a few days to do in the “real world”, and I expected me to do it, sans-distraction, in the one day I had. Which totally worked out. Also, with only 24 hours, there isn’t any time to waste. So you just do. (Of course, in the future, I hope we also have days for writing.)

WHAT DIDN’T WORK:

Not bringing food. Or water. I am a snack-eating writer. I like having something near me while I write so that if  I have to pause to ponder, I can still be doing something. L. is also this kind of writer. How both of us forgot to stock up on snacks on our way to the hotel is a miraculous blunder. And, hotel water sucks. Bottled water is totally required next time, and maybe something caffeinated since I’m sure the next hotel won’t comp our coffee bill.

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2 Comments

  1. You make it sound like I take those weird mirror photos! For the record, I have never done that, and am making fun of ours.
    Our next retreat will be even better!!!! I’m so excited!
    So many good inside jokes that are too inappropriate to share.
    And I eat while writing so I’m not sure how we missed that….
    And I’m ready for my hair to be lighter and normal again….

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