How To Make the Most of Your Writing Retreat in Maine

We are nearing the end. Soon we will have to bid farewell to wide plank floorboards, the leaky kitchen sink, the view of lounge chairs in the sun (on which we do not sit becuase we are writers writing), the quiet, the peace, the stillness.

But I am not leaving empty handed. And while it’s tempting to slip some of the amazing artwork on these walls into my purse, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about knowledge. Because while this week was very productive, next time we do this I’m going to be even better prepared. Here’s my advice to myself. Perhaps it’s useful to you, too.

  1. If you come to this particular house, don’t bring any books. There are plenty. Also, you are here to write, not to read. Put down that book and get back to work.
  2. Running every day and yoga on the lawn is not a waste of an hour because it will make you more efficient during writing time.
  3. Don’t be the kind of person who checks facebook and twitter all the time. Once in a while is okay. Also, people can tell when you’re on those sites and they will wonder why you are not working. Let this be your prophylactic.
  4. Updating a blog totally counts as writing time.
  5. Checking your stats does not.
  6. Find your corner early. Mine is in the living room crouched over a wooden bench on which my computer rests. Sometimes I sit in the green leather chair. Sometimes I sit on the floor. Wherever you work best, make it yours. Growl at anyone who tries to make you move. But if you go on a retreat with the right person (see #9), you won’t have to worry about squatters.
  7. Find your window early. Because you have to look up sometimes, and it’s best to look at something lovely but not so lovely that you want to gaze endlessly.
  8. Don’t go hungry but don’t eat more than usual. This is not a vacation. This is working. Would you eat Pop Tarts at the office? Of course not. Don’t eat them on your writing retreat. (Don’t eat them ever–they’re not good for you.)
  9. People who you can be alone with are rare and valuable. Find some and hang on to them.
  10. Grant yourself an evening out. Just one. Call it research.
  11. Don’t be bothered by anything. It takes work to get to Maine. It’s hard to leave behind your job and family. Make those favors and logistics worth it. Don’t be bothered by stupid stuff like low water pressure. This house has great water pressure, by the way. But if the water pressure were low, it would still be the perfect place to write.
  12. Bring painkillers, because writing for ten hours a day hurts.
  13. Miss your people back home. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around often, unless you’re a certain type of person, which I am not. Miss them and delight in them when you return.
  14. Make plans for next year. Retreats are definitely an annual kind of thing.

We have one more night here, and we are going out to dinner soon (see #10) to celebrate all of our productivity. Goodbye house. Goodbye time. Goodbye bowls of mush.

Missing

I’m slightly more than halfway through my Maine escape. And just a few minutes ago I was nearly laid flat with the missing of my family. I’m not a sentimental person. I do not weep easily at sunsets. I know the value of alone time and I use it wisely. But. For a moment just now, I wanted nothing more than to be in my bed at home with my husband right here and the youngest right here and the middle over here and the oldest over there. It was a physical wanting, like a craving. It’s passed, but the aftereffects are still floating in the room and might descend at any moment. I might cry. I might pour a glass of wine and turn on aimless television to avoid feeling this way. Except… it’s my job to feel this way. I came to Maine to write and I have been writing enough that my fingers are sore, seriously in pain, but also, part of writing is feeling and feeling this is useful. It will bleed into my work and make it richer. And also, the greater the missing, the greater the joy upon return. I miss my husband’s smell. We really are just animals in human form, right? I miss my boys’ voices, even though part of why I had to come was so that there would be only one voice in my head–my own. I miss my cats. Especially the boy cat, who loves to snuggle on couches or in beds. It’s so good to miss the things I love. It’s a reminder: of fleetingness, of priorities, of how crucial a day can be. But also, I miss them.

It’s Raining in Maine

Part of the writing process, at least today, has been watching robins suck worms from the front lawn of this rented house in Maine. B and I are here for the week to write. The house is old and exposes much of its raw wood. The stove is gas and tricky, and the beds are lumpy and comfortable. I chose this place randomly after hours of looking at the offerings of AirBnB. I realized that what I should really focus on was the inside of the house, not how far it was from a beach or coffee shop. And once that criteria was established, this place came into view and I knew it would be ours. Because of the bookcases and artwork. Because of the island in the kitchen. Because the couch is moved a ways away from the wall. And it’s perfect. It’s deep in the country and distractions are minimal (see: robins, worms) and I have written 20 pages, plus three blog posts for both work and personal in the 26 hours we have been here. A chicken is roasting in the tricky oven and I have a glass of wine balanced on the windowsill over the wooden bench on which my computer rests. I’m using an ottoman for my bum. The window ahead of me is open four inches and raindrops plunk on something metal out there, something out of sight, something that provides a sweet base for my soprano key strokes. I am in the kind of space where, if I had a stopwatch given to me by the devil, I might just press that button to pause all of space and time so I could stay. But, of course, before I could press, I’d think of my husband, my children, the men I left at home. And I’d hesitate and the moment would mutate. But still. Right now, the planets are aligning in a way they rarely do. I might squeeze 25 pages out of the day.