Writing at Home or Away?

slide_local2 (Small)I’m just back from a week long writing retreat on my own in a caravan on the coast. Well, it turned out to be three and half days rather than the planned five days. On Monday my son had his Viva for his Masters and wanted a bit of parental support. Actually, what he really wanted was someone to take him for celebratory cocktails afterwards.

Not being one to pass up the chance to drink a cocktail or two with my son and his boyfriend I thought I’d leave early on Tuesday morning instead. Then on Monday night the painter and decorator who was going to paint our vestibule six weeks, ago before he emigrates to New Zealand, but failed to do so as he’s signed a contract with a record company and had to work on the material they’re recording, private messaged me on Facebook. He could do the job this week if I still wanted it done. DSCF0901sHe arrived just after 9.30 on Tuesday morning. I always loved the fact he wasn’t one of those workmen who arrive before 8am but this week I’d have welcomed an earlier start. I made coffee while he fed the cat treats. The cat originally belonged to him but we adopted her when he said he was going to New Zealand. The cat – called Bandit – had totally ignored him when he visited her a few weeks ago so he resorted to bribing her with treats. It worked. She’s the greediest cat ever. After coffee and a brief discussion on paint colours I left him with a set of keys (he already knows where the coffee is) and took off on my retreat.

By the time I’d picked up some supplies, unloaded the car at the caravan, set up my laptop, collected the tiny shards of broken glass all over the bathroom floor, reported the smashed bathroom window I was exhausted. I had a glass of a very nice Pinot Grigio I’d picked up in the Co-op – and that was the end of day two of my writing week. Honestly, I don’t understand how Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Hemmingway and all the many other writers who liked a drink managed to turn out such stunning work. One glass, and my brain is too fuzzy to focus on writing. Went to bed, fell asleep reading and was awakened by the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard.

Day Three, which is actually Day One of proper writing, was bright and sunny and I kept thinking about how much needs to be done in the garden and what a perfect day it would be to be working in it. I’d mentioned to some of my blogging friends I’d be away from all social media for a week so I didn’t feel guilty about deleting notifications and wasn’t too bothered when by late afternoon the internet connection had disappeared. I was writing. I didn’t need to be connected.

I wrote about three and half thousand words – then I started to become frustrated by the lack of internet connection. I needed to know what shower panels are called – not because I’d drifted off on to something else, it’s necessary for what I’m writing – but there was no connection. Okay, a row XXX to mark where the research is needed. Carry on. Four thousand words. Time to go for a walk. My desk is the wrong height, my back is aching. Come back; finish the Pinot Grigio and go to bed with a book. The caravan is a kindle-free zone so it’s a real book. Fall asleep again with the light on.

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Day Four, or Day Two, I re-write most of what I wrote yesterday. In the middle of the night I woke up (probably because I feel asleep with the light on) knowing there’s something fundamentally wrong and it really had to be sorted before I could move on. By the afternoon I am furious about the lack of internet connection. It’s one thing telling people I’m not going to be online but to be forced offline by a dodgy connection is quite another. I’ve only started to sort the problem with the book. Am also cross because the sun shone for most of the day. I want dull weather when I’m on a writing retreat.

Day Five, or Day Three, I wake late. Have chicken broth for breakfast. Should have had it last night and don’t want to have to transport it back home. It seems to work its magic and I sit at the laptop and work. The fact that it’s grey and miserable helps because I don’t think about sitting in the sun or working in the garden. I finish re-writing the first three thousand words and I write another couple of thousand. I stop. It’s time to stop. I may not have a huge chunk of work but I do have the first two chapters and I know where I’m going but if I see one more ‘server error’ sign appear I’ll quite possibly throw the computer through the, as yet, un-mended bathroom window.

I’m thinking now it might be better if there is no possibility of an internet connection then I might finally feel free to write all day. Or, maybe I should stay at home and take a few days away from social media? I think, though, I’ve realised I need to have a better system in place. Work first in the morning, then take an hour for blogs and Facebook before getting back to work with another hour for social media in the evening. That should work, shouldn’t it?


40 thoughts on “Writing at Home or Away?

  1. It seems to be an ongoing battle for most of us writers Mary, how to balance our task time. I work on blog posts, writing and marketing during the day and only read blogs at night. That’s a feat in itself as I read blogs for 3 hours each night. Heaven help me if I dared to start reading them during the day. I wouldn’t get anything done. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment, Debby. I do need to be more disciplined about how my time is split between writing and reading blogs. I am trying. Yesterday I allowed myself an hour on blogs – but then it was Sally’s party so I had to keep popping in there 🙂 I’d had visions of sitting in my retreat caravan bashing away at the book to the exclusion of everything else but it didn’t quite work like that, especially as soon as I realised the connection tot he internet was so dodgy.

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  2. A brilliantly evoked week, Mary! I shared your pain. Nowadays, I do feel I need internet – I’d get very frustrated if I couldn’t check things out – but it’s so easy to get sidetracked! I miss my retreats at Cliff Cottage. I prefer to be with a couple of writing friends than completely alone, then I can chew over the plot points that are bugging me and they understand what my problems are. I wrote 35,000 in 5 days once! But I was near the end of the book and it flowed. I spent a week with my physio afterwards though, to iron out all the knots!

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    • Glad you enjoyed it, Jenny. I could do with seeing my physio now as the table and chair I was using are the wrong height so I’ve been hunched over with my shoulders round my ears! I’ve never been on a retreat with other people – might find it too easy to be distracted. No wonder you needed your physio after 35,000 words in five days – that’s an impressive number of words.Goodness I feel even more inadequate now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We don’t realise how much we come to rely on the internet until we don’t have it, but I noticed it when I went to my father’s birthplace, where even mobile connection is difficult, and realised that unless you’re going for a social-media free vacation, most other things are complicated. (Even reviewing books can be, if we want to add a link to something…). I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you reread it!

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    • You’re right, Olga, it does make things complicated. If I was away for a holiday I’d be happy to be completely social media free – tthough I guess I never really could be as the DH would have to be surgically detached from his phone.
      I’m waiting until tomorrow to reread what I’ve written and am determined to move on regardless!

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  4. Judith, I feel your pain. Hope you see this message. We need to change the settings on this blog so we can have more than one comment on a thread. We have to learn to be disciplined! I read some good blog posts on not feeling guilty about not commenting/sharing every post on blogs we follow. At the time I felt a great sense of relief but the guilt creeps back! The offer of the caravan is genuine.

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    • Thank you, Mary. I know just what you mean; I can’t believe the sense of guilt that sneaks in. But some post so many times in a day it’s unbelievable and I panic that I haven’t shared or shown friendship. You offer is so appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, Pamela. I’m a bit afraid to look at those chapters again in case I feel the need to do another re-write. It’s time to move on or I might still be working on those chapters this time next year!

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    • I swear I’m going to be much more disciplined about social media – starting on Monday. I think it’s Sally Cronin who does an hour in the morning then gets on with her own writing before coming back to blogs later. I’m going to try that. I share your frustration. Want to borrow a caravan?

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      • Please!! A tent would do even, Mary; I am too accessible – even with the rude notice I put on my study door. And I’m following so many blogs and feel I need to share them before I even get to FB and Twitter so hours can pass. Didn’t use to be like this! 🙂

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  5. I’ve tried to ‘retreat at home this month and spent the mornings being writerly and productive (inbetween feeding kids and stopping WW3 erupting!) Blogs and other stuff are predominantly for after… and I’ve managed over 50,000 words!

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    • Well done, you. That’s an impressive word count, especially as you have to stop to feed kids. Mine is away from home so there’s only the cat to feed – oh, and a husband. I need to be more organised about my time on blogs. I’ve been thinking of maybe doing half an hour in the morning then settling to write knowing I can visit blogs after I’ve put in a decent amount of time writing. I’m not good at settling to write without a quick peek at blog notifications which have come in overnight.

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      • No… I do admit I need to answer blog notifications first thing andvthe browse my reader over a cuppa first!!! And thank you! Started this 17 year’s ago… I think it’s time it got finished lol!

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  6. How about your next writing retreat on Arran? Great internet, intact bathroom window, cheese-thieving dog, and I PROMISE not to talk to you. (Although you are welcome to weed my garden on nice days…it’s SCOTLAND, so they are guaranteed to be few and far between.)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. This provoked several rueful smiles. Clearly all we need is A Plan and then to Stick To It! As I once muttered when the cat brought in yet another very noisy froggy playmate: I bet Jane Austen never had to worry about this sort of thing.

    Liked by 2 people

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