Curses and Blessings, reprise

What can happen when you’re given time and space alone with your ideas? When you’re sent off to a little cabin and someone else is cooking your food and tending to the day-to-day management of your comfort and well-being? When you’re told that the only thing you have to do is whatever you want to do?

Well, any number of things can happen, I suppose. I’ve had very different experiences with writing residencies and retreats. The similarity across all of them — the DIY and the formal ones — is that I’ve come back to my “real life” changed in some way, come back with some new understanding of the writing I went away to work on, which is precisely what I go away for. So … excellent!

How that realization or understanding happens isn’t at all similar. My first DIY retreat, I spent all day every day writing out one character (I was mostly a fiction writer then). I wasn’t working on the story that character was part of. I was digging into his history, trying to understand how he became the man who showed up in the story I wanted so badly to finish but which I couldn’t finish if I didn’t understand that man.

In the end, I wrote so much about him that I realized he was the main character, that the story he’d stepped out of wasn’t the central story at all, as much as I love my original protagonist. That was definitely not the place I’d imagined finding myself at the end of the retreat. Not even close. But I learned a lot about how I feel my way into a story and how to work with story elements and more formal tools to shape a successful arc and land sure-footedly at a conclusion.

At my first formal residency, I’d planned to write scripts for my comics project. I started a script, and it was a solid start. But, but the end of the two weeks, what I’d done most was learn more about how comics work, how sequential art moves with and without words and that some of my ideas were feeling awkward and clunky because I was writing scripts that were at odds with the medium I’d chosen. I did a lot of drawing, which I hadn’t expected, and learned some things about my drawing and what I want from my artwork.

And now …

I came to Alaska with a plan. I decided a while ago that I want to turn my “Fat Talk” essays into a collection. I had an outline of what pieces were needed to complete the arc I’d imagined for the collection. All I needed was time to really sit and focus, time to start building those missing pieces.

Except that’s not what my time has been here at all. I’ve been writing, yes. I wrote a whole new essay that is at least a strong skeleton for what I want the finished version to be. I’ve done some bits of other, not-part-of-the-collection writing. I’ve read through all of the existing essays and made notes for things that need revision, places where I need to go deeper or where I need to steer back on course.

So … productive. But also … not. Everything has felt a little off, a little not quite what I needed to do.

And then Sunday happened. Sunday, I ran up hard against the wall of: what even is this project? what’s the point? what am I trying to say, anyway?

It’s not an unfamiliar wall, but slamming into it is never welcome. And, to be clear, this isn’t La Impostora creeping up on me. She’s always lurking, but this question, this wall, is different. It’s more the realization that I don’t have the clarity about the project that I thought I had. Similar to the realization during that first DIY retreat that I’d been focused on the wrong character, that I was supposed to be writing a very different story.

What do I do when I run into the wall? Well, this time I did some good and some annoying things. I slept. A lot. I hung out on social media. A lot. And then — finally — I started journaling, writing out the conversation I needed to have to get answers to the questions the wall was asking. I made notes. I made lists. I asked and answered the same questions a few times. I just kept writing.

Slowly, and then more quickly, an answer — the answer — began to come clear. I fought it a little, falling immediately into the control freak role that sometimes creeps into my writing, trying to force things to go the way I want them to rather than the way they actually need to. Because, if the answer that was taking shape was really the answer, most of the writing I’ve done has to be undone and then rebuilt in profound ways … if it’s usable at all.

So here I am, halfway through my residency, with a project that’s totally in shambles.

And this, this is what can happen when you strip away the distractions of work and daily life and spend oceans of time with your ideas. This right here. The curse and the blessing.

Time to pick up my pen and get the fuck to work.


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

10 thoughts on “Curses and Blessings, reprise

  1. Stacie, I often wish for a writing retreat. Being alone and immersed in my passion-that is a vision that appears to be such an amazing time. Sometimes, we start writing and then, the muse leads us to a realization and perhaps, an entirely new pathway. I look forward to hearing any more details about your retreat.

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    1. Thanks, Carol. This is my second formal residency. The DIY retreats I’ve planned for myself have been great, and I recommend that. I did one last summer with a friend, and it was great. We only went away for a few days, but I wrote so much in that short time.

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  2. Retreats act as journeys of self discovery. Going in with one idea and purpose only to find that a detour appears and that leads you to a totally different place. Although it can be frustrating, I imagine it can also be enlightening as well giving you a whole new perspective on what you want and need to say. Good luck with the remainder of your residency.

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  3. I want to do this so badly! I am supposed to be writing my master’s thesis and I can’t find any motivation. Deep inside I feel like I need to do a DIY retreat, but I fear I’d spend the whole time making excuses instead of progress. After reading this post I think I need to plan the weekend and just do it.

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    1. Yes! I am a big fan of the DIY retreat! And you don’t have to go far from home. The retreat I did las summer with a friend wasn’t far at all. It’s really just removing yourself from your normal responsibilities that matters. And if you spend the time sleeping or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, that can still be good for your brain. Every retreat or residency I’ve done, I’ve written more than I have on this residency … but the re-envisioning of my project concept that’s happened here is huge, better than any writing I might have done in the first week. Good luck!! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’›

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  4. Oh the many times I insisted I wanted my words to zig, but the words wanted to zag and wouldn’t give quarter. Letting go or the reworking of an idea you thought was on a pretty set path, when another avenue of thought opens up, is daunting. Good you’ve gotten past that wall and the words are coming. May the rest of your residency give you what you need even if it’s not what you thought you originally wanted.

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  5. I’m in awe of the writing that so many of my slicer friends do, what I call “real writing”. While I just dabble about telling my story. I loved this peek into the first week of your residency and that you’ve embraced both the curse and the blessing. I hope your next week provided you the time you needed for rebuilding and recreating.

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