28 July 2010

Writing retreat

I'm starting to plan the fall semester. Starting is a key word here: so far, I have printed out some old syllabi to look over, re-read notes in my teaching journal from last fall, and begun my "teaching calendar": I take two of the big desk calendar pages, turn them over, and turn them lengthwise, so that the faint lines that show through create a 5x7 grid instead of 7x5. This amounts to 14 weeks of a 15-week plus finals-week semester, enough to figure out the shape of things. I've put in the dates that I have classes, but nothing else, so far.

I need to keep some research momentum going during the fall term, and to that end, I'm thinking about scheduling writing retreats a few times during the semester. I'd want to schedule those at the same time as I figure out when student work will be due, so I can keep certain times free for writing. Of course I will keep trying to write every day (or read, or add to my notes, or at least read over what I've written and perhaps edit a few words, to keep in touch). And I know regular incremental progress is supposed to be the way to go.

Sometimes, though, changing gears or changing scenery can give a person (or a project) a boost. I know there were two hotel rooms I walked into, in England, that made me think, "Ooh, can I just stay here and write?" The first was more picturesque, the second more comfortable and functional, organized for the business traveler. And on reflection (and after a night in each), if I were going to check into a hotel to write, I'd prefer the one aimed at the business traveler: better light, better work environment, more ergonomic furniture, better light-blocking blinds.

So I'm really tempted to plan to book myself into a hotel for a night, take a suitcase of books and all my latest printouts, leave the grading at home, and try to move a project forward as far as possible in the time available. There are some problems with this idea, though. One is check-in and check-out times, and my own natural rhythms: checking in at 3:00 would make the day nearly over for me, and I'd have only till noon the next day. What I really want is somewhere peaceful I could go from, say, 8:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m., and then go home and sleep in my own bed.

Another option would be to go to a coffeeshop, of course, but although I find them quite conducive to a couple of hours of work, I don't think a whole day in one would work well. For one thing, they're not very secure; I'd like to be able to leave my suitcase of books and laptop while I go where even the empress must go on foot, which of course becomes necessary not too long after having a coffee. Similar problems apply to public and university libraries, which also have the much bigger problem of having stacks full of distractions. If I wanted distractions, I could stay home.

In theory, I could announce to Sir John that I was putting certain days aside for writing retreats, and that I was going to go into my study to work, and he should pretend that I wasn't home. In theory, he would be supportive of this. In practice, I can imagine many pitfalls to this approach, not least my own distractability. Even if I were pretending I wasn't home, I would hear cats mewing, or be seized by the irresistable desire to do laundry, or develop a computer problem that I really had to consult Sir John about, or notice a pile of grading.

I could also, I suppose, spend a night at a hotel in the town where I teach, work in the hotel until check-out time, and then go to my office. On, say, Friday afternoons, there wouldn't be many people around at work. The drawback to this is that I almost never do research in my office (one exception: working with LALME, whose volumes are too big to take home), so I'm not programmed to work there. In fact, rather the opposite: I'm programmed to meet with students there, and do service work, and prep classes. So I'm not sure that's a good idea, either.

Does anybody have any other ideas about how to arrange a term-time writing retreat? I don't want to spend more than one night away from home, if time away is required. Or is this just a pleasant fantasy I should use to fuel regular daily research sessions?


undine said...

See, you need a writing house :).

Have you ever done that, checked into a hotel so that you could write?

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I really do need a writing house! Or someone else's, that I could borrow for one day a month. But I don't know anyone around here who has one.

I've never actually checked into a hotel specifically to write, but I so often have that impulse in hotel rooms that it seems to me it would be worthwhile to honor the impulse and see if it works. If so, that's great, and if not, I can let go of the fantasy.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

This is a cool idea! You might consider checking out local bed & breakfasts - especially if you're not staying the night, you might be able to negotiate a low price for taking a room from 8-3, especially if you're not going to muss it up & they can have regular guests check in in the evening. Worth asking!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

P/H: now that is an interesting notion, definitely worth looking into. I hadn't considered the B&B option, partly because the B&B decor tends to be far fussier than I find conducive to writing (the relative sterility of hotel rooms reads as serenity to me), but they might well have more flexibility about daytime rates. Thanks!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

But, alas, a web tour suggests that local B&Bs are not only fussily decorated but seriously lacking in work space. I think I'd do better to talk to a business-traveler-oriented hotel about early check-in; or maybe they could set me up in a conference room.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Rats, I thought that was going to be a nifty solution. :) There's one we often stay at visiting family that has a sort of library that would totally inspire me to write, but you're right that all the rest I've seen are fussy and not really comfortable as writing space. Wouldn't it be cool to throw in with a bunch of fellow academics (with financial support from the university, perhaps) and create a whole Writing House?

Yeah, OK, back to the real world. :)

Erin said...

What about reserving/renting a conference room somewhere? You could check with local coffeeshops, restaurants, hotels, and even the public library for some options. That way you can spread out in a fairly plain environment, but secure your stuff if you need to leave for lunch or "comfort breaks."

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm planning one of those, about two hours out of town. I live in a Very Big City, so this takes me to a place where I can look at trees and just breathe while I write.

Not sure what your surroundings are like, but a *literal* change of scenery would be great. And a few days, if you can get it.