One of the best ways to begin a new week is by reading Jack Cheng letters distributed through his newsletter. I love the way he looks at things and, even more, how he puts his thoughts and experiences to words.
I have yet to read a weak letter, and some of the things he’s written over the years are some of the better essays I’ve ever read.
The latest letter is about how much can be done over a hackathon day, a focused lunch, or a retreat.
Come tomorrow — at least on the calendar — it’s exactly one month until the annual writing retreat. Here’s how it usually goes down:
- Friday — Late morning, a friend and I head out to a Texas state park, where a cabin serves as our base for the weekend. On the drive, we catch up on life. When we get away from the traffic of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, we chat about writing.
- Friday Afternoon: Check into the cabin, look around the grounds a bit, and then sit down on a hard wooden chair and write. (Maybe with a beer within reach.)
- Friday Night: Writing, and then a drink or two around a campfire (or just sitting outside in the dark, depending where we are and if there’s a burn ban or not). Writing is discussed.
- Saturday Morning: Wake up early. (I tend to wake up first…I usually wander around enjoying the quiet, or hit a hiking trail (depending on the park).) Maybe a little writing before all this, but that quiet time is nice.
- Saturday (Almost All Day and Into the Night): Writing. Sure, this can be done at home on almost any given weekend, but there’s something about sitting in silence across the table from another person also writing that makes you focus. Maybe for some, it would be a distraction, but for one weekend a year, I find it refreshing.
- Saturday Night: A drink or two around the campfire (or in the dark). Depending where we are, a visit from an armadillo. Writing talk happens.
- Sunday Morning: Hiking/Quiet Time early. A little more writing. Pack up and head home.
- Sunday Drive: Writing talk most of the way home.
Not Much Time
Looking at that rough schedule, it’s not a lot of time. I’ve known people who take week-long writing retreats with friends to other states. I can get a greater word count in a week at home than the retreat weekend. In other words, it’s not like you come out of the woods with that much more than you had the morning setting out for the weekend. Only…you really do.
It’s kind of what Jack Cheng mentions in the letter above: there’s something special about dedicating a chunk of [short] time to a deeper-than-usual focus. Something comes out of it that doesn’t seem to rise up during the daily work necessary to get big stories written.
I work for a large tech company serving the travel industry, and hackathons seem to break out on a frequent basis. Intense pitch sessions and other things along those lines are not uncommon. And from those moments of intense focus have come some of our cooler products.
I say with confidence that a lot of great things come out of a weekend retreat in East Texas as well.
So here’s to a month from tomorrow, when we set out on the fourth annual writing retreat. It will be, as I’ve heard it said by some, DA SNAZZ!!!
I wish you success. I’ve tried writing at my little Ozark cabin but without much success. (Maybe the lack of electricity and indoor plumbing is a limiting factor.) I think I might be able to do a strong re-writing session, but I don’t think I could do the initial creation writing in an intense session. It all “reveals” itself to me slowly.
Christopher Gronlund says
Paul – Last year at the retreat, I only did a little bit of writing. The rest was plotting and planning. This year, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be plotting again…and maybe working on a short story or two. It’s a weekend there for what I need when it rolls around. I guess some years “Plotting Retreat” is more accurate than “Writing Retreat.” Granted, I can usually do some prep work and steer what I need to do to happen around the weekend, but my needs at the time still dictate that. Like you, things often come to me with time — and to force it is to lose opportunities for making something much better.
I could see plotting or just writing bits and pieces at the cabin in the Ozarks, but power does help a bit. I suppose it’s a romantic notion to fill notepads by candlelight and say you knocked out a story or novel the way it was done back when, but I do like certain technology and comforts.