How a writing retreat becomes a writing life

Writing is work.

And I’ve been working damned hard for a long time to realize that.

I mean that verb, realize, in the transitive sense: to bring into being, to make this my reality.

So it’s always a bit artificial, really, to go on a “writing retreat,” because that makes it seem that I’m withdrawing from the rest of the “real world” to do the thing that is already my real world.

In practice, this isn’t so far from the truth. Just as sometimes “life happens” and can interfere with the work — the routine — of writing, so too is writing sometimes an imposition on daily routines and other obligations, and it really does help sometimes to separate the two: to take a time-out from one in order to focus on the other.

I found this PERFECT image on the A Day in Mollywood blog. Click it to go to her post on being a writer.
I found this PERFECT image on the A Day in Mollywood blog. Click it to go to her post on being a writer.

But it isn’t helpful to always think that way, to always assume that these two worlds — the writing world and the rest of life — are not only mutually exclusive but actively in conflict. They’re not, or they shouldn’t be, but if we think too often about how the “real work” of writing only happens on retreat, in full writing days, then we’ll always be living in this state of conflict: abandoning one set of obligations in favor of another, resenting one part of our lives because it’s keeping us from another.

Who needs that kind of stress?

We’re only a few days from a new year, and I’m just a over a week away from my winter term of classes. So it’s time to come out of retreat and get back to the daily grind. But all this means is that I’m transitioning from one set of writing habits — daily, hours-long, focused writing — to another set of writing habits — near-daily, infrequent, focused writing and daily, constant thinking about writing, the background work that is a part of any writers consciousness, and the juggling act of keeping both a writing routine and all the other, non-writing routines in the air.

And this is good, because as much as I enjoy periods of focused, intensive writing — much as I need that time to get my head around larger projects like a novel or a story collection — this juggling act is where I live. This is actually the life I’ve been working toward.

Today I’m reading books and working on syllabi for my upcoming classes. I’m cleaning the kitchen and installing a new heater in my wife’s study. I’m catching up on emails and doing a little organizing. And yeah, I’m still writing, too.

Balancing a writing life and these other kinds of life, it isn’t some burden I have to endure until I get to “live the dream” of being a writer. This IS the dream of being a writer — this is what we do. And it’s wonderful.

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