November 10, 2009

Retreat (or It’s Easier to Hole Up When the Hole has Fine Amenities)

It used to be so simple! I would strap the baby in the car safety seat bucket, hand the bucket to Scott, and say, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH OH BEAUTIFUL FAMILY NOW GET OUT.
After a few years, we upgraded the bucket and got a new baby to put in it and added a booster seat for the little kid formerly known as the baby, but the concept was the same. Three or four times per book, Scott would go to one grand-parental home or the other to STAY FREE and eat his mom’s homemade fudge or play 18 holes with my dad and let the babies be noozled and spoiled.

Me, I would stock the house with cup-o-noodles, celery with ranch dip, and cheap shiraz, and I would spend 3 – 4 days in my pajamas, doing the miserable sweaty work-part of novel writing, the part I do not love, the part I would never do if I did not HAVE to in order to get to the fun parts: Drafting.

The 10 or 15 thousand words I got in those stretches would grow via months of delightful and pleasant revisions into a quarter or a third of a novel. When I had that third or fourth up and reasonably running, I would sorrowfully come to realize I needed more raw material. Then I would kick them all out AGAIN and slog back into the swamplands of miserable drafting. Lather, rinse, repeat until a BOOK formed.

This is how I wrote my two drawer books, this is how I wrote gods in Alabama, this is how I wrote Between, Georgia. It was a great system. I LIKED it. Alas, by the time I was drafting The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and then Backseat Saints, my children had--- COMPLETELY WITHOUT PERMISSION, mind you--- morphed from squishy potatoes who smelled like lavender and squalled and waved pink pig feet around when they were displeased into...people. Actual people with plans and lives and permanent transcripts and responsibilities and vocabularies who had replaced foot waving and squalling with, “NO, Mom, I have a big project due in English and the Science Fair is this weekend. I can’t go to Nana’s house.”

There is never a time when all three of them can GET OUT OF MY HOUSE for 4 days at the same time. So now I have to get out. And I can’t go stay at the FREE places Scott usually stays because these homes are full of my family which makes them the same kind of pleasantly distracting as the home I just left.

I have a crew of about five rotating regular writing buddies who retreat with me...We converge in a house or hotel or borrowed vacation home and we flog each other onwards and then meet for cocktails and whining at the civilized hour of 4 pm or whenever we hit the word count. No one is allowed to play until they hit the word count. VERY motivating. But alas, the timing was not working out for any of my usual retreaters to have me in.

So my terrible, miserable plan was to go hole up in this SUPER cheap business hotel with kitchenette that I can get extra more double cheaper with Scott’s hotel points. It is in this hideous piece of Atlanta, like the IT TECH center of Georgia, very full of Industrial parks and office parks and Cheesecake Factories where engineers in wonky ties blink at each other while gobbling power lunches and talking in ones and zeros. I have done this before. It is EFFECTIVE, because I know as soon as I have 12 or 15K I can COME HOME. I once drafted 13,500 words in 56 hours just to be able to get out of there.

That kind of retreat is all stick and no carrot.

SO then I got the idea that staying in an armpit would be more fun if I was not ALONE, but was with a person who was doing NaNo or who had some other hideous and unreasonable deadline. I called Lydia and said that I would begin to drive toward Virginia if she would begin to drive toward Atlanta. We would meet up in the middle, check into a Holiday Inn Express, put on pajamas, hose the beds down with Lysol, and work side by side in friendly-competition-slash-solidarity, 4,000 word-a-day minimum, DRAFTING NaNo style, all raw material, no finesse, last to hit the word count buys the Mango-tinis.

IT WAS A GREAT PLAN. I only saw two cons.

1) At the civilized hour of 4, when we put on shoes and left the fetid room, we would find out that Holiday Inn Expresses do not have bars AND that the point on the map that was directly in between us was situated in a dry county, and we would then be forced to commit ritual seppuku by the complimentary cookie basket in the lobby.

2) Not only is the midpoint DRY, it is in the middle of South Carolina and last time we were in South Carolina together we ended up having some weird virus induced hallucinations at a Shell Station and then tag team vomiting for what seemed like YEARS. Bad, bad Mojo, the two of us converging in that state.

Those little snafus aside, it was a great plan, until her childcare fell through. No go. It was back to the IT TECH all stick no carrot plan all alone in the hotel-with-kitchentte.

I was whining to another one of my usual retreat friends and she said, “I am in the same boat --- I have to have a couple of quiet days, so I decided to go down to Super Fabulous Resort on the Crystal Blue Beaches of Magicland. I am going to be there ANYWAY next week and the room has two beds....want to crash with me?”

UMMMMM. It took about 15 seconds on the Delta site to figure that, using Miles discount and being flexible about dates, I could FLY to Magictown for about half the cost of the stay at the hell pit. SO. Thursday I am going on retreat, fancy lady style.

I said all that to say this: I just got an email from my friend saying she was sorry but we did not score a room with an ocean view. This is dire. It means that we will, from our gossamer sheeted cloud beds, have to look at some sort of gorgeous rolling golf course, or perhaps a glisteny blue pool surrounded by elaborate flower gardens instead. OH NO! Said I. POOR US! But secretly I suspect we will somehow bravely manage to soldier through it.

At the business center hotel here in Georgia? The “fitness center” is a single, ancient treadmill facing a TV with 4 channels and no sound. My room last time smelled faintly of feet and VERY strongly of ammonia, and it had a charming view of an industrial park, so, even if she had invited me to stay with her in a former janitorial closet with 2 cots and a single window facing a Nudist sanctuary full of old hairy-butt men who are all drunk and trying to learn the Macarena, I STILL STILL would have said yes yes yes thank you yes that is completely AWESOME of you.

Super Fabulous Resort aside, the best part is, I shall have a shoulder to shoulder fellow word-counter pinging me in the competitive gland to keep me going. AND! I shall have good company when comes the civilized hour of four PM.

Posted by joshilyn at November 10, 2009 12:01 PM

Oog. If I had a window with THAT view I'd have to really, really, REALLY stock up on the liquor supplies.

Posted by: Brigitte at November 10, 2009 12:56 PM

Old hairy-butt men trying to learn the macarena - thanks for that visual (must get it out of my head... think Brad Pitt...)

Posted by: Kitty at November 10, 2009 1:04 PM

What is with dry counties? Seriously? I mean, I understand it where I'm at -- Muslim country and all that -- but seriously? What happened to FREEDOM?!

Have a great time and kick that word count's butt!

Posted by: edj at November 10, 2009 1:44 PM

Joss, you very nearly made me snort and laugh impolitely loudly in the middle of class ;) You're rad!

Posted by: Heather at November 10, 2009 2:48 PM

Fortunately, I am at home, getting ready to NaNo, so my snorting and laughing went unnoticed except by my husband, who is used to them. Shortly, I will head for my daytime writing venue, The Vault, where I can order a huge Americano and look longingly at the dessert cooler. Somehow, I think your retreat sounds better, except for the hairy butts. Have a great time, Joshilyn, and write lots of your very funny words.

Posted by: Sandra Leigh at November 10, 2009 3:35 PM

Wowweee! That sounds so nice. I think I need a resort.

Posted by: JulieB at November 10, 2009 3:46 PM

I believe I've stayed at that hotel in the industrial park when last I was in ATL for work. It is also unapproachable from any direction in a car from 3-7pm, no? And it rhymes with Plampton Plin?

Posted by: Donna at November 10, 2009 8:01 PM

.....and thank you for flying Delta.:)

Posted by: Bridget at November 10, 2009 9:02 PM

Now that is great news! Have a great time.

Posted by: Lisa Milton at November 10, 2009 10:14 PM

Hee! "Plampton Plin!"

Joshilyn, I am so envious. I wish my job required me to retreat to a wonderful spa where drinks would happen at 4. And, if I were a Published Writer Of Some Note, I would never never NEVER stay at any hotel that would involve Hairy Man Gluteus Enormii. You so totally deserve a spa in which to push-and-be-pushed to produce another wonderful novel.

As quickly as possible, please.


Posted by: JMixx at November 10, 2009 10:36 PM




Posted by: JMixx at November 10, 2009 10:37 PM