Whether you want to snatch a couple of nights somewhere like Retreats For You, or you're planning to buy your own personal desert island, or you're wondering whether to offer cat-sitting to friends, most of us dream of running away from the clutter of everyday life, to write. And it can be wonderful. But unless you have infinite income and zero emotional ties, you're likely to feel you need to "justify" the time and money, by coming home having done lots of writing. And that's a very real pressure which can hamstring you quite as much as the half-term bedlam at home which you were trying to escape. So here are some suggestions for making the most of it.
- Have a think about the best way to use the time. That's partly to make sure you've got the right equipment and books with you. But there are other reasons:
- Consider not working on the big project, if you've got a novel on the go, say. You could do something much freer and madder, and then return to the novel refreshed, seeing it with a cooler eye and with some new skills that it hasn't taught you, but the new stories demanded and so you learnt.
- You could also plan to work your way through some of a how-to-write book, or write a haiku every morning, or sketch a flash fiction every evening in the café - or scale similar things up till they're most of your writing time. Sometimes having a lot riding on your writing time ("This is my One Big Chance - oh, help, it's not working, I'm such a failure) can be less productive than doing something apparently minor: something which doesn't have too much riding on it.
- If you've got an ongoing project then it will have its own logic and demands. I would myself work out a fairly discrete project for the time away: an achievable goal of "revise on hard copy and put those revisions in" or "draft the next two chapters". Just planning to "Do some more" leaves you at risk of not-really-writing, fiddling, procrastinating and all the other ways we find of avoiding jumping in and getting swimming.
- If you're trying new things you could decide, say, that by the end of the week you'll have at least one story in first draft. Are you a shitty first draft merchant? Let yourself splurge, and worry about sorting-out and tidying-up later. But with new things it's all rather more imponderable, so you need to forgive yourself if it doesn't happen. And therefore ...
- ... it's always wise to judge how much you "should" write by time, not words produced. You're not altogether in control of the latter, but keeping the seat of your pants/trunks/bikini on the seat of that chair and off the internet for the four-hour morning you've decided you'll do, is always possible.
- Take a favourite how-to-read or how-to-write book: one that gives you energy for writing, and will help to sort you out if you really can't write sense, or stick because you don't know how to handle the scene you want to write next. If it's an ongoing project and you really will be stuck for want of a particular reference book, then take that.
- Take whatever you're comfortable writing with. Maybe not even a laptop? Even if you do, also take your favourite kind of big notebook and pen, so you can write even if the electricity goes down, the laptop get nicked or the sun makes it impossible to see the screen. Take a pen drive to back up stuff and keep it separate from the laptop so they don't both get nicked. And if there's wifi, get a Dropbox account.
- Explore, and record, whatever you stumble on while you're away. Take walking boots, small notebook, camera, guidebook, history book, binoculars, whatever. Filling the storehouse for future projects is just as valid a use of writing time as scribbling. Also buy postcards and pick up leaflets of anything that feels potent even if you can't see what you'd do with it now: you may in a year's time.
- Consider avoiding having constant wifi available. At one place I run away to, I use a cheap mobile PAYG WiFi hub. It's not expensive but, as in the old dial-up days, you're conscious that it's on, and don't end up surfing.
- Each day, let yourself stop when you've done your hours, and do whatever else you want to do in this different place. If you just drive-drive-drive with the writing you'll run out of fuel. Simple physical activity clears the mind, allows solutions to float up, and helps fend off heart-attacks. Music, art, landscape, history all refuel you in other ways.
- Don't feel guilty about stopping and doing something else when you've done your time. If you're writing every day, then the project will always be in the front of your mind, and be ticking over and solving its problems and shoving the solution in front of you, even when you're splooshing around in the sea or stomping up a hill.
- Consider splitting your writing time into two: 2 x 4 hours with a brain-clearing walk in between may be better than 1 x 8 hours. Or decide that you'll have an optional second chunk of writing time in the evening if you feel like it.
- Don't hit the alcohol or other such too much, tempting though it is when in some senses you're on holiday. It's desperately frustrating to be all keen to work the next morning, only to find your brain feels like fudge. Same goes for staying up all night, perhaps. I hate to sound like a killjoy, but one of the markers of being serious about your writing is that sometimes you don't do nice things, because writing is more important. And that is why you're going away, isn't it?
Have a lovely, productive time!