Writing retreat – a new approach


I’ve been back for about ten days now from my nine-day retreat to the Foxton Beach writing house and I’m still working through what I achieved. I went with a very different approach to other times I’ve been on retreat. Usually what I do is have a specific project to write and I’m starting on a first draft – whether that be an adult novel, a young adult novel, a long short story or what-have-you. I go in with just ideas, perhaps an outline, and start writing.

This time I took a bunch of first draft manuscripts with me. I had ten stories. About half were flash-fiction (under 1000 words), the others longer (though nothing over 3500 words). These were rough manuscripts that varied in quality from fairly complete and structurally sound, to wobbly attempts where I’d just been keeping up the momentum of writing. Often I just have one or two manuscripts underway at once – often I’m too impatient to put things aside for a longer period (which any 101 writing book/course/etc. will tell you is what is important: put it aside for a week or a month and come back with fresh eyes).

Here’s the upshot.

  1. One of the stories has been abandoned entirely – I will use the idea and scenario for a full rewrite, but the pacing, tone and resolution were all too far out of whack to be able to mould or revise the existing story into any semblance of sense.
  2. Three of the stories need to sit for a while longer.  In part because I need to do some more research on boxing, on free-diving, on deep sea pressures, but also because there are some other issues that I will need to take some time with.  Overall, though, they are structurally fairly good, the characters and situations work and I’m pretty happy.
  3. Three more of the stories are pretty close to ready.  The structure is good, the pace about what I’m looking for.  What they need now is polishing to make the writing flow.
  4. The last three are done.  They were close to what I wanted from the beginning.  I spent the time at the retreat working on their endings and some polishing.  In the time since I’ve come back, I have done that final polishing and have submitted these three to various publishers.  One has already been accepted, yay (for Lame Goat Press’s Flash! anthology of flash fiction).

That’s it. I’m stoked about how productive the retreat was – using the space to do editing and reflecting was, I think, a more productive use of my time than had I gone in with a blank page (not to say that blank page is bad, just that this approach worked for me this time).

So now my task is to keep tinkering with those last six plus one stories.  I have drafted one new story in the meantime, and begun work on a from-scratch rewrite of the dud story from point 1 above.  Of course there is still the question of the novel.  My Galley proof arrived yesterday, so I will be working through that to make sure it’s working for me before I do the final submission to the publisher.

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