Writing Retreat Report


The view from the top of the hill on my long hike.

My little cabin was as lovely as ever. It’s amazing to me how quickly I can get into the rhythm of solitary life. It didn’t feel like I was working a lot, but I did work a lot. It felt slower paced than the fall retreat, but I think it was because the work I was doing was less intense and took more thought.

Here’s what I did:

  • re-read two chapter drafts (one rough, one with writing partner comments)
  • made a list of what to fix on the Arc chapter
  • made a list of what to fix on ER, but decided it needed major reorganization
  • marked each section with a letter, revised outline a zillion times, moved all the text around to make it match my new outline
  • filled in some blanks in the chapter
  • checked some footnotes

My ER chapter draft (the final one I had to write) was done enough after the weekend, that I was able to clean it up enough to send to my writing partner this past week.


I met this little guy while I was hiking the Bunny Trail

On this retreat I took a few longer breaks–a 90 minute hike up and down some big hills, and a lively dinner out with a friend. Those “reward” breaks motivated me to push through times when I was wanting to curl up with a book of fiction instead of a book of criticism, or with something written in the last decade rather than something written five centuries ago.

I’m beginning to think I need a writing retreat every weekend! (but maybe once a month will suffice)


Writing Retreat (prep)

Where I get to write for the weekend.

Where I get to write for the weekend.

Here’s where I’ll be working from 4-9pm Friday, 8am-7pm Saturday, and 8am-noon on Sunday. I’m hoping to crank out a lot of work (and I can change locations from the desk to the table to the bed to the porch), and to relax a little in the California oaks. There are trails all around, and the retreat is on a working farm. I’m not planning to go visit the pigs, but it could happen. I am, however, planning on some little hikes, and glass of wine on the porch. For much of my life I’ve thought the scrub oak landscape and brown hills (I refuse to call them “golden”) ugly. But they’re growing on me. It’s just about the perfect place to get away, and it’s only 10 minutes from civilization.

The desk and table area.

The desk and table area.

Where I get to cook and do dishes.

Where I get to cook and do dishes.

Not bad for an outhouse view.

Not bad for an outhouse view.

The view from the porch.

The view from the porch.

Writing Between (Week 4)

My final check-in before the writing retreat:

Goal for Week 3: Write 3300 words/complete Chapter 4 draft; finish reading book chapter; read more of new book; plan for writing retreat (and pack).

Accomplished: finished Chapter 4 draft!!! Planned for writing retreat and started packing.

Analysis: It feels good to have the full draft done. I’m letting it sit until tomorrow afternoon so I can have some fresh(er) eyes on it. I may actually leave it to late in the evening and focus on my Chapter 2 revision, just to give Chapter 4 more rest. I worked diligently, and lots of other things in life got left undone, but my actual writing time didn’t take up that many hours. But I’m still exhausted! Getting to sleep early didn’t really happen, but I did think about getting to sleep earlier. I’ll count that as progress.

One thing that will improve productivity for the retreat: Write First, and Walk A Lot. That’s really two things, but both help give me room to focus and room to think.

Goals for writing retreat: clean up Chapter 4 to send to writing partner; clean up Chapter 2 to send to advisor; re-draft conclusion. Anything else is golden.

For the writing retreat, I’m planning a schedule much like my October retreat: work for 2 hour chunks, and then half hour breaks, with some longer meal times in between. I’m also sneaking out for dinner with a friend on Saturday night, and I’ve got some movies cued/queued up on the iPad for the meals and evenings. I’m looking forward to being back in the little cabin. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I avoid mountain lion sightings again.

Writing Between: The Beauty of Cut and Paste

During my comprehensive exams, a medieval literature professor told me to write paragraphs after I read things. “You’ll be able to drop them into your drafts,” she promised. Today I was reminded that she was right.

I’m not one to write single paragraphs. I tend to think of a piece of writing as a whole. In what I consider the “pre-writing” phase, I produce three or four very rough drafts. For each iteration, I start with a blank page and a simple outline. And I keep my old draft handy. (Scrivener allows me to see both documents at once.) Then for my first full draft I’ve not only thought through the material a few times, I also have raw matter in basic paragraph containers.

Today, I was able to cut and paste 600+ words from my old draft into my full draft. They’ll need a slight bit of shaping, but I have four paragraphs (that have the right basic material) moved into place. I love when previous work makes present work easier.

Current word count: 7660/9000

Writing Between (Week 3)

Posts start again over at Dame Eleanor’s May-August writing group on the 13th, and by that time I should have my full rough draft done. Here’s how: this week, I’ll finish drafting my final chapter; at my writing retreat next weekend, I’ll clean it up to send to readers and draft my conclusion. My May-August goal will be to take my full draft and turn it in to something submittable by mid-August, in time for a September defense.

Last week was not as productive as I’d have liked, but I’m still making progress.

Goals for Week 2: write 3000 words (or more–4000 would be amazing); finish the book chapter I started two weeks ago.

Accomplished: wrote 1229 words; re-read the first quarter of the book chapter (the lit review is really good and relevant to my work); and read the introduction and a bit of the first chapter of another relevant book.

Analysis: I had a decent start to the week, but I got distracted by home life. May is always a crazy month with end-of-the-year school activities and swim team starting up (plus one kid is in soccer this spring), and even though it happens every year, it surprised me again.

One thing I can change to make next week more productive: scheduling loosely (in 1/2 hour chunks) worked well last week when I managed to work, so I’ll continue. This week will be helped by getting to bed a little earlier than usual–say 10:30, instead of 11:30 or midnight.

Goals for Week 3: Write 3300 words/complete Chapter 4 draft; finish reading book chapter; read more of new book; plan for writing retreat (and pack).

I’ll try to check in Friday before I leave on my writing retreat, and again Monday when I return.

Writing Between (first Wednesday)

Why is it that on my long work day, I get less done than other days? I can list the things that took my time: a call with the electrician, a meeting with the electrician, a hard but good swim, tidying the house, eating lunch while watching The Voice. But somehow it happens every week. Maybe it’s that I feel like I have so much time I can afford to be leisurely with everything. Or maybe I was extra tired today. Or maybe I was catching up with life after being busy yesterday.

I’m off to play catch up. I’m not too far behind my goals to make them by the end of the week.

For next week I’ll need to think of a Wednesday strategy to see if I can up my productivity.

Writing Between (Week 1)

There’s a break between writing groups, so I thought I’d check in here with some weekly goals. I’m heading into the big push to get Chapter 4 done enough to send to my writing partner, and I definitely need the accountability. Here are my minimum goals:

Week 0: 1100 words done
Week 1: 2500 words
Week 2: 3000 words
Week 3: 2000 words
Week 4: clean up to send

Somewhere in there I’ll need to add another 400 words or so.

At the end of Week 3, I have a weekend writing retreat scheduled. I’m hoping to use it to clean up the Chapter 4 draft, revise the Chapter 2 draft from writing partner comments, and draft some (all?) off the conclusion. I won’t have a printer on my retreat, so I have a hard deadline for the finished draft. (I absolutely must edit on paper.)

Goals for Week 1: write 2500 words (or more–4000 would be fantastic); read/annotate/notes on two articles; annotate two articles I read last week; skim one book for quotes.

Overall writing account

I’m still basically where I was last time I reported–I still need to finish Chapter 4, write the conclusion, and revise Chapter 2 (I’m waiting for writing partner feedback on how substantial the revisions need to be). At this point, I think I can have the complete dissertation draft to my advisor (and hopefully secondary advisor too) by the first week of June. My third committee member is gone for the summer, so it’s likely I’ll defend in September. Maybe I can time it so it’s 10 years to the day since I started my PhD. There is a possibility that my advisor and I will try to replace my third committee member in order to schedule a summer (probably August) defense. Sooner seems better, of course, but it also sounds nice to have time to get the formatting and proofreading right without having to rush.

I’m close. So close.

Chapter 2 Again (+ mini writing retreat)

Bad news from advisor 2. He has no problem with my analysis in Chapter 2, but sees a big jump away from the theory I’m exploring and the frame I’m using for the rest of the diss. Is he right? Oh yes. And Chapter 2 is now officially the Chapter of 1000 Drafts. But this makes it better:


It’s ski week (no school for a whole week instead of just a day off for presidents. Sports trump government yet again.) so I have two kids home and only one of them will leave me alone to work for any length of time. So the kids and I headed down to my parents’ place for a couple work days. This photo was from my break-time walk. Beautiful views, and great company.

Today I’m giving Chapter 2 a quick revise before sending it to my writing partner. (It’s the only chapter I’ve submitted without having him read it first, and it’s the only on that’s needed a redo. Not a coincidence.) Tomorrow I’m off to nearby bay city to meet jenk (from the summer iteration of the writing group) for some 90 minute work sessions. I’ll be working on restructuring my intro, moving Chapter 4 to the Chapter 1 slot, and moving conclusion material to the conclusion.

I’m feeling healthier than I gave in months, and I’m ready to tame this beast of a dissertation.