Having turned the latest manuscript over to the publisher for editing, I’m giving myself time to “dink around”. I’m writing pamphlets, blog posts, fiction, and other experimental pieces. I needed to knock out a set of blog posts and tried doing it at home and rediscovered why I go on writing retreats. Even when Alex and Ted leave me strictly alone, with only the occasional interruption for something urgent, there’s the cats! There’s no cutting a deal with cats. Especially Princess Ludmilla, who baps me with her paw until she gets what she wants.
So I decided to do a writing retreat and see if I can just focus on doing small pieces. I’ve been doing writing retreats for more than a decade. I used to hunt out cabins in remote places: the Cranbury Coast, Lake Cushman, Silver Lake, Westport, Long Beach, Pacific Beach, Guemes Island, Quillayute River. When I could spend a week I booked into the Whidbey Island Writers Refuge.
To knock out the latest book I needed to get away almost every weekend. Renting a cabin that often was cost prohibitive. Fortunately Ted’s mom Carol offered me the use of her house. After Ted’s dad died she moved to an assisted living apartment in Bremerton where Ted and I can see her very frequently (we take her to dinner and the theater and Nordstrom’s, because that’s how she rolls.) I bought a Costco chair and a laptop table, brought in some sheets and pillows from home, and took over her den.
I spent some time tidying up the house. Ted’s dad had left magazines virtually everywhere and I stacked them in the garage. I hired a housecleaner to come in and clean up the refrigerator and wipe the house down. After that, I took on the housekeeping chores myself, because with one person spending a small amount of time in the house there isn’t really much that happens to it. I did get cable TV, Internet, and the phone bundle from the local provider, as Carol had turned off all of those services. She had also turned off garbage and I got that back in place as well. I was introduced to the gardener/caretaker who monitors the house after he came out on a Friday and politely asked if I knew Carol! He’d forgotten that we’d met. Carol tucked a note into her monthly check to him authorizing my presence.
In the early months of the draft I was finding my voice. I don’t think a single word I wrote in the first month made it to the final draft. To get myself into the writing mood, I went for long walks, and I explored the area. This is an amazing retirement community dropped into a fully functional agricultural ecosystem. Houses with big views are tucked in among fields of cows. . There is a 10 mile food shed furnishing almost everything you’d need to cook – vegetables, meat, diary, flour – and retired folks eager for decent restaurants. I ate lunch and dinner at every eatery with a local food connection. I went to the First Friday Art walk, I joined the local museum, I poked around the little downtown shops.
As I gained traction in the writing I did less recreating. I would drive out on Friday, read what I had written in the previous weekend, wake up on Saturday and draft until I fell over into the bed, get up on Sunday and draft to the end of the section, and then drive home. The winter weather was conducive to staying indoors – it was cold, rainy, and dark. I edited the manuscript in pretty much the same way.
So this weekend was a reset in the writing process. I have been out here in a month. Dire things have happened to the house in the meantime – it had sprung a leak and needed to be repaired. Also the Internet router had reset itself needing to be reconfigured. I spent Friday night managing these things.
I slept in on Saturday and woke up moving very slowly. I live with two retired guys and I know the truism that it takes two years to recover from the sleep deprivation of American working life plays out in practice. I didn’t hear the words in my head. When I write, I am really rather taking dictation, and I wake up with that dictation already flowing. On workdays the thoughts vanish under the present I can just get up and start recording. On writing retreats I get up and start recording.
I have a lot of thoughts and no focus. So I went into town. I ate at nourish, a local food restaurant in the old Herb Farm. I went to the art museum and checked out the photos of Ross Hamilton in a 14 year retrospective. I took pictures of local food outlets for my food blog.
I drove down Dungeness Landing and took pictures of a young bald eagle and the lighthouse in the distance. When I found myself cruising past the Dungeness Cemetery I recalled that Ross Hamilton had said it has the best view of Sequim-Dungeness Valley. It’s a lovely place.
So it wasn’t a production weekend, but I got some material, recharged my batteries, and made space for the creative process. Which is what dinking around really means.