by Annette Lyon
Last week, from Thursday afternoon through Sunday morning, I attended a writing retreat.
The group consisted of twenty writers. Under the direction and coordination of Danyelle Ferguson, we rented out a cabin in the mountains and wrote out hearts out. Imagine: a three-floor cabin virtually silent, save for the tapping of keyboards. We took breaks for meals. We had several competitions where we did 20-minute writing sprints, cranking out as many words as we could. There were door prizes, laughter, great talk, and lots and lots of words.
If memory serves, we wrote more than a combined 266,000 words. That's more than 5 NaNoWriMo books. The retreat overlapped with Precision Editing's own write-a-thon, so several attendees hunkered down to write even harder during that period.
Part of my personal success on the retreat (I ended up just shy of 26,000 words) was thanks to advance preparation.
A few things that helped:
- A list of upcoming scenes with brief descriptions. And by "brief," I mean less than a sentence. I had 10 or so scenes planned out. That way, I could hop around and write whatever section hit my fancy (and jump to a brand new one when we started a sprint).
- A novel in progress. I think that starting a manuscript from scratch at a retreat might be challenging. But by showing up with nearly half the book already written, I didn't have to flounder around, trying to find my characters' voices or what the major conflicts were. Instead, I hit the ground running.
- Scrivener. This is my first attempt at writing with the software (which is now available for Windows, booyah). The program made the retreat really easy, because I could swap from one scene to the next with (literally) a click or two of the mouse. I stamped my scene cards on the program's cork board with labels like "To Do," "Partial Draft," "First Draft," "Revised Draft," and "Done."
- Find your way to focus. Whether that's silence, music, or something else (chocolate?), use it.
- Breaks. You can't write for twelve hours straight, several days in a row. Your (or, at least, my) brain can't handle it. Some attendees set timers for regular breaks. You'll be more productive with a few well-timed breaks than trying to plow through more words when your brain has turned to mush.
Every retreat is a bit different. Some may require attendees to take turns cooking. Others may include speakers (we had a set of speakers during lunch Friday) or workshops. And so on.
I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year (although, for inspiration, I wore the hoodie I bought myself when I won last year), but it was a great kick-off for those doing it.
I got a ton accomplished on my WIP, and I had a great time getting there. If you ever get the chance to attend a retreat, I highly recommend it.