I am coming to the end of my weeklong writing retreat. It has been exhausting and completely rejuvenating at the same time. It always is.
I was fairly nervous about this trip at the beginning of the week just because my past two retreats have been entirely focused on a singular project with an end goal. Last year, my goal was to write as much of the novel as possible. I got half of it down before coming home and then finished it over the next three to four months. This part still amazes me because at the time, I had to write in such small increments, it seemed I was barely moving at all. It seemed a waste to even try with such small periods of time to sit down and work. But by summer, the first draft was complete, which just proves that small steps will still get you where you’re going.
This has been a hard lesson for me because I usually feel that I need huge chunks of time to accomplish anything. “Oh, I only have 20 minutes? Well, what’s the point of that?” But 20 minutes every day for a week adds up to over two hours. By the end of the month, you have about 10 hours of writing under your belt. It sounds different when you break it down like that, doesn’t it?
The same can apply to all the things we procrastinate and put off—exercise, art, sewing, learning a new skill, reading. We humans are terrific at letting distractions take us away from what we want. This explains Facebook.
The writing retreat in the fall was dedicated entirely to revision of the novel. That part was not nearly as much fun as the actual writing. But I was focused, and I got it done.
This week, however, my plan was just to write. It was too open-ended. I floundered for a couple of days. Oh, I wrote. A lot. But I didn’t know what to do with it when I finished. Some were family stories, some were essays, some were a mix—but it didn’t have a clear focus. It made me really uncomfortable.
After a couple of days, though, I realized, it also made me happy. Really happy. I enjoyed writing this week. The words just spilled across the page. My fingers could barely keep up with my brain. It was wonderful.
For the first time in a really long time, I wrote completely for myself and without worrying about an end product. It was the process, not finishing, that kept me working. I hear about that whole “it’s the process, not the product” thing from other artists all the time, but I’ve never really been able to jump on board with that thinking. I mean, holy crap, I only have a finite amount of time to get this stuff done, so there’s no room for messing around, playing with the words and “letting it flow.” Who has time for that?
Well, as it turns out, I do. I had time, and lo and behold, I wrote some good stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong—there was more bad than good. I told my writing buddies that Anne Lamott would be super proud of me this week because, by gosh, I have written many “shitty first drafts” and some of it is worthless, but these drafts allowed me to get to the really good stuff. The good stuff isn’t as plentiful, but I see sparks of real possibility in all those sheets of paper. And I see glimmers of a next project lurking in there– in some of the dark places.
There’s something to be said for “enjoying the process,” and I think it probably applies to more than writing.
*The photos are from this past Sunday on a walk with Harper Lee. We were experimenting with new settings on the camera. I took the time to play some more this week, but the camera battery died and I failed to bring the charger. In that whole bag of cords and plugs, I failed to bring the battery charger. Oh well. Good beach shots to follow. And, again, proof that good things come from play.