Anatomy of a Weekend Writing Retreat: 13K Words and All the Shrimp You Can Eat

 

(I promise I was looking at the road. That’s why it’s a terrible picture.)

 

I tried to slip out of town with as little notice as possible on Friday to get a chunk of writing done on my WIP. Last year in January I booked an AirBnB in St. Louis near Lafayette Park. It’s a sweet part of town. But, frankly, it felt a bit weird, being in someone’s apartment. I learned that it was a full-time rental, but it had been the owner’s apartment at one point, and it felt like it. Also, she used scented detergents and dryer sheets that I had to hide in the dryer so they wouldn’t give me  a migraine (special snowflake much?). But I did crank out a ridiculous number of words over almost four days.

This time, my plans were more last minute, and while I love to be spontaneous, I’m not a light traveler. I didn’t decide to go until Wednesday, but I was able to book a hotel room with a full kitchen and (kind of) a view for a reasonable rate. In a perfect world (I find myself saying that a lot these days…), I would’ve headed out at noon or so for the two hour drive and stopped at the grocery store when I arrived, and gotten to work by 5:00 pm. My suitcase was packed before I went to bed Thursday night, so that was done. And my laptop was charged and bagged. But we had to take a car in to be serviced and run some important errands Friday morning. (I love getting to run around with my husband in the morning every few weeks or so. It’s fun just hanging out and being adults and getting coffee and laughing a lot. Structured dates are fine, but I like impromptu dates even better.) THEN I remembered that I needed to get a newsletter out before the end of the month–if only there were some magical book I could write such things down in. Oh, wait…

I didn’t get into town until almost 5:30, but it was okay because St. Louis traffic wasn’t too bad. I dislike standard hotel breakfasts–they usually have fake Cheerios, the sausage tastes like cardboard, they have teeny-tiny yogurts, and unripe bananas. Fortunately the hotel wasn’t too far from the remarkable Field’s Foods, where I bought provisions last year. Most of the customers there look like they are highly-paid employees of Internet start-ups. LOTS of craft beer and 8000 types of olive oil, yet with desserts that look like they were made for ten-year-olds. Here’s what I bought:

Cooked shrimp (like Christmas! no peeling or deveining!), a 4 ounce salmon filet, Walker’s Shortbread, cashews, Multi-Grain nut crackers, two containers of Greek yogurt, ALL the cheese, strawberries, salad bar lettuce, cocktail sauce, a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate squares, blue corn chips, salsa, sour cream (I brought a potato from home), two Luna bars, a bottle of raspberry German beer, anchovies, frozen edamame (damn–I just remembered I left the open bag in the door of the freezer), olive oil (I only had a giant bottle at home). I think that’s all. From home I brought the potato, a box of Sleepytime tea, honey, a single serving bottle of Prosecco, a bag of loose grapefruit citrus tea (but I forgot a strainer so I was stuck drinking Sleepytime all day long), and a couple of tangerines.  I was able to bring a lot of stuff home with me because I keep a little cooler bag in my car. Also, I didn’t leave the room for almost 40 hours. So…

No, really, I didn’t leave the room from Friday evening to about 10:30 Sunday morning when I went down to walk on the treadmill for thirty minutes. By the time I walked outside after checking out at 2:00, I felt a bit surreal. But that’s what the whole weekend was about–getting surreal.

(In the hotel parking lot.)

Temptations (beyond the food type) are hard to come by in the business trade hotel so they’re pretty good, anonymous places to hide out and work. Though this one had a small bar that was open between 6 and 11 pm. I tried to imagine myself strolling down, after I’d finished working, to  order up a beer or a glass of wine among the young men and women installed long-term in the hotel by their employers–not only because I’m the age of most of their mothers, lol. I’m years past cougar age, plus I’m married. (“Hey, big boy,” she says, settling down on the stool, adjusting her yoga pants. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out her Vera Bradley Sunflower reading glasses. “Wanna see some pictures of my cat? They’re right here on my iPhone 5.”) I don’t think I’ve walked into a bar of any sort alone since the early eighties. The only exception being at writing conferences where I know I’ll always know somebody hanging out. So a single bottle of beer and a serving of Prosecco for the room were just perfect. I’m pretty sure a 45-ish guy tried to pick me up when I was buying olive oil Friday night. He expressed great confusion about Rosemary sprigs and seemed to want to talk about them. When he brandished a bottle of dried Rosemary at me, I advised him that if the recipe called for sprigs, then he probably needed to see if they had any fresh in the produce department. He turned rather red and eventually stumbled off, muttering. I wished him luck.

Anywho. Oh, yes, temptations. All I can say is HGTV. I’m stupid for HGTV. Thank God we don’t have cable or satellite anymore because I probably would just stop reading and spend my days watching people building tiny houses, or tromping through 3 Vancouver properties pretending that they have to make a choice between them when everyone knows they’ve chosen their house before their episode even begins filming. And don’t get me started on the Lottery Dream Home show. The host, David, is as cute and perky a sprite of a host as you can imagine, and he has fabulous taste. There’s an appealingly contrary sense of doom about the show that I can’t resist. Most of the lottery winners have won between one and five million dollars, and I know that the state takes at least half of the winnings for taxes. If you win a million dollars, buying a house for almost four hundred thousand dollars will suck up most of your cash, and you will be left with a four car garage and nothing to put into it. Most lottery winners, I gather, end up poor again. Still, I can’t look away. “You’re doomed,” I want to say. “Doomed. But go for the Carrera marble anyway. It’s gorgeous!”

When I was all moved in, I thought I probably shouldn’t turn the television on. But you know I did. The voice in my head scolded me: “You’re paying all this money to be here to write. You should be writing right away!” I told her to be quiet and that I would work at 9 after unpacking, cooking, and eating (shrimp w/ cocktail sauce and edamame).

It really wasn’t that tough getting started. I had a scene I’d been working on. Our Internet back home is a nightmare. How lovely it was to be able to stream Apple Music as I worked. I chose a couple classical playlists, beginning with Yo Yo Ma. My plan was to get three thousand words before bed, but I also had to put up my Saturday blog. I went to bed about 2:45 with two thousand words and the blog done.

 

(Now I know what happens at the UPS depot all weekend long.)

The problem with not getting to sleep until 3:00 is that I sleep late. Saturday morning I woke up around 10:30, brushed my teeth, put on second jammies, and did twenty minutes of gentle yoga on YouTube. (Yay, awesome Internet. Is this how most of the rest of the world lives???), had breakfast, did email, and was at work by noon. It felt very decadent. I DID NOT TURN ON THE TELEVISION. I knew that if I did turn it on, even just to watch while I ate breakfast, I’d be lost. I knew I could probably just have it on for thirty minutes, but I really, really wanted to have a 10K day, and I was getting a late start. By 5:30, I had 5K words, and felt very happy with that. I planned out where the next 5K would go, charged my laptop, stretched, and started getting dinner together. (Lunch was cashews, chips and salsa. With maybe chocolate and cookies along the way.) So, dinner. The cookware was pretty basic. No ceramic or non-stick pans. I should have put some thought into it, and poached the salmon. Instead I put on some olive oil to sauté it. You can see what’s coming, right?

I didn’t set off the smoke alarm, but I came awfully close. As the smoke wafted from the pan and things started…smelling, I quickly put the cover on and turned on the a/c fan, and ran to open the windows. Windows that only open six inches after requiring at least three hands to open because they don’t want people jumping out. *sigh* After about fifteen minutes, I figured it was okay to open the pan again. Near the window. In the end, I had to finish it by poaching and it ended up a bit overdone. Feeling defeated, I had a little potato with my sour cream. It helped.

My goal was to shut down by 11:30 and do my Sunday blog post and relax with House Hunters. By 12:15, I had 4k more words for a total of 9K. I probably could have pressed on, but I was very tired and feeling grumpy, and neither I nor the book needed that. I was asleep by 2:00.

Sunday morning I was awake by ten. I didn’t journal, but did email, breakfasted, and walked on the treadmill in the fitness center until 11:30. I wanted to shower, but I’d arranged for a 2:00 check out, and I really wanted to get 3k words in. Starting at 11:45, that left me only a little over two hours. 3K was a big reach, and I needed to pack and sluice off at least a bit for the trip home. I don’t think I mentioned that I use the Pomodoro method when I’m writing large chunks of prose: 25 minutes writing, and a 5 minute break, then back to it. After 4 Pomodoros, there’s a 15 minute break. You can get a lot done that way. Middle of the day Saturday, I was up to about 1200 words in 25 minutes. But in the evening and Sunday it was more like 960-1025. During the 5 minute breaks on Sunday, I packed and loaded up the food and started the dishwasher. I finished Sunday with 2K new words.

At 1:40 I showered, dressed and got out the door. Total words for the weekend: 13K. Not astonishing, but very respectable. It’s enough.

(Cheers!)

Did I mention I had a great time? It’s not something I can afford to do often, but there’s nothing like having the time and space and freedom for complete concentration to do what you want/need to do as a writer or artist. No questions, no complications, just room to be fearless, and focus, focus, focus. Focusing is my favorite. I’m not saying that the words came out perfectly formed, but I suspect I’ll use most of them. That’s usually the case. If you’re a practiced writer, you’ll write just as well quickly as you do if you agonize over every word. I know that if I’m agonizing, I’m putting the words through too many filters.

I’ll let you know how it comes out. Have a great week!

 

January  22nd Words

Journal:  0 words

Long fiction: 2000 words

Short fiction: 0

Non-fiction: 0 words

Blogging: 1999  words

Exercise: 6K steps around the art museum

7 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Weekend Writing Retreat: 13K Words and All the Shrimp You Can Eat”

  1. skyecaitlin says:

    Laura; a penultimate experience that I enjoyed reading. Evidently, it was a perfect writing retreat and a rest for the spirit. It seemed to inspire your creativity and how lovely to indulge in a few treats, as well. I adore your choice of ‘goodies, but I am allergic to nuts, seafood, soy and wine ( F)! However, chocolate is a splendid probiotic, and I live on extra-virgin olive oil and salsa as part of a daily diet. I would loved to have seen, in real time, the image of the Vera Bradley lady and the discourse between you and the guy about ‘sprigs.’ So glad you enjoyed the week end and produced some solid writing..

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      Thank you, Skye–it was such a valuable getaway. I’m sorry to hear about your allergies. They must be a big challenge. Three cheers for chocolate being a splendid probiotic!

      1. skyecaitlin says:

        I AM so glad your retreat was productive. You are inspiring me to write, too. Dark chocolate is an invaluable probiotic ( cocoa, too).

  2. Lily O'Halloran says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your weekend writing retreat. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      I’m delighted you enjoyed it, Lily. Thanks so much for letting me know!

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