I’m writing this blog post from the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California. My writing retreat is almost over, and I do not want it to end! At times, I’ve been overcome by the enormity of the task before me – how am I ever going to finish this book? At other times, I’ve experienced scarce and beautiful moments when the writing has flowed and a new aspect of a character has opened up before me.
I came here hoping to revise or rewrite three or four of the stories in my novel-in-stories. They are all first-person narratives told from the point of view of the four children: Tiff and Keegan, Brandie and Jason. I leave having re-imagined Brandie’s story and Keegan’s world. It is not as much as I’d hoped to achieve, but in both instances I feel the stories have truly progressed.
I’ve learned some very important things on this retreat. I’ll know, for example, the next time that I apply to ask for a full month. I had wondered how I would cope with so much time on my hands, so I’d settled on two weeks as a test. It took my mind and body days to disentangle itself from the “real” world. I toyed with rewrites and did a lot of reading my first week. I also enjoyed the scenery.
Dorland has wonderful views of the Temecula Valley and, for this Victoria girl, stupendous weather. Each morning here I woke up to sun (some high clouds but always blue in the sky), warmth and, in the afternoons, breezes. I’ve included some pictures to give you an idea of what has inspired me and also kept me from writing: the chaparral on the hills, the ground squirrels out my window, the hopping bunnies and cascade of birds on the porch. I’ve stood and watched tiny lizards zoom across the paved drive or hawks squeal as they circle the canyon.
Dorland is one of many writers retreats in the U.S. What a shame we don’t have more of them in Canada. Having a quiet space – no phones, TV or internet to crowd the senses – to create has been a gift. I’ve been lucky enough to have a quiet writing room at home for many years, but as soon as I leave that room I am bombarded with distractions. Laundry to do, mail to open, calls to return, websites to visit. The list goes on and on. There always seems to be something encroaching on the few precious hours I set aside for writing.
Here, I can write all day or for a few hours, as slowly and as methodically as I need to. There is no division bell. You have to experience that kind of wide open space to really understand it. To learn how to breathe. I gulp in air in Victoria, because my time is limited, my energy dispersed. My second week in Dorland has been a real immersion in my story, and I've made progress on many fronts.
Now, I leave Dorland with packed suitcases, a revised manuscript and a complete sense of gratitude. My thanks to Jill, Robert, Jan and Jeanie for their warmth and kindness.
My next stop is San Francisco and the Write to Market conference, where I’ll meet agents, editors and fellow writers. Before the retreat, I would have had a hard time telling these people just where I am in the writing of the novel. Now I have a much clearer sense. I’ve worked on my pitch, and I know what and who my story is about. Thanks to Dorland, I feel ready to talk about Plastic and hopefully to find an agent or editor interested in reading a sample of the manuscript.
Hasta la vista!