Seek Out the Solitary Spaces

Laura Ayo

Recently, I holed up for two nights in a cabin in the mountains for a much-needed mini writing retreat. It rained nearly the whole time I was there, which helped me stay focused on the task at hand – getting as many words on the page in the limited alone time I had. Free of interruption and distraction, I produced a decent chunk of new content during my impromptu trip and came home re-energized about my work-in-progress.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of escaping to the mountains to write. Most of us, myself included, can barely escape our hectic lives to write somewhere – anywhere – quiet on a day-to-day basis. But if you’re lucky enough to carve out some time and find a place to get away to write, here are my tips for getting the most out of that rare opportunity.

Plan before you go

This is not the time to be a pantser, especially if you’re only getting away for a day or a weekend.

I didn’t want to get to the cabin and waste precious time thinking about what I needed to be writing. So, before I left, I read through the last two scenes I had written and planned out the next 10 scenes. I made a list of what needed to happen in each of those scenes and thought through how and why my characters would act and react to those events. While I didn’t write all 10 of those scenes once I was stream-side, not having to wonder what came next freed me up to keep moving forward at a steady pace.

Over-pack supplies

If we’re being honest, most writers will at some point in their careers, if not consistently throughout their careers, fabricate excuses for why they didn’t write that day/week/month.

Recognizing what a treat this dedicated writing time was for me, I made sure I had everything I might possibly need (and then some) so I wouldn’t fall victim to lame excuses for why I didn’t write. I over-packed. Intentionally.

Not only did I bring my computer and charger, but I brought notebooks (spiral and composition), sharpened pencils and pens just in case I decided I needed to write longhand. I brought highlighters and sharpies in preparation for any color-coding emergencies that might arise. I packed loose-leaf paper, printer paper, index cards and sticky notes. I made sure I had all of my research materials with me.

I also brought a lap desk so I could write in bed or on a couch if I wanted. I brought a lumbar pillow for the small of my back. Knowing the cabin had porch swings and Adirondack chairs by an outdoor fire pit, I brought a folding table to prop next to them.

I even brought my exercise ball, which I used every few hours to get the blood pumping and keep the creative juices flowing.

While I didn’t use most of these supplies, the folding table proved useful and my back was thankful that I had thought to bring the lumbar support pillow. Most important, I had everything at my fingertips so I didn’t have to leave the cabin once I arrived.

Prep your meals

In addition to planning what I wanted to write, I did some menu planning too because I didn’t want to spend valuable writing time fixing food or going out to a restaurant to eat. I prepped my meals and snacks at home, so the hardest things I had to do once I checked into the cabin were push a button on the microwave and make coffee. If you want to save even more time, forego dish-washing time by using disposable plates you can toss or reusable containers you can rinse then and thoroughly clean once you return home.

Unplug and disconnect

At home, I’m mom and wife first and writer second. But technology is one of the biggest writing distractions I battle daily.

I promised myself I would unplug when I got to the cabin. It was easy for me to ignore the television and email. I limited my phone calls to one each morning to my husband to let him know I was okay. I checked and responded to texts just during meal times while I waited for my food to heat up in the microwave. I succeeded in not opening a single app on my phone during my stay. But I could have done better when it came to ignoring the Internet. Maybe next time, I’ll eliminate the temptation to research historic details needed for my novel by renting a place without Wi-Fi.

Overall, I accomplished what I hoped I would during my respite in the woods. I left the cabin with new scenes crafted and creativity rekindled, as well as a renewed excitement for the tale I’m telling. As writers, we need to seek out these solitary spaces wherever we can find them. And once we do, we need to make the most of all they have to offer. For it’s in those unlikely muted moments that our characters are free to whisper their hopes and fears to us, knowing their voices won’t be drowned out by the chaos and noise of our everyday lives.

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