by Elizabeth Jannuzzi
I am currently enrolled in book inc’s Memoir Incubator program. When I looked at the calendar and realized the deadline for my first full manuscript was fast approaching (less than two months away, gulp!), I decided to attend a Writers Retreat to give myself some time to polish my memoir manuscript.
By “polish my memoir manuscript,” I mean “write it.” And by “attend a Writers Retreat,” I mean “sequester myself in my den for the weekend and pray my family doesn’t bother me so I get some actual goddamn writing done.”
Sure, I would have loved to fly off to some exotic locale like a castle in Scotland or stay at a hut in the deep woods with no internet connection for a REAL Writers Retreat. But due to time and money constraints, that option was not available to me this summer. Still, I could give myself some dedicated time and space to write. And it was becoming clear, if I didn’t start scheduling my writing, I was not going to finish my manuscript in time for our Incubator reading rounds this September.
So I planned a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Writers Retreat. I didn’t need much—a laptop, a quiet spot, and a free schedule. The trick would be to hold myself accountable. If I paid money for an actual Writers Retreat and if I left the house, I would be sure to make use of that free time. But in a DIY Writers Retreat, I might feel like it’s not real and therefore I wouldn’t force myself to go through with it. I needed resolve.
With a spring in my fingertips and determination in my heart, I added “Liz’s Writers Retreat” on July 15-17 in my Google calendar. Then, I immediately failed myself when I told a friend I could go hiking that weekend. Luckily, she was not available so my dedicated writer’s time survived my momentary lack of resolve. Back on the calendar, it went.
The next time a friend asked me via text if we were free and could we possibly get together, I stuck to my guns and texted back: “We’d love to see you but I’m going on a Writers Retreat.” “Good luck writing!” she responded. See? It wasn’t that hard.
Friends were alerted, but now to get my family on board. I have three teens so they really don’t care what I do but they will bother me if they need something. So I tried to warn them at the beginning of the week: “I won’t be available this weekend. I’m going on a Writers Retreat.” They stared at their phones. No one was listening. But I said it out loud. I declared it!
Next up: my husband, Chris. I could tell by the blank look on his face whenever I would talk about my Writers Retreat that he didn’t understand what I was planning.
“Are you going anywhere?”
“No, I’m just not scheduling anything this weekend in order to have time to write.”
“Ok, but you will be here this weekend?” he asked.
“Yes but I’m writing all weekend.”
Ok, the necessary people were alerted. Now what? I needed to make sure I really went through with this. I had a lot of work to do to pull together my haphazard draft of scenes into a readable manuscript.
Half serious, half joking, I made up an itinerary for my Writers Retreat and shared it with my Incubator cohorts.
Friday, July 15
7 p.m. – Retreat check-in
7-9 p.m. – Read mentor text
Saturday, July 16
5:30 a.m. – Coffee and Wordle
6-9 a.m. – Dedicated writing time
9-11 a.m. – Break, walk
I decided after three hours of writing I would give myself a break. I could go for a walk or check in with the family. In the evening, I was to read or do something to further my writing. I couldn’t just binge-watch Gilmore Girls with my 14-year-old. (Although Gilmore Girls will give a lesson on writing quick and witty dialogue!)
On the Wednesday before my Writers Retreat, I shared my itinerary with Chris.
“Ok but you’ll be here this weekend, right?” he asked again.
Ugh, what wasn’t he understanding?
Finally, on Thursday, I overheard Chris on the phone say to a friend, “Liz has a Writing Retreat this weekend so I’m free to hang.”
On Friday, before my scheduled “check in,” I made up a sign for my door “Do Not Disturb: Memoir-in-Progress.”
With my laptop charged, my Do Not Disturb sign posted, I was ready to begin.
How did it go?
I’m happy to report, my DIY Writers Retreat was a success. My family mostly ignored me and I was able to write some additional scenes and review my memoir’s outline. When I wasn’t writing, I used my free time to read a memoir or review notes on craft.
I floundered a little bit on Sunday morning when the stress of making sure there was food in the house for the upcoming week got to me, and I paused my writing for a quick run to the supermarket. But then I went back to sequestering myself in my den.
The closing ceremony for my writing was scheduled for 12 noon, Sunday. After that, as a reward to myself, I went to the beach with my daughter.
My manuscript deadline still looms frighteningly close, and unfortunately, my schedule won’t permit another full DIY Writers Retreat. But I’ve learned how to schedule writing time for myself and to let people know that I’m serious and I don’t want to be bothered. I’ll have to sneak in some mini DIY retreats from now until my manuscript is due this September. Wish me luck!