Tuesday, 24 March 2009

It hasn't got to be perfect

Ah, wouldn't it be lovely to go on a writing retreat? A week alone in a wilderness-y location, free to tap away on my laptop, scribble in a pretty notebook or spread out the pages of my work in progress across the crisp, non-dog-haired linen of a comfy bed. I'd go out for solitary, silent walks in the sunshine, and return inspired by the sea breeze hushing through the grasses and the lonely cries of eagles in the cerulean sky.

Not for me one of those writers' retreats in a venue shared with Other People. Yuk! For a start, I'm a nutter-magnet, so judging by past experience I'd probably get someone following me around saying my surname was making them channel visions of the Norman Conquest or something.

Not only that, but I'd be sick with fear at having to get together with everyone else in the evening and “voluntarily” read out the day's work. No, my ideal writing situation would be to become a hermit, in an isolated cottage. All I want is a bit of space and quiet. Plus an attractive man to bring me pizza and wine at appropriate intervals. Oh, and broadband, obviously.

All this would do wonders for my productivity. The work in progress would all come together and be finished in no time. I'd also have the leisure to read as much as I wanted, wander along the beach and attend the on-site beauty parlour (all isolated cottages ought to have one) for a relaxing massage.

Or, more likely, I'd turn up and find that it was a bare, dull apartment smelling of cigarette smoke and tacky air freshener, and I'd footle around for a week failing to accomplish anything.

I find it too easy to feel that writing would be simple if only external circumstances arranged themselves around it. It'll be easier once finances are more stable, once the next deadline is out of the way, once the summer's here and I can write outside. It will be easier once my toddler is at playgroup, once other people stop making demands, once I feel less under the weather, once my book is out, once I get a big advance for the next one, once book twenty-three is made into a mini-series...

Writing will always be easier sometime in the future when there's more time, more money to buy that time, more sunshine and more energy.

But, although the external difficulties are changeable, sometimes looming and sometimes receding, they never go away. Perhaps we can shoot a few down, but they always bounce back ten-fold, like aliens in some crappy 1980s Atari game.

A writing retreat or a sudden influx of cash or a new mahogany desk aren't going to make me into a perfect writer. Wherever I go, I'll still be me, worrying that my book is rubbish, wanting to check my email or Facebook one more time, wondering whether I'll ever really be good enough to fill that blank page.

The only solution is to stop dreaming and get on with it, regardless of the imperfect circumstances of noise, tiredness and pressure. A few words written during the clamour of the day are better than no words written while waiting for everything to be perfect.
Because that would be a heck of a long wait.


Thank you to Václav Pastucha for the photograph.


Katy said...

Brilliant post, and so true! You are not alone...

I don't know if you've read the fabulous "Ghost" by Robert Harris? His MC / narrator is a writer and makes some very amusing comments about writing retreats and the like...

Rebecca Nazar said...

So true.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Very true, as is the whole thing about having loads of time: in fact, I find unboundaried time very...well, unboundaried. I get more done within a structure, for sure.

Roderic Vincent said...

Top blogging again, Caro. Every word resonates (apart from the attractive man with the pizza). It's all about organising a writing retreat in your head, isn't it? Unfortunately though, you've put that Fairground Attraction song into my brain and I can't dispell it. Not yet channelling the Normal Conquest, thank God.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great blog, Caro! And so relevant to my own circumstances at the moment.

Samantha Tonge said...

So very true, Caro.

I'm lucky with the amount of time i have to write, but even if i had very little, i could never imagine going on a writing retreat with strangers - i'd waste too much creative energy worrying about whether we all got on and if i was going to have to cook at night...

CarolineG said...

What a great post. I've often had these thoughts too and in a way, this scenario extends to life generally. It's that 'I'll be truly content when..' thing, when actually, all of it can only ever be a work in progress.

Gillian McDade said...

I completely identify with this Caroline. I think I'd be too busy freaking out about the 'reading out loud' bit/cooking to actually enjoy it!
(My ideal writing spot is a New England beach house with a porch and plenty of hot weather and animals).

Julie P said...

I don't know what kind of writing retreat you've been on! The one I went on last November with my writing group was fabulous. There certainly wasn't any reading out of work! And we were all slightly unhinged, so there was no problem there! We were left to do our own thing and we all ate the evening meal together. There was nothing strange or annoying about it.

It was such a positive experience for me as I hadn't been on 'holiday' without my family for years! It was one of my most productive times.I was so inspired I just wrote and wrote and wrote.And I'm definately going again this year (fingers crossed.)

They probably don't suit everyone though. I wouldn't like to go on a retreat in the middle of nowhere with no one else around for miles -that would be creepy! (Now where's that Pizza place phone number?!)

Sara Best said...


This is my first visit here and I'm already in love.

What a phenomenal post.

I might just print it out and stick in on my wall for all those times I find myself checking my email or FaceBook for the four thousandth time instead of getting to work on the next chapter, or waiting for that mahogany desk to arrive that is going to make the whole process infinitely easier.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting it all so perfectly!

Caroline R said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Hi, Sara - welcome to Strictly! So glad you found this useful - hope you'll stick around for some fab posts coming up from my esteemed colleagues.

Julie - pleased to hear communal retreats can be fun - I'm so unsociable that I wouldn't even join a writers' group in the first place, so I think it's all down to individual personality. Stuff like eating an evening meal together just wouldn't be for me - but we're all different. Hope you do get the chance to go again!

Katy - I haven't read "Ghost" - it's one of those books that I've vaguely heard about but have never thought about reading. I'll look out for it.

Lydia said...

Completely agree about reading aloud being scary stuff. Great post, Caroline. Welcome Sarah!It makes me feel much better to know everyone else is checking emails when they should be working!

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