This week I've been tucked away from humanity in the mountains, on what I termed a "self-imposed writing retreat." I didn't get into the one official writing workshop that I applied for this summer, and after some discussions with friends and family, I realized that I didn't have to wait for another "official" opportunity to show up.
So I came up here and have given myself head space and time to write. No social media, no responsibilities, no one else around. A few naps, some Netflix, some walking, a little yoga, lots of cookies. A Year in Provence by Mayle and A Circle of Quiet (READ IT) by L'Engle. And writing, don't worry. With a gorgeous corner set of windows that I want to take home with me.
Let me say that I know getting away like this is a privilege, that I had some monetary assistance in doing so, that it definitely sucked away my accrued vacation at work, that my husband was a willing and phenomenal solo dog-dad, and that this probably won't be able to happen every year, or even every other. However, let me also say, whether or not you're a writer or artist, whether or not you have kids or a spouse or a day job: If you can get away by yourself (BY YOURSELF) for just a day or two, not even to work on a project, but simply to be... do it.
This week has been scary and freeing.
It has been freeing because I don't remember the last time I was by myself completely for so long, maybe ever. I've seen a few people here and there, walking around the lake, but mostly it's been just me. Up to me to keep my own schedule for sleeping, eating, walking, writing. It's been freeing to sit on the couch with my laptop and write some bad stuff that feels like it might have some good parts in it too.
I made this time because I don't think about my writing project much--or let's face it, write anything on it--in the real world these days and I want to figure out if I should still keep working on it or not. It's the same project that I've had for nearly five years. There's a version of it that I finished for my grad program, but I've always thought that there might be a fresher version, a better version (what does that even mean?) waiting to be carved out of the original. But I don't give myself time and space (even within the time and space I have in my "real life") to start carving.
Here are some of the questions I'm asking, thoughts I'm pondering (and writer--or non-writer!--friends, I would LOVE to hear from you on these. Have you felt this way too? How have you responded? Tell me!):
- Do I think there is a "better" version mainly because I want to see if I can get it published? Or because I think I truly have a "better" way to say what I already said, whether or not it makes its way out into the world?
- Time has passed since I wrote the original; maybe I feel like I have something different to say entirely? (though I'm not sure what, and that's unnerving)
- I'll only know what I want to say if I write it out to the conclusion
- But I have so many pieces of what I wrote originally that I like and want to weave in. So am I writing something new or am I really connecting pieces that I already have? (OR do I like those pieces mostly because they are "done" and it would appear to mean less work for me in the end? I feel like I'm big into shortcuts which is not great.)
- If I'm connecting old pieces more than writing new ones, am I really going to be able to write the story out to its conclusion, whatever that is?
- Soooo... should I start from scratch? (If so, good Lord, HOW? WHEN?)
- Should I go back to the original and try to publish that as is?
- Is this meant to be a book at all? I've written so much about it that I think it is, but should it be pared down into an essay or even a blog post? Sometimes I'm not sure how much I've written is just different iterations of the same thing.
- Am I too young/inexperienced/not good enough to do this at all?
- Will I be able to say the difficult stuff that needs saying? Sometimes I feel like so much of what I write is the obvious, without much layering or exploration underneath it. How can I be sure and certain that I *DIG*? Writers and memoirs I love end up with such brilliant observations, on the surface and underneath, and I just don't know... I just don't know if I have that in me.
- If I decide to abandon a project, how do I know that it's because the project is meant to be abandoned rather than I've just decided that it's too hard to finish?
Asking these questions and not really finding good solid answers is why the week has been scary. I knew, going in, that having only five days would not be nearly enough--to what? finish an actual draft?--but better than nothing.
I stand by that. I have written something new everyday, and that's an accomplishment. I've remembered that I am wordy and I often use commas, dashes, semi-colons, and every other form of punctuation to make a sentence run longer, because it just feels like each part of it is supposed to be interwoven like that. Maybe there's an agent or editor just waiting for a long-winded-on-paper soul like me (a girl can dream).
On Wednesday, I hit a high point of writing a draft of a new chapter that I thought started out shakily but spending 3-4 hours on it made it better--even though it's still most definitely a first draft. On Thursday, I backtracked a little bit by trying to start knitting old and newer pieces together with no real sense of why I was throwing them into a certain order, and not really exploring any new insights on the page to help me figure it out--I so long for structure and order before I'm finished writing, but I should know by now that for me it doesn't normally fall that way. (I'm also not good at wearing only the writer hat without the editor hat piled on top. Need to work on that.)
I told myself that no matter what came out of this week, I would consider it a success. Because no matter what, I did it. I drove some thoroughly unnerving twisty turny roads to get there and back again. I read, drank tea, walked, slept, ate, and wrote. I played my bossa nova Pandora station, a couple of West Wing eps (and the Queer Eye with Mama Tammye, I know I'm so late, but Y'ALL)--and was silent a good chunk of the time. I made more room in my brain (I think) and hopefully my heart.
Even though I hoped it might be otherwise, I knew that I would probably come away with more questions than answers, more unfinished than finished--but better than not having tackled any of it at all, which is what had been (not) happening in the throes of daily life.
Speaking of daily life, what can I take away from this and bring back to my normal routine, which often feels too chock full for these light and airy possibilities?
- Dedicate at least two hours a week to the project
- Write new drafts instead of focusing on old stuff. See what freshness blooms.
- Sign up for a couple of workshops this fall. Talk to people about the process and share the work itself. That's one thing that this week has reminded me--though a writer ultimately writes alone, I still need help.
- Be open to the fact that this might take a really long time.
-And that (maybe) giving up on a project at one moment doesn't mean that it will be abandoned forever. I feel like there's such a fine line between what the intuition part of me believes that "it'll happen when it's meant to happen" and then the whole "dude, in order for ANYTHING to happen you have to frickin sit down and write!"
It's weird; after this week, I feel both very much a writer and very much NOT a writer. I have never been solely a writer who stays home and taps away at the laptop all day, and I was (mostly) that this week. Very writerly of me. At the same time, I felt out of my element--not sure where to start or what would make me feel accomplished besides emerging with a full-fledged awe-inspiring new draft--which, of course, I didn't.
And yet, I still come away feeling accomplished. I gave myself the time and space. Some newness showed itself. May I hold onto the refreshment and rejuvenation long enough to see what it, and I, will become.