Ah, the writing blitz. Everyone….
Here’s how I made it happen.
SCHEDULING & CHILDCARE
I had a conversation with the hubby about the possibility of me taking a weekend (or two days and one sleep) ‘away’ so I could work on revisions for my novel. I’d been back at it for a few months but was having a hard time putting in serious time (more than a couple of hours at a time…and rarely that much in one sitting). What was happening (again) was (a) I was losing work time trying to ‘remember’ where I was when I left off (b) re-editing parts I’d already edited a thousand times and feeling blah about the changes (c) feeling disconnected from the story and working on it because my brain wanted to but my heart was nowhere to be found for it. I knew I needed a plan to give myself a solid amount of uninterrupted time to write.
We discussed the matter. He’s a writer too, so he understands the importance and necessity of working uninterrupted. And, recently we had worked out various days and evenings where he was out to work on a writing project. He gets it. We looked at the calendar and as it the writing goddesses were smiling down on us there was a wide open weekend that I could use to book my blitz.
Knowing that the kids would have a fun ‘dad’ weekend helped my heart fill up. So, the scheduling and childcare was handled. CHECK. (Note to your self: I know it’s not easy to find childcare, and it can be a deal-breaker for a blitz if you have to pay for childcare in order to make it happen, which would render the writing blitz itself impossible. My solution? Sigh – first let me hug you. Okay. Be patient and gentle. Be honest with those around you who support you and your craft and your children. Ask for help. For free childcare. See how it goes. It’s amazing the small miracles that happen when you’re living your dream.)
BOOKING A PLACE TO WRITE
I didn’t want to leave the city and lose precious writing time to driving. I don’t know about you other writers out there, but I love me some hotel rooms to write in. It’s like chocolate for my writing soul. I thought about hotels around our house, but in my heart I knew exactly where I wanted to stay. I drive by it at least twice a week and smile and sigh at it.
Ye Old Walkerville Bed & Breakfast. Yes. It’s deliciously quaint and storybook.
I’ve always wanted to stay there and this was a perfect opportunity. What I love about b&b’s is that they serve you a huge breakfast! Meaning, that my belly would be full for not only breakfast, but lunch too!
I phoned and booked a suite. Just look!!
It cost me, with tax under $125.00 for THIS WHOLE SUITE AND BREAKFAST.
(Note to your self: pay attention to cool places you’d like to spend time in to write. This includes hotels, b&bs, friend’s houses, friends’ cottages, libraries…and more!)
Place to write – CHECK.
Now, when I’m writing, like really into it – I forget to eat. I don’t feel time or hunger or my body..until, well, my body just stops.
Alas, since I was doing a writing marathon I knew I had to be prepared with food. Altogether, I would need food for the following meals:
Saturday: breakfast, lunch, dinner
Sunday: light snacks for lunch, dinner
Before I went to the b&b I stopped at the grocery store and purchased the following foods:
a big bottle of water, a small bottle of Diet Pepsi
chocolate chip cookies
veggies and dip
Reese’s Pieces (I mean, come on!)
Okay…so there was equal amount of good stuff to snacks, but I know myself. I know that little things like Reese’s Pieces and gummies would be good for the middle parts (the in-between meals). Sometimes I just need to keep putting things in my mouth to help me think (yup…you can make that mean whatever you’d like. #gutter).
The croissants were for breakfast and snacks because: BREAD.
The sushi was for dinner because: YUM.
For dinner, I ordered peanut butter curry with chicken from Thai Langxang. Holy shi* was it ever delicious. I left the suite, drove there, paid, drove back in 15 minutes. I ate for about 30 minutes. Why this food choice? I was craving it. That’s all really. And I knew it was affordable, fast and filling.
I didn’t finish the snacks. The cookies were ‘meh’, I only had one. I brought home one banana, one croissant and most of the veggies. I didn’t finish the soda. I finished all the water.
So, eating happened. I made sure to stop to eat both for a mental break and an energy boost.
There was a small fridge in the suite so I had a cold place to keep the food. That was a bonus.
Don’t forget to get cutlery if you’re getting take out! And extra napkins.
Food – check!
(Note to your self: You know how you eat. You know what you like. So don’t go and change your diet the same time you’re doing a writing blitz. It will be totally distracting. Eat for sustenance and pleasure both – because you’ll need both to keep the writing up. You certainly don’t have to get take-out either. Find out if the place you’re staying has a fridge. Make sandwiches/salads/etc. at home and bring it with you. This will save on time and money.)
BREAK & COMFORT NECESSITIES
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to write non-stop. That’s just not healthy. I knew I could put in a good 2.5 hours though…with a bit of a stretching about every 30 minutes. I knew I had to give my brain and body some relaxation time. I didn’t want to push it – because then it would affect my output, and also, it would kill me for when I went home and got back to ‘real-life’ business. I didn’t want to arrive home exhausted, sore, bitchy and blah. Nope.
Things I did to relax in between writing bouts:
- journal – to start the day/ end the day – stay soul-focused and reflect
- oracle cards – for spiritual guidance (or whatever works for you) (I also brought some sage and did a small smudge. It smelled like fire so I got scared I’d get in trouble! No one said anything. Phew.)
- gentle yoga stretches
- watched ‘The Last Word‘ starring the magical Shirley MacLain, and a new star crush I have Amanda Seyfried – in various intervals – mostly while I ate
- jacuzzi bath – hot dog. It. was. outstanding. (time: 25 minutes)
- nail polish – because I really love typing with fancy nails (is that weird?!) (I didn’t use it.)
- read a book – I started a new book called Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
- slept – I took a timed 40 minute nap on Saturday afternoon
Be prepared for breaks. Do things you know you can trust yourself to only do in short intervals.
NO SOCIAL MEDIA. (I shouted that.)
NO PHONE CALLS. (Shouted that too. Unless, it’s very short and to say ‘I love you and miss you!’ to your family.)
Texting is acceptable as long as you can control yourself.
Take off your bra, jewellery, hat, etc.. Wear comfortable clothing. Bring a sweater. Again, you know yourself, so bring stuff to wear that will not distract you from your writing. You want your body to be comfortable. Figure out your writing ‘uniform’ and pack it.
Remember how I mentioned above that you shouldn’t start a new diet the day you plan your blitz? Well, I’d like to extend that into your exercise regimen (if you have one). Don’t start something new the day before you take your writing blitz. I did. I went for a run on Thursday evening. I haven’t gone a run in over a year. NOT LYING. I felt great when I was running. I was all – I just did that! Friday morning I was in pain. And my throat hurt. And my ears were plugged. And it hurt my nose to breathe – and the congestion did that thing it does when it goes to one nostril when you’re on that side, then shifts to the other when switch sleeping sides. Mega -ugh. Saturday morning I was in so much physical pain – my joints, my throat, my nose – I was like, Vanessa! What did you do?!! I took medicine with me to my blitz. And that jacuzzi bath – it was jacuzzi-ing my sore muscles. I finally felt back to my old, creaky self this morning (Monday). So, um, you can just walk on past the new weight machine or hottie personal trainer or whatever you do to get fit (big tires? rock walls? bike trails?) if it’s right before your writing blitz. Mm-kay?
(Note to your self: I didn’t mention music, but I had it on my phone. Sometimes I write to music. Much of the first few drafts of this book were written to music, but this time, I wanted silence – or natural sounds of the weather, birds, the fan, the air conditioner, etc.. If you know that you need to write with certain accoutrements, bring them. If you’re hand-writing a first draft, you know you’ll need your favourite pen and paper. If you’re doing research, you’ll need wi-fi/internet and a computer or books…you get the picture, yes? Be prepared.)
Break & comfort necessities: CHECK.
In total, I wrote about 6 new chapters, and edited/revised up to page 212. More than halfway through the whole story!!
I had a plan. I knew I had to re-vamp the front-end, which I’d started doing but hadn’t yet had the time to plow through. I’m talking, adding new characters/locations and new scenes, then weaving them into existing plots. BIG.
I had already tended to major plot/structure issues that needed to be fixed – in my head.
I brought the following tools:
- laptop & charger
- cue cards in two sizes for important notes/etc.
That’s all I knew I needed.
Here’s my writing schedule (approx.):
9:45 – 12:45 – Write/revise
Short ten minute stretch in there somewhere
12:45pm -1:15pm – lunch (sushi/snacks – while watching ‘The Last Word’)
1:15pm – 2:30pm – write/revise
2:30pm – 3:15pm – nap on the ridiculously huge bed
3:15pm – 5pm – write/revise
5pm – 5:45pm – order food, pick-up food, eat food (while watching ‘The Last Word’)
5:45pm – 9pm – write/revise
9:15pm – 10pm – bath (it took awhile to fill up – I watched (altogether now!) ‘The Last Word’ while I waited. Once in the tub, I read my book.
10pm – 11:30pm – Write/revise
11:30pm – 12:30pm – watched a one-hour show on Netflix.
7:30am – wake up (I slept okay…kept waking up in that HUGE bed…but feeling that amazing feeling you get when you wake up too early and know you can go back to sleep for, like, MORE HOURS.
8:30am – 9:am delicious breakfast!
9am-11:45am – Write/Revise – at this point, I was well past the opening chunk of my story, and doing a lot of cutting and pasting and revising. Ooo. It was sooo good to move whole already written sections into the new file!
*I asked if I could stay longer at the b&b as check-out time was 11am. I got an extra hour. I took it. But, be aware that check-out times are often in the morning so if you have to leave either end your blitz or be sure to know where to go to finish writing for the day.
12pm – 2pm – Switch locations – write/revise
Example: small miracle – Suede Productions, where I work, was across the street from the b&b. I walked over, plugged in and got back to work.
2pm – 4pm – Write/Revise
It was a bit uncomfortable working in this space. Well, for my butt. But(t) that’s because I chose to sit on a stool not in a totally ergonomically correct chair. There were more distractions at this location. (The toilet paper needed refilling in the bathroom. I had to make myself a coffee. I had to water some plants. Oh boy.) I spent some time pacing and rubbing my eyes and screaming this sound: uuuuuuuuuuuuu. From my deep belly.
This was hard work. I started to feel it as soon as I left the b&b. But I committed to writing until at least four.
I did that. I wrote until 4:01pm. Then I printed out what I’d done.
4:30pm – HOME
The hubby had pork chops marinating. The BBQ was on. The kids were squealing in the pool. Gah. (Miracle numbers 2 & 3, I’d say.)
We ate a scrumptious dinner. Talked about our weekends. It was really a perfect ending.
I think the trick to getting a large volume of work done was that I didn’t think about that part. I had mentally prepared, contextually prepared (with the space/food/etc.) and physically prepared (albeit poorly!), so when this blitz weekend finally arrived, I didn’t need to do any convincing or deal-making with myself to write. That stuff was already done leading up to making the blitz possible.
I was ready for BICHOK – But In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. (You like that? I didn’t make it up.).
The voices in my head were miraculously quiet. There was only room in there for the characters (at one point, there were 6 characters in there!), and that was enough.
I had covered all the bases that could have potentially caused me to procrastinate. That meant being serious about knowing who I am as a writer – no excuses.
There are some words on my feelings list that maybe you’re wondering about? Numb, for example. I was writing in my journal about this feeling. I think it’s about shutting down the voices – the ones that constantly compare, the ones that constantly make me feel bad about myself, the ones that tell me to expect a certain outcome…even the ones about ‘success’. See, if I didn’t shut those voices – those gripping emotional trips – down then I wouldn’t have been able to write. The numbness speaks to putting my body and mind in a position for hard work. For only feeling energy to write – that’s it.
Although the story is coming from within me, and telling me what to write – my body couldn’t hold onto anything else. No worry. No comparing. No excuses. These are all things that stop me from writing. I won’t go so far to say they ‘block’ me – I don’t believe in writer’s block – but they certainly are difficult to write around. Or to put it in another way – to write through. It’s like these internal challenges are a forest I’m creating in. They are branches and bramble, bugs and bogs that I can walk through but it’s not easy. It’s not smooth. I needed to clear a path in this forest, if that makes sense, so the walking was smooth. So the creative process was clear.
There was definitely a flying freedom to this blitz writing. Again, I attribute it to being fully and completely devoted and prepared to write. I felt safe. I felt empowered. I trusted the characters. I trusted my own ability in the craft of writing. I said to my self: Do you what were born to do. Spread your love through the gift of writing. You go this, Vanessa.
Then I did it.
I am trying not to feel ‘proud’. Not yet. There is still much work to be done. I didn’t make it to the end. I’m just over halfway through this marathon of story. My body is getting its second wind and will continue to work. But the forest is back. The excuses are standing around with their hands on their hips. I have to work harder to reach the zen of BICHOK.
So, I have to be strong. Dedicated. Continue to trust myself.
Stop writing this blog, for example, and get back to the story!
I’m really very glad I did it, this blitz. The importance of creative retreats is very real and necessary. When we push past the guilt and figure out the ‘how-to’ details, the truth remains: artists need uninterrupted time to do their work. If you’re ever feeling guilty about needing it or you are continually fighting yourself about making time you need to work – (a) know that you are NOT ALONE and (b) stop it. Give yourself what you need. Bankers go to offices. Athletes go to the gym. Every other form of ‘work’ gets systems built around them so that people can get the work done. We artists – well, we have to fight a little harder to create our offices (literal or figurative) but that does NOT lesson our place in the world as workers. We all know humanity would be dead without art.
Phew. That got deep.
Let me know where your blitz will take place and when. I’ll be cheering you on.
PS. My dear friend sent me a photo of my book on shelf in a bookstore in Toronto. Hazaah! She sent it before my blitz. It was a huge help in motivating myself to write. Thank you Alice! Oh boy, it feels good to be nestled with those other poets…cover to cover.