more that I learned from my writing weekend

The next time I devote a weekend to writing at my remote cabin in the woods, I’m going to plan a whole lot better. I got a lot done last weekend — an entire short story — and I’m pleased with the productivity, but I can see now that I could have managed my time better.

I had gone into the weekend with mighty ambitions. Too mighty ambitions. I was going to read through two novels of mine. Work on their query letters. Toss off a few short stories. Write some nonfiction. And still manage to have two campfires (with Jiffy Pop!) and at least one swim in the lake.

What I found was that I had successfully written the first draft of one story (with the coincidentally working title of “Work then play”) and made notes for a few others. The lack of power for my laptop may have been a factor in this kind of concentration, but maybe it was an instructive factor.

I think if I had tried to pursue all of my ambitions for the weekend, I would have been spread too thin. I would have achieved a lot of surface work but no substantive work. I don’t need to steal away to a lonely cabin for a weekend to do that; I can get that much done in soulless suburbia.

What I’ve learned, instead, is that I should go into these weekends — and there will be more! — with specific goals in mind. I’ll have options, of course, in case my specific goal goes bust, but I clearly need to focus, to work well on one thing rather than pretty good on a lot of things.

As I said, I wrote the first draft of one of my Fathers and Sons stories, at least half of it with paper and pencil, over the weekend. I’m pleased with that. An entire story in just two days. It’s nowhere near finished, of course, but the core of it is there. (Remember my recent posts where I spoke of compelling myself to just write the damned thing rather than wait until the story was fully realized in my head? This is the fruit of that realization. Is the story perfect? Not yet. But is it less than it would have been if I had allowed it to present itself to me slowly over the years? I don’t think so. And I didn’t have to wait years.)

Life is choices, isn’t it?

I also learned that ice packs won’t keep beer cold for two straight days. And that sub sandwiches get soggy after a day. Bagels dry out in that time. A big tub of store-bought broccoli salad gets monotonous long before you’ve reached the bottom of it. The nearest town is about ten miles away. I can get anything I need there, and just as with my writing goals, I would probably do better bringing less baggage along and replenish as I needed in town rather than try to bring it all with me from the beginning.

I didn’t have those two campfires. I’m nervous about fire in my woods anyway, but being alone, it seemed like a pointless indulgence. I did lay a fire on Saturday night in the fire ring, but I never lighted it. (By now I suspect it’s fallen to pieces and sodden with the half inch of rain that fell after I left.) As for my swimming in the lake, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t have a fire on Saturday night.

In my Father’s and Sons stories, there is a kind of informal baptism in the family’s little lake. This involves fathers (and grandfathers) dipping their naked baby sons in the lake. They, too, are naked. I know. It sounds weird, but it seems natural in a way. And liberating too. Well, how can a fellow possibly write about swimming naked in a lake without having experienced it ever in his many decades of life? Thus I felt I had to do some primary research.

The serendipity of a super moon on Saturday night told me that the gods wanted me to go skinny dipping by the light of this moon. It’s research, folks. It’s honorable. It’s worthy. And let me tell, it’s wonderful!

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One Comment on “more that I learned from my writing weekend”

  1. Averil Dean Says:

    I’m with you on the food situation. Usually I stay at my sister’s cabin, which has a full kitchen, fridge, freezer. But for this last retreat I was at what really amounted to a hotel room, with a tiny kitchenette (hot plate, hotel fridge). I had brought a couple blocks of tofu, veggies, noodles, curry and rice . . . and I’d nowhere to cook it. Instead I ended up downstairs at the cafe, where I actually managed to do a lot of writing.

    Sometimes we need to go with the flow, and see where it leads.


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