If you ask anyone who knows me, you’ll discover that I am a HUGE advocate of Writing Communities, and I’m overly vocal about it. I have experienced the wonderment time and again of the exchange of creative energy when writers gather in a shared space to write. The cooperation of an “of course I can” mindset, mixed with the comfort of knowing that friends are nearby whenever I need help with character conundrums, plot problems, or ferreting out the frustrations of timelines, is priceless. It is because of my supportive, kind, and loving writing tribe that I can set and achieve tremendous writing goals.
There is also a lot to be said for the momentum writing in solitude can bring to a project. The two approaches to creative storytelling are not mutually exclusive. Both have merit as a regular part of my writing practice. Just as Julia Cameron advocates for “morning pages…” and that doesn’t always work for me… so too is the comparison of writing in community and writing in solitude. Both allow Drake to do what he does best without ignoring either pond completely. Sometimes, I need the energy of many other writers nearby to fuel my imagination. Sometimes, I need to escape to a place where it is just Drake and me, diving deep into our work without distractions, at our own pace.
Each year, I indulge in a solo Writing Hermitage to focus on getting my books either written or edited. My desktop is usually filled with several projects simultaneously… each living in various states of “done.” Like NaNoWriMo, where the focus is on writing a rough draft for a new project, my Writing Hermitage is focused time to complete one or two projects without the pressure of city life, expectations of my editorial clients, and social media rabbit holes. I love all those other things, but they often interfere with the plain attention required to get the writing done. As the saying goes, writing novels requires that you put your “butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard” consistently.
Usually, I go away for a month and immerse myself in the world of words. This year, I’ll be away for about six weeks simply because two holidays – Memorial Day and Independence Day – fall during my writing time… and anytime there’s a holiday, it means at least a week lost to other indulgent pursuits like fireworks, music festivals, outdoor theatre, or excessive kayaking and hiking. So, this year, I’m going early and coming back late.
As I prepare to venture into my time submerged in story, I’m thinking about how I plot my expectations and manage my time while I’m there. I’ve done this enough, so now I feel like I have a routine that works for me. You may find this helpful or not. Either way, I hope you’ll think about incorporating a Writing Hermitage in whatever way fits your practice.
1. The goal is to write. But don’t be Machiavellian about it. After all, if you have to be sneaky about getting yourself to write, perhaps you should take up another hobby. Be honest about your word counts and editorial goals. Don’t add ridiculous pressure by starting your time away by distrusting your ability to write in solitude. Don’t be manipulative about getting it done. This should be a time of GENTLE focus and floating in the seas what you love. The idea of carrot and stick doesn’t apply here. Sure, you have goals, and you’d like to achieve them, but no one will come at you with a cat o’ nine tales or take away next year’s trip if you fall short of those goals. This is a time for writing focus and renewal. So, leave the stick at home and bring as many carrots (and chocolate) as possible. If there was ever a time to acknowledge the value of the “participation trophy,” a Writing Hermitage definitely qualifies.
2. Go somewhere you love. My writing sanctuary is a tiny, 340sqft log cabin in the middle of twenty acres of forest. I’ve got a hammock, a comfy bed, protection from the bears and coyotes (with the option to maybe see them in their natural habitat once in a while), and, if I’m interested in doing the work, a campfire every night. When it rains, I’m comforted by the symphony played upon branches filled with leaves and nature’s reminder that powerful possibility is just as accessible to me as it is to anyone else. My space is at least a twenty-minute drive from a civilized town, and by civilized, I mean somewhere with either Mcdonald's or Subway. This might not be your ideal space… you may need room service and a hot tub. For me, slipping into the folds of nature allows me the comfort and freedom to create without traffic circle navigation (I’m not a fan) and the constant sounds and light from thousands of people reminding me they exist. At night, the dense blanket of darkness and the absolute stillness of the world around me gentles my brain and calms my anxiety about missing my daily word counts. Tomorrow is another day of opportunity, creativity, joy, and peace.
3. Don’t skimp on food. The Writing Hermitage is an exercise in indulgence, not punishment. The Writing Hermitage is not the time to go on a diet. Eat what you love… easy-to-prepare meals, and special tastes that make you happy. If you’re doing your Hermitage in the city, then perhaps that means calling up room service and placing an order for perpetual mini-bar restocking. For me, the simple culinary pleasures I can make without an oven and electricity are best (I use a two-burner propane camp stove and BBQ grill). I love quick-to-build salads, grilled ham & cheese sandwiches, shrimp scampi, fettuccine alfredo with chicken or shrimp, BBQ chicken, and venison steak, corn on the cob, and lots of baby carrots (I think I mentioned that already). I am vigilant when it comes to my hot cocoa supply, as well as keeping cheese, crackers, and chocolate snacks well-stocked. I eat when I’m hungry and don’t when I’m not. I let Drake decide on the meal plan. I’ve got plotting to do.
4. Step away from the writing desk occasionally to recharge your brain and give your Muse a break. Sure, the Writing Hermitage is designed to put your creative production front and center, but we all know that nothing good ever comes from force. So, take a couple of hours to check out that museum around the corner. Visit the local library and inhale inspiration from the stacks. Go hike along the river, kayak your favorite lake with your tiny dog, sit quietly at night and watch the sunset. Or, read a book for a couple hours before bedtime. This is a time for your creativity to soak up all the positive influence possible, so allow yourself to revel in tiny moments of peaceful joy occasionally. Then, remember to write those aftershocks of happiness into your stories.
5. Don’t ghost your need for companionship. This never works out well. Of course, the focus during your Writing Hermitage should be on writing. However, when you feel lonely, phone a friend, post a photo to social media, or go grocery shopping and talk with strangers about the weather. Just because I spend concentrated time focusing on my writing, that doesn't mean I’ve magically transformed myself into a hermit. I’m not swearing off the infusion of outside contact; I’m simply less gregarious about it. Writing isn’t punishment. So, if you need to reach out to someone while you’re away to remind yourself that your circle will still surround you when you return, do that. A shared few moments of laughter with a friend, scattered between hours of coagulating scenes into chapters, is healthy… for you and your book.
6. When it’s all over, celebrate your accomplishments. Take inventory of all you’ve created and the excitement of moving your project to the next level. Avoid chastising yourself if your word counts don’t match the arbitrary rule you made at the beginning. Any forward movement on a creative project is positive. And if it turns out that all you did while you were on your Writing Hermitage was spend time being with yourself, staring at the stars, interviewing your Muse, sitting in peace, finding joy in the contemplation of where your project will go next, or what new project you might concoct… well, that’s a valid use of this time, too. Celebrate. As with the accomplishment, there is always courage to be celebrated in the attempt. Then, take up your calendar and plan your next Writing Hermitage.
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