At the end of May, I did a writing retreat.
I found a gorgeous shared room on Airbnb, packed up my knitting and a pile of books, and had two lovely days to myself. I wrote a memoir story for the Sketchbook Project, submitted a grant application for a Just Write Weekend event, and read David Whyte in the bath. Heavenly.
I also got quiet and listened to myself. I took several giant steps back from my whirlwind life and started contemplating the existential questions: “Why am I here? What am I doing? What does my life mean?” Often those questions are accompanied by despair and depression, but not this time. I was aware of my own insignificance, of the futility and vanity of my accomplishments, but it didn’t make me sad. I just felt removed from life, as though I were looking at an elaborate game being played out.
“Okay,” I said to myself, “If life is a game, what game do you want to play?” As though I were choosing between chess and Uno and Settlers of Catan.
And that’s how I decided that my game for the summer would be to finish Pilgrimage of Desire.
It’s the first time I’ve set a writing goal in a while. When the electric fence was up, I couldn’t make plans. But now that it’s down and I can work on the book again, I feel like this is a game I have a fair chance of winning.
One of the things that makes me feel confident is that I just signed up for Eric Maisel’s Deep Writing workshop at Hollyhock on Cortes Island in August. I can just imagine myself finishing the book there, given five days to immerse myself in writing with Eric’s wise coaching for support.
So I started on June 1, writing 500 words a day. The first day was during my retreat, so I had a luxurious two-hour writing session in bed. The second day, Sunday evening, 500 words flowed out miraculously in half an hour! But as I entered the work week, it got harder and harder to keep up. I was blearily writing 500 words before falling into bed at midnight. I was writing really rough sections and promising to come back and edit them in later. I caught up on Thursday at my writing meetup, but by Saturday I had given up completely.
What this tells me is that there really isn’t any margin in my day right now. If I shoehorn something new in, other stuff falls out the other side ~ my productivity at work dropped noticeably, I was scrambling to make meals, and I was skimping on sleep and laundry.
Thankfully, I have some respite coming up. The kids are almost finished school, which means I won’t have to make lunches while they’re in day camp! That will save me at least 30 minutes a day, plus emergency grocery runs and anxiety. My work deadlines are easing off, and I’m going to give myself client status and work on Pilgrimage during the day.
And just at the right moment, it’s time for the Clarion West Write-a-thon!
The Write-a-thon is a fundraiser for Clarion West, a distinguished writer’s workshop in Seattle, Washington. I learned about the Write-a-thon a few years ago through Kelley Eskridge, author and editor at Sterling Editing. One year her challenge was to write and analyze a new piece of work every day for 41 days! Last year she sent out detailed musings and progress reports to her sponsors every week.
This year I’m honoured to be one of the twelve writers that Kelley is encouraging sponsors to support.
I’ve signed up for the Write-a-thon because I want to meet my goal to finish Pilgrimage of Desire by the end of August, and also because I’m a fierce believer in the importance of writing workshops. I want writers to get the support, instruction, and inspiration they need. And if Kelley’s behind Clarion West, then I’m there too. You can read all about the good work they do here (they have amazing instructors like Neil Gaiman, Samuel R. Delaney, and Margo Lanagan!).
Want to join me? There are two ways you can help:
- Sponsor me for the Write-a-thon. AND if you pledge $50 or more, I will do a 1.5-hour write-in with you, one-on-one. We’ll book a time, connect by phone or Skype (or in person if you’re in Vancouver), chat for 15 minutes about what we’re working on, do an hour of heads-down writing, and then check back in for 15 minutes at the end. Cool, right?
- Sign up as a writer for the Write-a-thon. Clarion West is aiming to sign up 300 writers by June 22. Be one of them and use the Write-a-thon as a labyrinth for your summer writing goals!
I did get a lot done in that week of 500 words a day on Pilgrimage. I finished Chapter 10 and started Chapter 11! I also learned that for every hour of writing time, I needed an hour of prep, research, and editing time. So I’ll be making space for that in my schedule too.
This isn’t going to be easy. But it’s important. The Write-a-thon is a challenge I want to conquer.
P.S. I’ll be posting regular (maybe daily?) Write-a-thon updates on my Facebook page, so hop over there and click Like if you want to see how it goes!