The time has come the walrus said, to talk of many things . . .
Like writing, writing and more writing.
Okay, the walrus didn’t want to talk about writing. He meant shoes, ships and caviar – of cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings!
Can I just say, this is not the sort of chat that goes down at a writing retreat. I know, I know. “Bella, you jest.” No, I don’t. I’m not the jesting kind. I’m actually quite serious. Eccentric. Ambitious. Prone to blow things out of proportion and cry when people are mean to me (aye, I’m tender) but jesting? Not my style. In true form of serious, eccentric author who does enjoy the odd giggle, I shall set your path on the straight and narrow as to what actually ‘goes down’ at an independently organised author retreat. Kind of like a TedX event.
First of all, I’m friends with some of the most incredible, heart-warming, genuine and talented authors. These ladies have been Facebook friends with me through a network of authors in similar genres, but we all have the same goal: write books people want to read. We want to make royalties that pay (some or all of our) bills. We like seeing glowing reviews on Amazon, because it makes it all worth it. All of the hard work of writing in the early hours, some on the train, or secretly at their desk during their day job for no one but ourselves. There is no audience until the book is finished. Perhaps we have family and friends championing us towards finishing another book, but does the third, fourth, fifth, tenth, really matter? Yes.
With every book one has published, the pressure increases. An author gets a following – in some cases – an obsession from readers. One has social media and is in the public eye to a degree. The expectations form and emails come in with everything, from questions from readers to downright demands for certain plot points to take place. Rankings are watched. Royalties monitored and compared to previous releases and quarters. Websites built. We become CEOs of our own brand, and often, spend hours upon hours doing everything except writing. The writing retreat is where we go to get away from all of that. It’s where we go to fellowship with people who get us – the ones who know what it’s like to have words bursting out of our heads and who also feel the need to craft a chapter that won’t shift until it’s yielded to. We understand the Amazon Algorithm for the five seconds it lives before it’s changed again (Thanks, Jeff Bezos! Would love to talk to you about that sometime), and what it means to tank on a release, or be put in Amazon’s dungeon. Jeff, really, call me. Let’s get lunch. I have questions.
These are authors who, regardless of their commercial success or ranking, are artists. We are novelists. We write books with ISBN numbers that sell and give us royalties. The sheer amount of private, emotional and internal investment that goes into writing a book is unprecedented. Every book is a journey and I only have to re-read one of my own published manuscripts to remind myself of where I was personally when I wrote it.
‘I was desperate to have a friend like Elizabeth back then.’
‘I hated myself.’
‘I was dealing with childhood trauma there. And there. Aaaaaand there.’
‘Still dealing with trauma.’
‘Oh look, a pretty bird! Let’s write a bird into the book. That’s nice.’
But sometimes we don’t get to free ourselves for enough time to bleed onto the page. Sometimes, we have to work other jobs, move house, care for ill family members, travel, or fall apart behind the scenes where no one can see our real-life turmoil . . . and then we can’t or don’t want to write. A specific time set aside for nothing but talking industry, and writing, is often what we need. For me, it will be a rekindling versus an escape. I can write all day everyday if I want to, but I don’t. I haven’t been able to for months and that’s okay. I’m not worried about it because after nine books I know myself pretty well and how my creative un-process works. I have no process. I live life and bleed it on the page. However, some things stir or prompt me to bleed more, and more often. I work well in coffee shops where there is a buzz of background noise. Sometimes I watch people. Mostly though, I just let them be my company. I also feel a great sadness when I want to write but nothing is there, as if words have been stolen from me and no movie in my mind wants to play. It feels unfair. And then sometimes it’s sudden, like this morning, when I was still awake at 3 a.m. writing. This time it wasn’t words that arrived in my head, but a cinematic scene playing out in my imagination. That’s normal for me and the most typical manner in which my books form. More often than not, I see my books as films in my minds versus feeling/knowing words I want to get out. As if the words were being faithful to what I saw in my mind, I typed for five hours as soon as my hands touched the keyboard. I haven’t written like that in months. Perhaps, it was a manifestation of my unconscious brain wagging a metaphorical finger as if to say, ‘you’re about to go on a retreat and you haven’t done much writing! Who do you think you are even going along?’ Just because I haven’t released a book since September 2017 doesn’t mean I’ve no right to maintain my place as an author of nine books I’ve poured my soul into. No one can take that away from me regardless of the time between releases. But with art comes doubt (SO MUCH DOUBT), with doubt, pressure. The writing retreat also removes the pressure.
Bear in mind, this retreat is not a one-size-fits all, and none of them are. If you’re writing anything and you want to get some serious word count done, you need to analyse every opportunity to attend retreats. You may be better booking yourself a cabin in the woods for a long weekend to move your manuscript from barren to bursting. If you’re happy to talk shop, take in some casual workshops, socialise over dinner in the evenings and still get some words done, then the retreat I’m going to might well be the sort of situation to consider in future. I’ve done all manner of writing retreats from structured to relaxed, to conferences where no writing took place but lots and lots of learning did. Whatever moves you to move your word count is going to be what gets you closer to writing The End. And you can’t edit a blank page.
I’ve received a lot of email recently, asking when I’m releasing a book, what I’m working on and if I’m going to finish my series. To answer in order: I don’t know – how long is a piece of string? I’m working on eleven books right now. And yes.
Remember, that for every word you inhale with your eyes, it took an author ten times that to write, edit, re-edit and finally be at peace with. A reader’s desire for escapism is not more important than an author’s need for a balanced life.
We are not machines. That being said, I would love to finish the five main books on my plate right now and continue moving my other manuscripts toward their endings. If I could submit several books to my publisher today I would be ecstatic. That isn’t the case and I’m looking forward to going to this retreat, so I can meet new author friends, see old ones, share my experience of going on six years as a published Amazon bestselling author, and teach a few of them how to do writing sprints.
Currently on my desk
-The Marriage Treaty – sequel to The Protagonist
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