RETREAT: verb 1 a (1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable (2) : the process of receding from a position or state attained *the retreat of a glacier* *the slow retreat of an epidemic* b (1) : the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position (2) : a signal for retreating c (1) : a signal given by bugle at the beginning of a military flag-lowering ceremony (2) : a military flag-lowering ceremony.
In some wars generals have been tried for treason for retreating without permission, even if it was the better part of valor. To run away to fight another day.
What do you do when everyday life becomes a battlefield? If you’re a writer you tend to turn “retreat” into a noun and take one.
RETREAT: noun 2 : a place of privacy or safety : REFUGE
Majestic Mt. Hood. My refuge.
A retreat is an opportunity to withdraw, or flee to someplace else; someplace away from the nit picking details of life, the hurly burly of noise, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the battlefield of relationships.
One of the problems of being a writer is that we are self employed, we set our own hours. Other people believe that means they can presume upon our time, demand we do other things on their schedule. Turning off the phone and closing the office door isn’t always enough. When my mother-in-law stayed with us while recuperating from heart surgery she didn’t understand the sign on my office door “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with catsup.” She barged in any time she liked and asked “What are you doing?”
“Fighting a deadline.”
“That’s not important come do this for me.”
Arrrrghh! After 20 published books she still sees my writing as a nice little hobby.
I know a lot of writers who decamp to a coffee shop for a few hours, or a day. The change of location, the absence of distractions and interruptions helps them get over minor plot blockages. I don’t do this often as I find watching people wander in and out of Java the Hut much more interesting than my work in progress.
Then there’s the concept of removing yourself from life for an entire weekend or, gasp, a week! Ten writers from the Pacific Northwest recently took a ten day cruise from Miami across the Atlantic to the Azores, Canary Islands and coast of Europe. They had structured workshops and enforced quiet times to write. They took tours and each wrote something like 70 pages over the seven days at sea. Or more.
That’s expensive. Wonderful but expensive.
Fairwood Press out of Seattle sponsors the Rainforest Writers retreat each March. They rent a resort for cheap in the off season, have a quiet room—no noise but the clicking of computer keys. They have common rooms, a few optional workshops, communal meals, and access to restaurants and stores nearby. I have yet to sample this retreat, but it sounds wonderful. My sometime collaborator takes advantage of the extended cheap room rates and goes 2-4 days early. He hunkers down to write and edit a month’s worth of work. Two years ago one Canadian writer plowed through 20,000 words in one weekend.
I used to run a Beach weekend with more workshops than quiet writing time. We came back enthused with new ideas and skills to get over writing humps. The organizing became too much work. By the time the retreat came, all I wanted to do was sleep, and lost weeks of work time. Great for the participants. Not so great for the organizer. The cost of a house and shared meals kept the entire weekend under $100.
Then there’s CampCon. This is thrown together by a friend. Bob loves to camp. He loves camp cooking. So every August he reserves a large multi-family camp site near Hood River, Oregon. We have water and power, showers and real flush toilets, communal meals, and tall tales around the campfire. The rest of the time we’re on our own. The only rules are clean up after yourself and if someone has their laptop open don’t talk to them. If we need more power outlets or different food, we have access to the Elliot Glacier Brew Pub 4 miles away.
Now that’s a retreat. I have another writer friend with a 24′ RV she calls the Enterprise Shuttle #1, it has 2 beds and an espresso machine. I’ve had my years of sleeping on the cold hard ground and subsistence meals of primitive camping. Give me the RV and I’m happy.
Something about the fresh air, the absence of traffic, no cell phone signal or internet, changes the familiar roadblocks in my head to open roads. Ideas flow. Consulting writer friends empowers me. I feel like I can accomplish anything.
Last year I edited 20 chapters of Enigma—it’s coming out in hardcover this August. I tapped 3 engineer types to redesign my space station. We spent a joyful 2 hours with paper and pencils drawing blue prints and specs, right down to the size of the maintenance bots and their access tubes. I couldn’t have finished that book without them. And it all came together in record time.
I am truly looking forward to CampCon again. This year I hope to draft fifty pages of new material on the next book, “Thistle Downe.” And if I get stalled or need inspiration I have brainstorm partners, I have trails to hike while I work through sticky points, and I have peace and time away from the interruptions and nit picks of my daily battle with life.
A retreat can be the better part of valor. For a writer it can be a life saver.