DIY writing retreat

In South Korea, people now pay to be locked up. The daily grind there is so stressful, prison has become a viable alternative: no deadlines, no performance evaluations, no commute. This could be the next big South Korean import since The Good Doctor… 

It’s been a while since the last Maven Game. Short version: a realization struck me after I wrote that essay about Forged in Fire. Who was I to scoff at the hapless smith trying to forge two blades at once and failing at both? I’ve got six blades going. Seven! So I decided to take a hiatus and focus on my larger projects.

Yeah, I needed the break, but, ultimately, too many things annoy me about the writing life—I actually need this outlet or I might go crazy. Plus, it didn’t hurt that fellow newsletterers like Margo nudged me to get back in the traces. When I told Margo the reason for my silence, she wrote:

Tell your readers they are not crazy for also trying to do all the things. There is a lovely lesson here on keeping your head down and focusing on the work. As wonderful as email newsletters are there are some weeks where it feels like that’s the only writing that got done, which can be a problem (especially if you care about your work). 

There’s an expression that goes, “Polish here, shine there.” The idea being, there are helpful things you do that may not actually give you that tingling sensation in the moment: “That tingle means it’s working.” In fact, the stuff that makes dandruff shampoo tingle is not the active ingredient. Manufacturers know that we look for that tingle. Whenever we put effort in, we want results or reassurance. Unfortunately, the highest uses of our time don’t deliver immediate results. Nor do they tingle.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never experienced a runner’s high. I’ve never left a workout feeling a relaxed glow or concomitant surge of well-being. Exercise of any kind leaves me cranky and filled with resentment at the world. This doesn’t mean it isn’t good for me, only that I have to look harder to see that it’s helping. Polish here, shine there. Over the course of a week or a month, I can see how regular exercise lifts my mood and elevates my spirits. In the moment, however, just rage. RAGE!

Same with writing the Maven Game. No tingle, plenty of frustration, but the long-term benefits to my psyche and skill-set are more than worth the investment of time and effort. I just have to remind myself of that from time to time.

This is why it’s helpful to keep a journal or otherwise document your work. You start to see some patterns. What works for you, long-term? What behaviors once did, but got lost in the shuffle?

Here’s a vote in favor of a sabbatical, however short: In college, I had too much time to write, if anything. Once I got a day job as a writer, my own creative output ground to a halt. I decided I needed a writing retreat. Not having the ambition to chase down a prestigious spot at Yaddo or Bread Loaf, I adopted a DIY approach. Taking out a paper map—this is a while back—I looked for someplace unpopular (read: cheap) and close to the city. Next thing I knew, I was driving to a motel in New London, Connecticut, to spend a few days writing fiction.

The room was small and boring and so was New London—perfect. Over a few days, I completed four or five stories, never having really completed any before. I’d started many stories by that point, but I’d only ever finished plays. The next week, I fired the results off to various literary journals I’d dug up at the library and got one published at the Missouri Review. Literary fiction bucket list item, checked. In the end, I enjoyed all the benefits of a true writing retreat without any need for a prisoner jumpsuit.

So, back to the weekly cadence. Let’s see if we can make it all the way through 2019 without another service outage. 

One last thing: We took the kids to see Santa at Macy’s for the first time. Afterward, my son said, “You should ask Santa for something for yourself. Like a stapler. Or an autobiography of David Lynch.” How did he know I was nearly finished with Lynch’s Room to Dream? He explained his reasoning: I like “books about weird people” and “weird people named David like David Bowie.” Too true.