Two Days of Revisions, part 2

Today I got to write some new stuff for Dragon.  It turned out to require some walking and some research.

The first research was easy; I called my sister last night.  How is that research?  Well, I needed a sisterly perspective on a conversation between the two sisters in my story.  It turned out to be a good call, too, because my sister’s first reaction to the scenario was “Are you nuts?”  She hasn’t read the story, so it even added an extra element.  I had to explain the situation to her, and answer her questions, which I could then take from to have one sister explain and the other ask questions.

I spent some time walking, and sitting, in the Japanese Garden.  (The waterfalls were lovely, as were the plants, but the school kids were kind of distracting.)  It’s amazing how going someplace outside of my usual routine is a great way to focus my creative thoughts.  I  completed a couple of new scenes that added to the development of the climax in that process.  During lunch I kept working and finished another small transition that needed to be totally reworked.  After that all that I had left was a major rework of the ending.

The research for the ending was less fun, and a spoiler.  (That’s your warning.)  I got to read all about how to help someone recover from the unexpected loss of a loved one.  I’m still working on that section, but most of what I read matches well with my new plan for the end.

There’s your update on my writer’s retreat!  Now, back to writing – I’m hoping to get all of the new stuff drafted today.  After that, I’ll just need to do a bit of revising on the stuff I wrote today, and the second draft will be complete!

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Getting Ready to Revise

For a multitude of reasons, I am not getting to truly “go away” for my writer’s retreat, which was supposed to be this weekend.  Instead, I am going to use the next two days to focus on my writing, in particular, revising Dragon.  This may require leaving my apartment for a while during the day (there is a Japanese garden not far away and a few state parks within reasonable driving distance) but I will be sleeping in my own bed and living in my own house.

This presents a new challenge that I don’t normally face with this kind of intensive writing work: distractions.  When my apartment is messy or cluttered, or there are tasks to do like laundry, I am more likely to focus on those and not the writing.  In  order to minimize this challenge, I spent today preparing.  My kitchen is clean (enough), my clutter is put away, and my laundry will be done before I go to bed.

It means that I used one of my three days for something other than writing, but I am hoping that it will make my revising efforts over the next two days more effective.

I’ll let you know how it works out.  🙂

Taking a Moment For Myself

I finished the first phase of revising Dragon a week or so ago, but now I have the second phase ahead of me.  This is the part that requires creative energy on my part, fleshing out sections, rewording sentences, building in details, and so forth.  I’m ready to get started, but the problem is time.

My life has gotten busy lately.  Friends are asking for help with projects, social plans are made, and without warning all of the time I have to myself is filled with dishes and laundry and things that need to get done around the house.  Suddenly a couple of weeks have passed and now it’s almost May.  (How did that happen?!)

This is why I am planning to take another Writer’s Retreat.   Last time the projects were to finish the short story With Honor and start Dragon.  This time, I’m getting the second draft of Dragon finished.  For those of you who are unfamiliar or forgot, my writer’s retreats are actual retreats – I go into the woods camping by myself and spend a couple of days reading, hiking, and (most of all) writing.  No people, no pets, no chores, just me, nature, and my writing.

I am very much looking forward to some time for myself.  I spend a lot of time around people, so taking time away from people is often the best medicine for me.

Now I just need to find some time to finish the planning!

Finding My Patience (Yes, it was lost)

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you I am not a patient person most of the time.  Traffic gets me frazzled faster than anyone else I know, waiting in lines makes me a little crazy, and sitting still is definitely not my strong suit.  So imagine my surprise when, on my retreat, I found myself simply sitting on a bench watching water drip in a bird garden.  I’d also had moments of not wanting to move from my camp chair, or watching fish, that I reflected back to when I made the realization.

Apparently I do have a secret well of patience.

The key to finding this source is control.  After much consideration at the bird bath, I realized that the difference between waiting for birds to come to the water and waiting in an airport security line was that I had no time pressure weighing on me with the birds.  The difference between sitting in my camp chair here and sitting (frustrated and unhappy) on a beach in the Bahamas was that here I had chosen to sit in the chair.  I had full control of when I got up, when I left, and what I was doing, whereas the Bahamas moment was enforced by a cruise ship and a cancelled excursion.

Traffic and lines get me knotted up and stressed because they impinge on my ability to be punctual.  Enforced idleness, because a companion has chosen to linger or something is preventing me from leaving, irritates me because I have no choice in the matter.  I have to wait, I have to sit, I have to fill time, not because I’ve picked it, but because it is being forced on me.

This new understanding of myself is both a revelation and a challenge.  I know the source of my impatience; now I must find a way to choose to wait for others, either with me or around me.

I discovered a corollary of this when I returned home.  External stress, unrelated to the moment, can also make me very impatient.  If I’m tired from a day at work, I have no patience with traffic.  If an upcoming task makes me worry, I’ll get angry with my dog for taking too long to sit.  Again, knowing this about myself may help me improve.

Time Flies When You’re Moving Slowly

The first thing I did when I arrived on my retreat was to readjust my pace.  I decided that I would be “timeless,” meaning that I had no schedule, no limits on when to do something or how long to do it.  It turns out it takes a bit to adjust from a get-things-done routine to a nothing-but-the-moment routine.

In order to slow myself down, I took my camp chair, my binoculars, and my National Geographic to the edge of my campsite, where two trees provided some lovely shade in a spot overlooking the lake.  There I parked it, just sitting and reading and soaking in the view.  Surprisingly, it worked!

For the rest of the retreat I took my time and went slowly.  One morning I took an apple and a piece of bread (my breakfast) to the nearby fishing pier and just watched the little fish come up to eat bugs off the surface of the water.  I would sit and write, and suddenly two hours would have passed.  I hiked right through “lunchtime” one day, just letting the trails lead me, going from one to another, until I decided I was done hiking.

Walking was the one thing I couldn’t slow.  I kept trying to remind myself to “mosey,” just wander and soak it in, but when my feet started going my brain did, too, so my pace was close to my typical speed.  It didn’t matter in the end, though; the journey was the goal and the hiking loosened my creativity.

I really enjoyed the slow pace, as well as the lack of schedules and plans.  I don’t think I could keep it up indefinitely – towards the end I started getting a little antsy – but it was definitely what I needed right now.

Animal Adventures

There were several very cool animal-related happenings on my retreat.  (That’s one of the benefits of taking a wilderness retreat; nature is all around.)  When I first arrived, as I was taking my camp chair and National Geographic out to the water’s edge, I had to stop in my tracks.  A Pileated Woodpecker, one of my favorite species, was at the base of a tree not thirty feet away.  I just stood and watched it as it slowly climbed the trunk, pecking here and there to check for a tasty bug.  I knew those birds were large, but seeing one that closely, and right at ground level, really brought home for me just how huge they are.  It went about its business, even staying in a neighboring tree as I continued moving about.

I also discovered, on one of my hikes, a frog called a sheep frog.  It has this silly name because it sounds just like a sheep or goat bleating.  Imagine my surprise on my first hike to hear “maaa” coming from the edge of a little pond.

The first night I was on my retreat, I got to hear the sound shift that occurs throughout the night.  When I went to bed, it was frogs.  Crazy numbers of frogs, from at least 3 species, were calling from the lake.  Then, when the frogs went to bed, the crickets and other insects started up.  Just before dawn, when the sky is barely starting to lighten, a cardinal started singing and woke me up.  Apparently he woke every bird in the vicinity up, too, because within minutes I could hear birdsong filling the world around me.

The morning after the storm, I was treated to one more neat animal moment.  I was sitting inside my shelter, writing, when two crows arrived in my campsite.  They started picking around at the base of one of the trees.  Shortly after they came, a Turkey Vulture joined them.  I never figured out what had drawn them; all three picked around my campsite a bit, mostly working around the base of one tree, but I didn’t see anything large they were eating.  I watched them until a truck driving by spooked all three to fly away.

One of the wonderful things about taking a writer’s retreat in the wilderness is the opportunity to pause and watch wildlife.

A Foot/Brain Connection

I did a lot of hiking on my writer’s retreat.  I’ve mentioned before that a walk in the park can help me get past writer’s block.  I do a lot of writing in my head when my body can take care of a task on its own, such as waiting in line or pumping gas.  This works as long as I turn my attention to the story.  Apparently hiking is even more effective.

Every time I set out on a trail with the intention of hiking or walking, my mind immediately kicked in to writing mode.  Sometimes characters would just start the next section of dialog.  A few times entire blog posts wrote themselves in my head.  It wasn’t effortless, but it was as close as I think I’ve ever come.  The first full day of my retreat, I settled into a pattern of hike, write, rest, hike write, rest and managed to crank out a chapter of Dragon Pendant, several key scenes from the story, and ideas for seven blog entries.

If I can just manage to find a way to make this hike, write, rest routine stick when I get home, I’ll get a lot more writing done and drop a few pounds along the way!

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