Did those words cause your arms to break out in goosebumps? Is there anything more heavenly than the thought of you, your notebook or laptop, and a quiet, serene place to write for hours and days on end?
This is how some writer's do it – do not call, do not email, do not tweet, I am writing with a boiling fury for the next six days and on the seventh I shall rest with a finished manuscript as my pillow.
That's an awesome way to do it. Of course, not all of us have the means to facilitate that kind of retreat.
Last October, I had a fun idea for a novel. I sat down and got out the first 1,500 words in one session and felt pretty pleased...until I looked at the progress meter. It's always frustrating when, once again, you realize just how much it takes to get a first draft done.
I was in the middle of some pretty major life and job transitions, and hammering out 1-2k a day wasn't at the top of my list of priorities. So instead, I did nothing for about a week.
Then I realized – if I'd sat down for 30 minutes and written about 250 words a day...hey! I'd be pretty close to 2,000, and 3,500 total at the end of the week instead. Not too shabby, and certainly better than the big fat 0 I'd produced that week. So I gave it a try.
I just finished the first draft in February. My mini-retreats never lasted more than an hour per day, and I did not do them every day. My goal was 250-500 per session, and I stuck to that pretty religiously.
And I found a side effect to this method that I think might actually be very similar to a real, intense writer's retreat. In a long retreat, you immerse yourself in the story completely until it's finished. With a mini-retreat, you're immersed, but in a different way. It doesn't boil – it simmers.
I found myself doing other things – walking my dog, working other jobs – thinking of the words I'd written most recently, and what would happen next. I'd see something and it would trigger another idea, another plot twist, another character. The story started changing as wrote little by little, to the point where I was convinced the first draft would be a total disjointed mess as I incorporated one new element after another.
But once I realized the positive effect it was having on the story overall, I loved it. In fact, I had to force myself to stop writing at times because I wanted to take that time and think about it. I slipped past 500 words on a few occasions, but never too far. I liked the simmering. I learned patience.
Once I finished, I took a short break. When I opened the first draft and read it through, I was surprised.
It flowed – surprisingly well, actually. There were some changes to make, of course – fairly big ones – but it wasn't the complete mess I was terrified it would be. And looking back on it, I feel like writing a tiny bit, then taking another 24 hours to let it soak in, gave me the ability to make some connections in the story I might have missed otherwise.
Is this for everyone? Of course not. I'm just sharing what worked for me and hoping it might work for a few others as well.
One of the worst things anyone can say to a writer is "Oh, I want to write a novel, I just don't have the time." We all know that's crap – none of us have the time, we make the time – but if you're in a place where making the time is really difficult right now, give mini-retreats a shot. Even if it's just 30 minutes every other day – there's a finished first draft waiting at the end.