National Novel Writing Month—a challenge to write fifty thousand words within November’s thirty days—will be here in just over two weeks. I’ve participated “seriously” thrice in the past, and so I recall with perfect clarity how it completely flips my life upside down.
And you know I do so love the chaos.
One thing I’ve learned during my attempts is that I must be prepared if I’m going to succeed. I know this because I haven’t been as prepared as I could’ve been in previous years, and I’ve never won. That’s why I’ve taken at least one out of my two free days every week to organize a little writing retreat for myself.
If you’re interested in planning out your own retreat, you can find a few tips in my other post on the Writer’s Atelier blog. But for now, I’d like to take you along on my writing retreat, if you don’t mind.
What’s on the agenda?
This year, like the last, I’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo as a rebel. Officially, my projects this year are “Winter & Worry” and Virtue & Villainy, a sequel short story and sequel novella to Sense & Sensitivity, which was originally published in the anthology, Once Upon Academy. Unofficially? I’m also outlining all the projects demanding to be let out of my brain in 2021.
“But it’s still October! You can’t be writing already! That’s cheating!”
I hear you and your exclamation points. That’s why I didn’t do any writing during this writing retreat. I actually took the story structure I’d already drawn up and expanded on the major plot points to create a very detailed outline—what I call a “bracket draft.”
In the Morning
If you hadn’t already deduced this from my previous blogs, I am not super-duper great at waking up on time. But during the pre-noon hours of October 13th, the day of my little writing retreat, I specifically planned to host a mini-workshop for Writer’s Atelier on how I prepare for NaNoWriMo to make sure I’d be up at a reasonable hour.
So, the boyfriend and I had breakfast from First Watch delivered, I gave my presentation (which you can still watch), and I was out the door before noon feeling as writery as a gal can feel!
In the Afternoon
My first of two stops was “my” Starbucks, the one I thank in the Acknowledgments of In Barcelona With You. Yes, I thanked a whole Starbucks. It holds a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait for the world to open back up. All I want is to chill out there until my butt gets sore like the good ol’ days.
One surprisingly great grilled cheese sandwich and tall iced green tea latte later, I settled into a table and chair outside to write my daily log in my bullet journal. I intended to do my first writing sprint as well, but people started to show up, and I thought it wiser to grab a venti water for the road and move on to Phase III of my plan.
I arrived at my local park well before two. With its tall and proud trees against a backdrop of bright sky and blue pond, it’s the ideal setting for me to complete my sprints—charming, tranquil, and quiet. There is rarely another soul within fifty feet of me, and the feeling is like no other.
With Google Docs and the Flora app open, I recorded three twenty-five-minute sessions of focused work. During each session, I worked on expanding my outline for “Winter & Worry.” And I grew three snow pears! Get it? Snow? Because the story takes place in winter?
In the Evening
(Side note: You know what I love about being a hot mess? Sometimes I unintentionally leave myself little treats. For example, I left a Starbucks Via Instant Iced Coffee packet in my backpack a couple days ago, so instead of boring water, I got to enjoy iced coffee while I worked!)
Around five o’clock, disaster struck. In the middle of my fourth writing session, the Flora app began experiencing technical difficulties. I knew it wasn’t my lack of access to Wi-Fi because my friend and fellow author Jessica Baker also had trouble.
I hate to admit it, but this seriously threw me off. Never mind that my phone has a native timer app—that can’t grow digital snow pears!
Instead of doing the sensible thing and keeping track of time using other means, I abandoned the sprinting strategy entirely. I “bracketed” my story with total focus well past sunset because I was so in love with what I’d gotten down so far. It didn’t feel like work, and it didn’t feel like I was struggling over an impossible puzzle of my own invention—it felt like flying.
In the End
By the time I realized it was getting dark, I was mentally exhausted, sunburned on my west-facing arm, and dehydrated. But I still had to tear myself away from the keyboard because I was having so much fun. I finished putting “Winter & Worry” into brackets, plus the first chapter and a half of Virtue & Villainy. I suspect what I wrote for Virtue & Villainy will need more work, but that’s future Megan’s problem.
Now, as high as I was flying, I did feel twinges of regret. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted. To tell the truth, I never do because I overstuff my to do lists. I always imagine I’ll have the good sense to stop what I’m doing—even if it’s oodles of fun—and pay attention to other, equally important things. But I’m proud of all I accomplished. I have a whole story basically ready to go, people! And a great start to the story that comes after!
And what was my reward for my long, hard day’s work? Climbing into bed for cuddles with my boyfriend and my kitty, my mind abuzz with thoughts of how to make my next little writing retreat even better.