A little break

Punakaiki Cottage – a pretty good place to get some writing done

So I know there is a way to write a whole bunch of posts and have them roll out automatically, even if I’m, say, away on holiday. And holiday for me usually means little or no internet. Let me tell you, that’s really refreshing.

Also, no internet is really good for the writing. So, while on holiday over Christmas and New Year I still got a whole lot of writing done. Keeping up the streak of writing every single day. I started that practice on January 1st 2012. So, seven years. 2,557 days (if my calculations of the number of days in a year, including a couple of leap years, are correct). (also, another twenty-two days as I come to post this).

One place had no electricity (some solar for lighting and the shower pump, but nothing for recharging batteries). An old schoolhouse. That just took some smart battery management on the laptop for a couple of days.

Anyway, writing while on holiday is a blast. We stayed in some awesome spots around New Zealand’s South Island, including this one near Punakaiki. Now, if you’ve got to be somewhere other than your usual writing nook to get some writing done, this one is pretty good.

Productive, elevating and exhausting retreat

Safely back, 16,000 words later, and ready to have a break now to catch up. Lovely environment, by a river with morning birds and waving pine trees, hardly anyone around. I took some photos with the cellphone, when I scrape them off that, I’ll upload them here and at flickr.

Productivity? Lots of stories completed to a first draft stage, others re-written from abandoned first drafts and much better for it. Now to print these out and start work on them all over again.

Funny thing, I seemed to go mostly sci-fi and some fantasy, very little horror or literary.

Writing retreats …

So I’m going away for three nights on retreat, with a bunch of notes and the laptop, expecting to come back with some first draft stories and some editing done on others.

Why? Why should I need to get away? Shouldn’t my workspace be set up well enough that I can write at my desk, in my home-office?

Well, it is – I have an excellent encouraging set-up with two desks, one for handwriting one with a computer, great lighting, an armchair for reading, packed bookshelves for inspiration. But there is something else that being elsewhere brings – a new space, different sounds, different views, different distractions. No internet, no laundry or dishes, no house repairs to be done or garden to be weeded (and boy does the garden need weeding) – nothing hovering: just concentrated writing time.

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.

On hiatus – back in ten days

Yay, I’m off for my writing retreat (I guess a little like Jodi’s cave) for a week. I have a stack of first-draft manuscripts to work through. Some of them feel close to what I was thinking so might just take some editing, others are pretty loose and bedraggled and will quite possibly need full re-writes from scratch. I’ll also be looking at the pesky last chapter of the novel and try to knock that into shape. I will also be doing some story outlines for stories I’ll think about developing in coming months. It’ll be a busy year. Mood: excited.

I’ll be away on writing retreat soon, yay.

Members of PEN – the New Zealand Society of Authors, have access, at modest cost, to a private house with picturesque views at quiet and somewhat secluded Foxton Beach (try Google – they’ve even done streetview of some of the township). I’ll be decamping there soon for around a week to have a change of pace and loads of writing. My plan is to take a bunch of manuscripts of stories in early draft form and work on revisions as I sit in the upstairs lounge gazing through the picture windows across the estuary, plus lots of evening walks and maybe even a little ocean swimming. Wonderful.