As a periodontist for 30 years, I spent most of my writing time making patient entries related to diagnosis and treatment, an exercise that hardly leaves much leeway for creative expression or even accessing much in the way of an emotional range. So, now, because the experience opens a part of me that I love to explore, I take every chance I can, to sit down and write, “Every chance I can” is a qualifier that others may recognize as it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Even after retirement, life is still full, maybe fuller than before. so, how have I managed to complete two books and begin a third. The only way I can do it involves three arms, above and beyond the two I use to lift myself out of bed every day.
The first arm is my writing group. I am in cahoots with the most supportive and at the same time most analytical and critical group of writers that you can imagine. They have the knack for criticizing every detail and at the same time making me feel good about my work and wanting to make it better. But besides the people, the structure of our group helps me write on a regular basis. We used to meet weekly and in a year or so we ran out of current work and nearly fell apart. So, after a meeting of the minds, those we could locate, we decided on a new course of action. Once a month on a Monday night we have critique night. Anyone who has something that they would like to have critiqued by the group sends out a copy of the work a week or two in advance, depending on the length of the piece. We all read it and do track changes on Word or corrections by hand and then on the given Monday evening we go over in detail what we like about the piece, what bumps us and throws us off the track of reading it and what suggestions we have to improve it. In our responses we avoid vacuous comments such as “I loved it” or other unhelpful input.
My second writing arm is a monthly writers retreat also with my writing group. Once a month on a Saturday we find a place; either someone offers their large home or we go to a retreat center; somewhere large enough so everyone (generally 10-12 writers) can find a quiet place to work. We start at 9AM, though people arrive throughout the day. Each person brings their own snacks, lunch and a dish for a pot luck dinner. Somehow we always end up with wine and pupus for a sharing period, much needed because after a day of writing, at around 4PM, anyone who has been working on something that day, if they choose, has the opportunity to read their fresh material. Feedback for this kind of material is essentially positive since we all know it is very much in the beginning stages. Some of the writing, though is amazing. After our feedback session we are usually so happy from the fun (and the wine) that even ordinary food tastes epicurean. In the interest of fairness, the food is not ordinary, since cooking ability seems to be an unwritten criteria for membership in our group. If it isn’t superb it must at least be healthful.
The third arm of my writing is a periodic personal retreat. This month at our house we are having a steady stream of my girlfriend’s family members visiting our house here on Kauai. I’m not leaving to escape from them. I truly enjoy the visit. But the opportunity gives them some time to be together and gives me the chance to write. Leaving the house for a couple of days on Kauai is not an easy task since hotels are prohibitive. Somehow though, when you need a solution, it shows up. I have found two places in the mountains of Kokee, about two hours from home where I can cheaply rent a private cabin and that is precisely where I am writing this blog entry after spending the past two days and evenings putting the finishing touches (one more go round) of Brothers Lovers Gods, my novel about Kauai. The second planned retreat is coming up in a couple of weeks and if I’m in a holding place, for example waiting for an editor response, I will use the time for a personal vacation. If you find it impossible to rent a cabin as I’ve done, try this. I take a day a week or so and have breakfast at a local coffee house, then put on my noise canceling headphones and hunker down into a corner to write my day away. I stop for lunch or a snack and stay focused unless a friend comes by and grabs my attention away to talk about the latest island gossip.
I should be clear that those three arms do not comprise the whole of my writing time. I take a day here and there and a morning here and there and a few hours here and there and write my heart out. But the retreats form a platform from which to jump.