A Down the Street Writing Retreat

RamonaGravitarLast week, my neighbor, aka Walking Friend, went off to a tropical vacation. I stayed home and fed her tropical fish.

My friend is organized. She left out pre-measured cups of fish food, a bag for mail and newspapers, and an invitation to me to eat the strawberries and pineapple in the fridge; to drink any and as much of their liquor as I’d like; and to “stay a little while and write, if you want to!”

Free fruit, unlimited booze, and a writing retreat, all in exchange for checking mail and feeding fish. Yippee!

I went home, packed a bag, and disappeared for a week. In my neighbor’s house, I locked the doors and ignored the telephone. I set up my laptop on the dining room table and didn’t move it. I subsisted on wine and strawberries and never turned on the TV. I wrote, wrote, and wrote some more, and when I got tired, I relaxed into the oversized chair near the fireplace, and let the bubbling of the fish tank lull me to sleep….

Well, not really.

The invitation didn’t mention sleepovers, and I didn’t want a middle-of-the-night confrontation that included, “I’m not squatting, officer, I was asked to take care of the fish so I’m providing 24 hour protection.”

Fantasy aside, what I actually did was carry my laptop across the street for a couple of hours each day. I self-retreated in a quiet, unoccupied house where there really was fruit in the fridge, the fish tank did provide bubbly background music, and the phone calls were not mine to answer.

I can write almost anywhere. I sit in coffee shops and the chatter fades away. Give me a corner in the airport and a layover, and I’ll use that time productively. Free writes in the public library? A bench at the playground? A picnic table at the park? A balcony at the beach? DIY weekend retreat, solo or with a friend? Done, done, done, and done. My big kahuna getaway is leaving behind my family, work, and responsibilities to spend 2 or 3 weeks at an artist colony every winter.

I write this blithely enough, but the trick of writing in any given space is learned behavior. I taught myself how to write anywhere because, from time to time, in my home office where everything I need to be productive and inspired is within reach, my inspiration–imagination, determination, muse, magical mystery writing guide–deserts me.

It’s not SAD. It’s not writers block. It’s home office fever.

I love being a writer. I don’t love sitting in the same chair, looking at the same view, twelve hours a day. In addition to the fear that long-term sitting will shave off years of my life—sitting is the new smoking, you know—the same spot, same space gets boring. Don’t misunderstand me—I acknowledge my good fortune in having a dedicated work space (and the tax break that comes with it). Nevertheless, from time to time the walls close in, and I need a new room with a new view.

There are all different kinds of fatigue—mental fatigue, physical fatigue, creative fatigue, compassion fatigue. For me, creative fatigue hits for different reasons, and one of those reasons is the Same Four Walls Syndrome. So I’ve learned to take it on the road, sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for a couple of weeks.daisies in pink planter

And a funny thing happened after four days blissfully writing across the street. On the fifth day, I noticed all the fruit was gone. When the phone rang, I listened to voice mail messages in case it was important or an emergency. And I began to tune out the fish tank. When the bubbles go from lovely and soothing, to white noise, to sounds to be tuned out, it’s time to move on. All good things, and all that.

I bought a bouquet and left it for my neighbor to show my appreciation. Now I’m back in my own home with my own food and phone calls. The break was good. I am content. No home office fever.

But if you have fish to feed, call me.

Do you ever suffer from creative fatigue? If so, what do you do about it?

Other writing inspiration and getaway posts:

Writers Getaway Weekend

SAD in the Studio

Postcard from Writing Camp 1

Postcard from Writing Camp 2


15 thoughts on “A Down the Street Writing Retreat

  1. When the pressure was on and I needed to write a lot of pages, I’d check into a downtown hotel for a few days. Room service, no need to get dressed, wear makeup, wash my hair? Ideal for banging out 60-80 pages in a short time. But……now my friend the hotel manager (with the power to reduce the price of a magnificent suite to $50 a night!) has moved away, so I must make do in my own house. It’s just not the same. I miss room service most!


  2. The daily retreat thing sounds like it worked for you. I never get super productive unless I’m on a sleepover retreat alone. Then I write morning, afternoon, and night, when normally I only write in the mornings.


  3. I’ve only gone on one productive retreat, with a bunch from Austin to Salado just north of there. It was VERY fun and if I still lived there I would make them do it again.


    1. Kaye, you wouldn’t have to MAKE them do it again, and well you know it! That bunch just lives for retreats. We had a productive one last fall at Fentress: cabin, river, trees, quiet. No TV or Internet connection, and to phone we had to go out on the porch. We told ourselves we had to hush up and write, and we did. We made the youngest retreater sleep downstairs on a couch, but I don’t think it affected her word count.


    2. Retreats are great, Kaye. I’ve managed to go to one or two per year for the past few years. The Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime has an annual one. Maybe your are SinC group would be interested in a group retreat?


  4. It took me 7 years of waiting in line for a private study carrel in the stacks of Widener Library. It had shelves, and a closet, and locking drawers. It was quiet. No one would come near you or interrupt you for any reason. It was sacred space. Everything you needed to do research was there, and if you happened to think of something they missed (just once in 13 years for me) they would thank you for the suggestion. You would find a copy waiting for you in a few days. If it was a new book, they would buy “your” copy and at least one for the shelf.

    I’m not a princess anymore, but I like that. I like not being expected to know everything. I love writing in my pajamas and tee shirt. Fresh coffee. Raid the fridge. A few interruptions are worth it. I do sometimes long for my little spot of the quiet kingdom. I have yet to output as much as I did there.


  5. This was a deal! I hope you watched the fish, too. They are amazingly soothing. I have a view of leaves and trees and sky from my loft windows – sometimes I need to move to a new view!


  6. Now that I’m not working, I’m alone most of the day, except for my dog Sugar, who is studying to be a muse. You know you have too much time on your hands when you have a tee shirt made for your dog that says, ‘I’m Mom’s minion, and I like it!’

    Love room service, too-


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