Ever done a DIY writers retreat?

Two writer friends and I laughed our way into planning one when the first miserable polar vortex descended last January. It all began when Penny called and I was fantasizing my own escape from the bleak and frozen landscape that was framed in the window behind me. I had a road atlas spread dead center across my eight-foot desk.

I get the itch for a trip every so often and pull out The Maps. My own crummy tendency toward depression fuels the need to escape.

The polar vortex compounded it. Then Supie, another writer from my critique group,  heard about the chance to bolt and said, “I’m in.”

That first phone conversation was mostly laughter as we contemplated the impossibility of digging a path in the knee-high snow to free the getaway car. The second conversation took a serious turn when we discussed a destination. Reality set in when we combined our calendars and admitted the first date we could leave was near the end of March.

We’d split expenses.

Twelve weeks – we weren’t escaping the weather after all! Still, we had a plan and the plan had the basics in place: A Florida beach during the last week of March, freedom from the confines of reality so we could write, rewrite, critique and maybe even finish a piece.

We’d travel light. We just needed “the basics.”

Supie was the driver and I was the navigator when we left Chicago at what was supposed to be daybreak on a Sunday. Only it wasn’t because of “whiteout conditions” on the Indiana Interstate. I counted 12 accidents in less than 30 minutes.

Personally, I was exuberant, but not because of cars in ditches, but because we were in motion; beginning our own DIY retreat to write!

I had a weathered two-pocket folder of articles to read aloud, Supie had drafts she’d read for our comments, Penny had her laptop open. Our retreat began immediately.

The readings changed when the drivers changed, usually every two hours. We hollered out when a pit stop was necessary, then bought fresh coffee and stood near strangers to eavesdrop for a bit. Eavesdrop for material.

We went a hundred miles out of our way on day two, and laughed.

At some point, I asked Penny, with a tinge of exasperation in my tone, if she was clicking a pen (I was going to tell her I couldn’t stand it anymore) and she said “No, I’m typing.”

I had no problem with that.

Supie busted me on my tone. “Kavanaugh, a clicking pen was driving you nuts, until you learned it was the click of a laptop keyboard? Then the annoying noise wasn’t annoying anymore? Hmmm.” Teasing was swift. Laughter ruled.

Penny left her Huggs in the hotel in Beaufort, SC. “Hey Guys, we have to go back. I forgot my boots!” We were an hour into our day.

She wore those boots every single damn day we were in Florida. At the beach, for Pete’s sake.

In her defense, the wind was strong and the temps were unseasonably low. We just didn’t have to shovel the sand.

We all wrote, and we wrote at our own pace. We ate when we were hungry. We wrote in bed, and in the dark, and with the TV on but muted. We stood at the window with the view of the beach road, in silence, thinking, and watched the rain. We said, “Listen to this.” And, “Wait a minute.” At 3a.m.

We critiqued and sighed and rewrote.

The sky was blue and the sun felt like summer the last day. I had work to submit, Supie was drained, but had written a great flash fiction, and Penny was on her cell taking her personal world off “hold.”

I drove them to the Tampa airport. Fresh snow was falling when their plane landed in Chicago.

Writers share their energy, and we shared a lot of it on our DIY writers retreat - and it was a wonderful getaway experience!

Do this if you can. Do it with like-minded writers. Keep the number small.

Don’t pack much, because really, you wear the same thing. And revel in the silence.


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