Posts Tagged ‘writelikecrazy’

On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.


It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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So, I had my I’m all that moment yesterday … but I also had my comeuppance. I came home to the news that I wasn’t accepted into a writing residency I’d hoped to attend this summer. And, while it’s true that I pretty much never expect to be accepted … this time was different. I thought I’d put together a super strong application, that the reviewers would be completely turned on by my submission and scoop me up with the quickness.

Yeah. Not so much.

I know it’s not as terrible as it feels. They get plenty of submissions. What I write isn’t going to appeal to everyone. I know. I get it.


The answer, of course, is to keep working, to keep pushing forward, keep submitting my work. I know that. I know it.

And I’m fine. I don’t even need to lick my wounds. I’m actually fine.


I’d been so looking forward to that gift of time. Hanging so much on having that time.

The thing is … I still have that time. Of course. What this rejection takes from me is that particular space. The time is still mine. So I keep my plan to take off from work this summer, and I create an at-home retreat … or I set up a replay of my 2012 DIY retreat, that beautiful gift I gave myself of two weeks in Tulum with nothing to do but write.

I already know these answers. There is always time to write. I just have to take it.

And move on to the next application, the next submission, the next.

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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My mentee, Sophia, and I are working on our submissions for this year’s Girls Write Now anthology. Every year, GWN mentees and mentors get published together. It’s a lovely thing. The mentees, of course, are the stars of the show, so their pieces are more substantial. That’s the tricky part for someone as long-winded as I am! How to say what I want to say in only a handful of words?

Sophia and I have been brainstorming and free writing, trying to decide what we want to write about. She’s had a couple of writing deadlines in the last month, so some of our free writing has led to work that she’s developed for her other submissions. In January, she wrote a snippet of something that seemed like the tiniest frozen sliver hiding a colossal iceberg beneath its surface. I suggested she think about working on that for the anthology since we had so much time before the anthology piece would be due.

But now the piece is due (in a week), and our work is still pretty amorphous. She has added several additional snippets to the first, and each is powerful and compelling, but the work hasn’t yet come together. We’ve been in this place before, with Sophia writing all the way around a thing and then — just in time for the deadline — writing exactly the bit she needed but couldn’t find. We’re going to work for a while on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll have one of those breakthroughs. I shouldn’t expect it, of course, but it’s clear that this is one of the ways Sophia and I mirror each other as writers. How many times have I woken up on the day of a reading with nothing to read? And on how many of those days have I “magically” managed to write something in time for the reading? Hmm … I’m seeing another mentor goal for myself: help move Sophia away from this nerve-wracking habit!

While it’s not necessary, each year that I’ve been volunteering with GWN, my mentee and I have chosen to write on the same subject. I like the companion-piece aspect of that, like that our pieces seem to expand in relation to one another. Sophia is writing about her relationship with her father … and heaven knows I have more than what to say about my relationship with my own father, so I thought writing my anthology piece would be easy.

Ha! Guess again.

Of course.

I’ve written so much about my father. And in some ways, that’s the problem. Not that I think I’ve said everything there is to say, but maybe I’ve said all of the easy things to say, the things I can say with the fewest words. And, too, I have to write something that connects, at least tenuously, to this year’s program theme: Rise, Speak, Change. I really like that theme, but I’m not sure any of the things I’ve been thinking to say about my relationship with my father can be bullied into fitting the theme.

Oy. Time to get to work.

It’s March 1st: The start of the 2017 Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is the 10-year anniversary of Slice of Life, which is hard to believe. I started this blog a month before discovering Two Writing Teachers. When that first SOL challenge started, I had no idea what I was doing as a blogger. I always credit that 2008 SOL crew — I think there were 12 of us then? — with making me into a blogger, and I credit them still. Today, there are hundreds of folks participating in the challenge. Every day, writers will post their links over on TWT. I definitely recommend clicking through to the site and checking out some of the work there!


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“Part the Third” because writing out  my March deadline list on Tuesday and adding to it yesterday reminded me that my list is still not complete! On Tuesday I mentioned that I’ve read several times over the last two years as part of a great series. How could I then forget to add this month’s reading to my deadline list?

The series is called Big Words, Etc. and each reading has theme chosen by the audience at the previous reading. I don’t remember what the other theme choices were at January’s reading. One of them was the one I voted for. I didn’t vote for the winning theme — Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misfortune of others) — because I knew I couldn’t write anything for that topic. I’m much more of a Weltschmerz girl.

I thought I knew the definition of Weltschmerz — feeling sadness for the world. That’s correct, but I think the more specific definition actually suite me much more exactly: depression caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.

Yeah. Little did I know just how much of a Weltschmerz girl I really am.

No Schadenfreude for me, thank you very much. When Schadenfreude won the vote in January, I knew that meant I wouldn’t be reading. I just don’t do Schadenfreude.

… Or maybe, on second thought …

Something happened, a news item greeted me one morning and I found myself feeling … well, I didn’t know what, exactly. I listened to follow up reports on this story, and the feeling returned. It wasn’t the anger I’ve become so familiar with these last couple of years, wasn’t despair …

Hold up! Could this be the fabled Schadenfreude?

Yes, in fact. There I was, feeling some pleasure in another’s misfortune. What do you know.

I’ll leave you to guess what news story it was that introduced me to this new feeling (and I’ll cross-post my story here after I’ve written it and read it at Big Words). Have you ever felt Schadenfreude? What brought it on? How did you feel about feeling it? Did it surprise you? Once you felt it for the first time, did it start creeping in more and more?

It’s week two of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

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Holding the rail tightly, Claudette peered over the cliff. The lookout was famous, even though the story of the suicide couple was variable.

“You would think they’d have leapt to the ocean,” the woman beside Claudette said. “But they had no chance of reaching the water. Anyone could see they’d land there, on those rocks.”

“That would do the job, though,” Claudette said, looking at the jagged surfaces.

“Yes, but messy,” the woman said. “Inelegant.” She looked at Claudette. “You came alone?”

“I prefer it to the tours.”

“You’re so right.” She extended her hand. “I’m Iona. The restaurant here is supposed to be quite good. Join me?”

Claudette hesitated just long enough for it to be awkward, then shook Iona’s hand. “Sure.”

She followed Iona inside. She couldn’t have said what made her wary, what seemed off about the other woman. It wasn’t the invitation. People often invited her to join them for a drink or a meal, especially when she was traveling. But there was something.

She ordered lobster. Iona ordered a dish she described as sausage made of shrimp, coconut, and hot peppers. “You’ll taste it and be amazed,” she said, smiling.

“What made you come to visit this place?” she asked after the server retreated with their order.

Claudette shrugged. “I’ve been working my way through all the attractions,” she said. “And the view from here was noted.”

Iona cocked her head to one side. “Just the sea,” she said.

Claudette laughed. “Spoken like a person who gets to see the ocean all the time.”

“Every day.”

Claudette thought she sounded both angered and saddened by that fact, but Iona didn’t elaborate on her answer.

“Why did you come?” Claudette asked. She fidgeted with her napkin, nervous and uncomfortable and unable to shake either feeling.

Iona waved the question away. “It’s an attraction, right?” She looked around the room. “All of these people, here for the view, for the supposed romance of a couple plunging to their deaths.”

Claudette nodded. It had drawn her, after all, she couldn’t deny that. The story, it’s permutations.

Their food arrived, and Claudette wanted to sweep it off the table. Something heavy sat on her stomach, on her heart. It was crazy, but she had the feeling Iona was causing it.

Iona picked at her food, then pushed the plate toward Claudette. “Don’t you want to try some?”

“No. Thank you.” Claudette leaned away from the table. “I’m actually not feeling well. I’m going to ask them to wrap this for me to take away. I’m sorry, but I should go.”

“Yes,” Iona said. “Sick. But not sick at heart.” She gave another dismissive wave. “You’ll be fine once you leave here.”

Claudette signaled for the server, who came with the check and an apologetic smile. “Do you want me to put this up? You’ll be able to enjoy it later.”

She hurried away with the lobster, and Claudette picked up the check, only to find that it wasn’t the check, was a note instead: Your lunch is on us, it said. We do apologize for the inconvenience.

Claudette stared at the note, not a hand-written thing but a printed one, as if they were given out often. She looked up at Iona.

“I vex them. I do,” she said. “They don’t want me here, I can’t leave. No one of us is pleased.” She looked around the room again. “Thank you for joining me,” she said, standing and straightening her skirt.

The server returned with Claudette’s packed up lobster. “You’re ready to go,” she said.

“Yes, ready to go,” Iona said. Without looking at the server, she walked out to the lookout.

Claudette watched her go then looked at the server. “What’s going on?”

The young woman looked embarrassed. “You’re okay,” she said. “Some stomach upset, but it’s passing.”

“What happened?”

“She’s gone now. She’s just very sad. Very lonely.”

Claudette looked toward the door then back at the server. “It was Iona? Iona made me feel sick? How? And why me?”

The young woman shrugged. “She comes to the women who come here alone.” She shrugged again. “Maybe she thinks you come with the same idea she had all those years ago. Maybe that’s why she invites you to eat with her, so she can bring you back inside, away from the railing.”

“Are you saying she thought I came here to jump?” Claudette looked outside again, but Iona was nowhere to be seen. Then the rest of the server’s words registered. “The same reason she did? Are you saying,” she looked the young woman in the eyes, “that woman is the woman who jumped, half of the couple that make this place famous?”

“She charms you,” she said. “The best I understand it is that, the moment she shakes your hand, she holds you until you start to feel sick, until you begin to understand that something isn’t right. Look at your table.”

Claudette frowned and turned to look at the table, only to find that none of Iona’s dishes were there.

“When you start to feel sick, and she has to go away, and whatever she’s made you see goes away, too. She wants to help, thinks she’s saving you from the cliff.”

Claudette shook her head. “What kind of publicity gimmick is this? Pretending the place is haunted.”

“She came to you,” the server said. “You see her. I don’t. I only know because I see the look on your face when I bring the food. The owner decided a long time ago that you women get your meal as a gift. He says it’s the least he can do.” She patted Claudette’s shoulder again. “You’re okay. Go back to your hotel, drink some water. You’re okay.”

Leap Flash 2016

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Seth and Ella lay in the grass staring into the sky.

“I wish I’d ever paid attention when people tried to teach me constellations,” Seth said. “I’m not even sure which dipper that is, big or little.”

Ella laughed. “I’m no better. All those field trips to the planetarium and I’ve got nothing.”

Seth almost said something cringe-worthy like, “You’ve got me,” but managed to keep it inside. He wanted to touch her, to take her hand. But there was no not-awkward way to do that, and no guarantee she’d welcome the contact. Such a mistake would be horrific any time, but he didn’t want to imagine the blow-back of taking such a misstep at a leadership retreat, surrounded by upper management from every department.

“Do kids still go on planetarium field trips, I wonder,” Ella said. “Can’t imagine they learn anything more than we did. Good thing no one expects us to navigate by the stars.”

“Or tell time by the sun.”

“Oh no, that I can do.”

Seth looked over at her. “You can?”

She laughed again. “Just kidding. I might be able to give you noon. That’s it.”

Seth sat up and looked over to where others from their group were sitting around the bonfire. “I almost didn’t come on this retreat,” he said. “Usually these kinds of things drive me nuts, and especially when you’re trapped out of town in some retreat center, but this –” He looked at Ella and smiled.

“Oh, I’m with you,” she said. “Like when you get a motivational speaker and you have to act as if anything they’re saying has anything to do with your work. The worst!” She looked over at him. “But these three days have been great.”

He hoped she meant that the three days of getting to know him had been great. He still couldn’t believe they worked in partnering units and he’d never seen her before. But here she was, and he hated that the retreat was ending the next day. What if it hadn’t been enough time to make her want to keep knowing him?

He wanted to be the kind of man who had anything that could be described as “moves.” He wanted to be able to flirt with her, wanted to say something that would make her lean into him the way he’d seen women do with other men, lean in with anticipation and the flush of excitement.

“Which bus are you on to head back after lunch tomorrow,” she asked.

Her eyes were closed, and Seth took a deep breath. Here was an opportunity he hadn’t thought of. “Oh, I drove up,” he said, hoping it sounded off-hand, as casual as an answer to her question should have sounded. He took another breath. “I could drive you back if you like.” His voice cracked just a little over “like,” but maybe she wouldn’t notice.

She opened her eyes but focused on the sky, not him. “Thanks. I’d like that. Much better than the bus ride. Oh –” she pointed up quickly, and he squinted up to follow her direction. “It was a shooting star,” she said. “At least I think so. It went so fast.”

“Did you make a wish?” Why had he asked her that? Was he seven years old? He tried to think of a way to laugh it off, but suddenly had no words.

“I always make a wish,” she said. “I’ll let you know if it comes true.”

Seth smiled. Even if she didn’t mean anything by it, her words gave him hope. He stretched out beside her again and watched the sky.

Leap Flash 2016

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I’m waking up, and the first thing I hear is shouting from upstairs, my ever-angry neighbors arguing over whose turn it is to make the morning coffee. I look at Asa and am pleased that he’s still asleep, although I don’t understand how he can be. I sit up and grab my journal from the night table.

Asa curls into himself as the fight rages on, and I try to sift through my thoughts. The coffee forgotten, my neighbors now offer opinions on the previous night’s sex.

“You could do more than lie there. It’s like fucking a log!”

Maybe if you made me feel something, I’d do more than lie there!”

“Oh, you felt it … came like a freight train!”

I close my eyes and lean against the headboard. They’ll stop in a second. The moment anyone mentions climax, they get inspired to go have another. It’s a ritual — for them and for me. They remind me how many changes I’ve made in my life and then give me a lovely silent interlude between their angry shouting and sex shouting.

I go back to my journal, but whatever my dream was, I’ve forgotten it. I’ve been trying to keep track, but most mornings are like this one, and by the time I’m fully awake, the memory of my dream world is gone.

In the silence, Asa unfurls. His waking always pleases me. It’s a slow unwinding, a lazy spiral back to consciousness that spreads down his legs, out across his chest and arms, reaching his eyes last of all.

“You and that notebook,” he says, his voice thick. “Just like the movie.”

I have to smile, even though I’ve heard this every time he’s woken up beside me. He is seeing me in Henry and June, one of his favorite movies, seeing me as Anaïs Nin, who sat up in bed next to Henry Miller, writing and writing. From our first night together, he’s awakened to see me writing or daydreaming, my notebook open on my knees.

“You’re like Anis,” he’d said, pronouncing her name the way Fred Ward as Henry did on screen.

He sits up and kisses my shoulder then turns away to busy himself at the nightstand, rolling a joint. The shouting starts anew as the neighbors begin to build toward their finale.

“I always wake up just in time, don’t I?” Asa asks, looking over his shoulder to wink at me. “I give them five minutes.”

I smile. “No. At least ten.” Another part of the ritual, guessing how long after sex before they fight again. “Five minutes is just not nice.”

“How’s your chest?” I ask as he settles beside me and lights up. The asthma for which he has the marijuana prescription has been trouble these last few days. I want him to go to the doctor, but he refuses.

“A little better,” he says.

He holds out his hand, and I put mine in it. And the angry shouting picks up above us. The sex, after all, has made them late for work.

“I win,” Asa says. “What would we do if he ever hit her?”

“Call the police.”

He looks at me. “You sure didn’t have to think twice about that.”

“No.” Because all I ever wanted was for someone to call the police when I was the one getting hit.

The first time we listened, Asa got excited, wanted us to put on our own floor show. But it was too shocking for me, hearing the same insults that had been thrown at me, things I hadn’t heard in years. There was no way I could go from that to use their lovemaking as some dysfunctional turn-on. But I listen. In case they escalate, in case I need to make that 911 call.

Asa doesn’t know any of that, and I don’t want him to. I should. I should share everything. Of course. But who does that, really? He thinks I’m too strong to ever be that woman, and I don’t want to kill that image he holds of me. I want him to keep seeing me as Anis.

He leans back, closes his eyes. I keep listening, just in case.

There are any number of people I might be like. Anaïs Nin isn’t one of them. But I like it because of the explosive, pounding blood of the passion she and Miller shared. I’m no Anaïs, and Asa’s not Henry, but I want him to love me like that, want to believe someone ever could. The woman who said, “I fell,” every time she wound up in the ER didn’t inspire that kind of love. Maybe the strong one who captures her dreams in a composition book will.


Leap Flash 2016

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