Posted by Kathy Waller
I’m almost ready to leave. All I have to do is
- print out and re-read all email correspondence from the WLT concerning the retreat;
- put together and print at least fifty pages of my rough raft, which isn’t too rough considering all the revising and polishing I’ve done, against all the best advice; (putting together the draft entails sorting through the many files I’ve saved under a variety of names, none of which makes sense now);
- buy new sneakers (the retreat doesn’t require formal dress) and a passel of socks to replace those the dryer has eaten; buy new khaki slacks if I can find a pair whose legs don’t drag the ground (petites are usually sold out);
- pile everything I need to take, and a few things I don’t, on the guest room bed beside the suitcase, which is closed to prevent William and Ernest (big, hulking guy cats) from sleeping in it;
- find my favorite novel, Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, for class, even though the book violates the cardinal rule of novel-writing by beginning with several pages of backstory and getting away with it;
- buy a notebook, even though I have several, because a week-long retreat merits a new one, and pens in a variety of styles and colors;
- make sure the laptop, the cord, the mouse, and my camera are stowed safely inside my
- confirm with my husband that the car will make it to Alpine and back;
- do one last load of laundry; pack;
- get up early, load the car, pick up Gale, and head out.
Gale is probably ready to leave now. She is organized.
Some people would say we’re crazy, driving half-way across the state to do homework every night. Before my first retreat, three years ago, I might have said the same.
But at the end of the first day’s class, I was so energized that I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote long emails that made better reading than anything else I produced during the week. (I had a friend patient enough to read them and kind enough to say, “Send more.”) I might even have done some blogging. After all that, I completed my homework.
The person responsible for my sudden productivity was Karleen Koen, novelist and teacher, whose class was titled something like Writing Your Novel, but who actually taught creativity, with activities designed to quiet the internal critic and allow ideas to surface. One of the ten-minute writings I did in class later turned into a thirty-page story for the Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology of short stories.* Anyone who can pull me out of the doldrums and start me on a creative binge, as Karleen did, is an exemplary teacher.
Next week, I’ll spend five days in another of Karleen’s classes: The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages. Gale is registered to take the class, too. I have a vision of two roommates writing busily away every night.
Of course, we’ll also sit on the porch of the little 1950s tourist court where we’re staying (and where I once ran into a lizard in the shower), enjoying the cool, clear, mosquito-less evenings in a town that, every night, turns off all lights and lets the stars shine through.
And there’s the restaurant in nearby Marfa that serves pistachio encrusted fried chicken breast. I hear they’ve added pistachio encrusted steak to the menu.
Some of our Sisters in Crime will be there. We’ll definitely run into them and will perhaps cook up some mischief.
And there’s the extra day Gale and I will spend after the conference roaming around the countryside. Fort Davis. The MacDonald Observatory. Balmorhea State Park, a cool oasis in the high desert. Big Bend National Park. Endless possibilities.
But I’m going out there to write. I’ll do nothing to distract us from Karleen Koen’s class. Based on my experience, it will be too valuable to play hookey, even mentally. But we will play, because Karleen believes that’s where creativity comes from.
And that’s how my August will begin.So, ‘though I’ll be far away from beautiful Austin, Texas for an entire week, there’s no reason to pity me.
I’ll be in the mountains, doing what I love.
*Have you heard about the AMW anthology? If not, you will.
Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write.
Karleen Koen blogs at Karleen Koen–writing life.