Earlier this month, I took a 10-day writing retreat to focus on my next book. I felt so surrounded and lifted by the good thoughts people sent me as I was preparing to go that I thought I would write an account of the retreat to share with my friends and well-wishers.
I chose Cedar Key, Florida as the location for my sojourn. Cedar Key is a small town off the coast of Florida west of Gainesville. It has a very interesting history, and its current economy is about 50/50 fishing and tourism, with a number of artists making their homes there and in the area. Although it's on the water, it doesn't have a lot of beaches–just a lot of beautiful views and wildlife.
There are many vacation rental properties available. I chose a place called the Little House, a one-bedroom cottage a short walk from the center of town and just down the block from a tiny park overlooking the water. The owners were very helpful, and even offered to insert a leaf in the dining table to provide more room for me to spread out my writing materials. When I arrived, I found that they had also put a desk lamp on the table to provide additional work light.
Although there is a market in town, the nearest "real" grocery store is about 50 miles away, on the road in from Gainesville. I planned to cook most of my own meals, so when I drove down from Atlanta on a Wednesday, I stopped on the way in for a major shopping trip to stock up.
I arrived at sundown, and could see brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows through the trees, but decided to unpack and settle in and save the sunset-watching for another night.
My first book, Managing Change with Personal Resilience, was written with a co-author, Mark Kelly, a number of years ago when I was working at ODR, a change-management training and consulting firm. I brought the content knowledge from my work there, and he brought experience in writing and self-publishing books. That book focused primarily on organizational change, and it has been a great resource for work with clients.
However, a number of things have happened since then. I started Resilience Alliance in 2007, and have continued to explore the topic of resilience. Many more people are thinking and talking about this topic than they were when I started studying it in 1992. There are new insights, additional knowledge about how our brains operate during change, and a much stronger emphasis on positive psychology. I have gained additional years of experience in working with individuals and organizations to help them develop resilience, and have become interested in how this work applies to other populations–caregivers for elders and children with special needs, people with acute or chronic illnesses, younger people just beginning to experience major life changes, etc.
So a while back I started on a second book, aimed at a more general audience, that summarizes what we know about how to build the ability to deal with change and the adversity it can sometimes bring. I tried to work on it in bits and pieces, but just wasn't making the progress I'd hoped, so decided that I needed to shut out the distractions of the world and go do nothing but write. I brought with me a box of books and other references, my laptop, a pad of flip-chart paper, a bunch of markers and sticky notes, a printer, and the work I'd done to date.
Self-discipline is not always my long suit, so I decided that I needed to establish some boundaries and a routine. I signed off Facebook for the duration, and put an out-of-office responder on my email with my assistant's contact information. I've generally found that effort spent clearing out clutter is returned tenfold in positive energy and productive results, so I spent the week before I left town finishing up projects and doing a major clean-out of my office.
I started each morning writing in my journal with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, and then did a short period of meditation. From there I did about 4 stints of writing (a combination of creating outlines, writing content, editing previous drafts, and reading reference materials), about 75-90 minutes each, with breaks in between. The mid-morning break was my time for yoga stretches. Mid-day was lunch, and mid-afternoon was usually a long walk. (More on that in a bit.) Then I'd knock off for the day, take another walk, cook some dinner, and relax for the evening. I had high hopes of doing some fiddle and/or guitar practice in the evenings, but I usually ended up just reading some fiction and listening to music.
I plastered one of the windows with flip-chart paper, and wrote out the high-level outline based on the work I had previously done (which, fortunately, proved to be pretty solid). I also wrote up the days I would be working, and as I went along I tracked total words written to mark my progress.
This turned out to be a pretty good routine…I was able to stay focused and get a lot done. I went into the retreat thinking that I eventually wanted to write a longer book but that I would focus here on a much shorter one that was a subset of the larger content. By about Day 2, I realized that I was writing the longer one, not the shorter one. This was an exciting but scary development.
I walked every day. It's a relatively small area, and I explored just about every corner within walking distance. On the first Saturday I was there, an island lighthouse that is now used by the University of Florida as a research center was having a rare open-house day, so I took a boat out there. That afternoon and evening included an art exhibit opening at the small artists' co-op in town, a town potluck, lighted-boat parade, and the arrival of "Santa Clam."
Here are some pictures from my wanderings:
Cedar Key Cemetery
Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory
Parade of Boats
Walkway to Cemetery Point Park
Cedar Key Airport
Air Tour of Cedar Key
More pictures here.
My husband came in to Cedar Key on the Saturday before Christmas, and we spent a few days there, then went to visit with my family over Christmas. I didn't even try to write while he was there, and focused on enjoying the family time once we got to Clearwater.
The book isn't finished. But I made some excellent progress, and know what I need to do to get it done. Setting aside focused time and turning off the distractions is critical. I'm excited about finishing it and look forward to sharing it with you all!