The Gift of Time

Coffee shop interior

Coffee shop interior

I recently got to attend the Writers Winter Getaway, a weekend-long writer's conference that offered small-group workshops, poetry readings, open mics, and (what I was most excited about) unstructured time where participants could work on their writing.*

I went into the Getaway most excited to experience the sort of unstructured writing time I hadn't had since getting my MFA. While nothing would have held me back from getting a Masters, it was a case of time being wasted on the young. I did plenty of writing and got a few things published, but I was socializing and working and not spending as much time pounding out that pages as future me would have wished.

The workshops combined craft instruction with writing prompts and feedback sessions. We had 15 hours of workshop throughout the weekend; one-fifth of this was writing time.

Since I'd been craving time to write, I skipped many of the evening events in favor of alone time with my laptop. I sat in the hotel lobby and set myself to writing that scene I'd been avoiding getting down at home. I backed up and wrote what came before it, hacking away at two of three scenes that needed to precede the one I didn't want to do. There were breaks for wine and food and chatting with a few writers I'd met.

But mostly I worked. I don't normally write at night, so it was interesting to get things done then—to see that I could do the creative work at night, that there is another option.

Seven of the nine writers in my workshop were morning people and I am just not one of them. My brain is fuzzy; I don't want to talk to anyone until I've had coffee, and I can barely do anything. Creative thinking that early in the morning stresses me out.

Still, I gave that a go, too. I'd sent my characters off on a fool's errand—a hazardous journey to a new town that doesn't quite have the answers they've been led to believe it will.

I wanted to visualize this new town while my enthusiasm was fresh, so I'd have the stage set for the upcoming week of writing. I did a quick exercise we'd practiced in workshop of closing my eyes and visualizing what my character would see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. Not with my eyes closed, but studying a map for some sense of accuracy. Honing in on an area of the map, I dashed off some notes on what she might see (an tire shop, with broken-down vehicles outside), smell (food from the restaurant down the block), hear (birdsong). And that was about all I could do before I had to grab breakfast and a second cup of coffee and race to my last workshop.

It was only on the bus home, as I took the time to read Getting Into Character (highly recommended if you struggle with building characters or if you get feedback that your MCs aren't quite coming through on the page for agents!) that I realized what the weekend's true gift had been.

It wasn't time to write (What I wanted all along).

It was time to think (What I really needed).

In my normal life, writing is an hour squeezed in between tasks on my checklist.

Over the Getaway weekend, writing was now my focus that could be worked in around obligations like workshops and meals. And I got a lot of writing in!

Yet in between writing sessions, my subconscious mind worked over the connective tissue between scenes, the characters' motivations, the practical plot details that needed to get in the manuscript somewhere.

By taking this time out, my mind could work over the problems of the book without, for example, switching to the problem of getting laundry done or planning dinner or pitching work. I could see what was missing in a scene, then step in and deal with it because the work was always on my mind.

If I'd had an empty room and hours to fill writing, I might have grown frustrated. I might not have seen the bigger picture amidst the bullet points on my outline.

On the bus ride home, I dug through through Getting Into Character to nail down some of the mannerisms, gestures, and little things that will make my characters fully rounded and connecting them back to core values or desires of their character arc.

I can't wait to get back to the page.

But sometimes that's not all it's about.

* I was fortunate to receive the Toni Brown Scholarship to the Getaway, and if any writers want to talk about that, I'd be happy to.