March 7, 2017

The Great Escape

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

It's every writer's dream: Escaping to a private sanctuary where there are no distractions, perfect conditions, and all the time in the world to write the Great American Novel.  I'm often reminded of a classic Dick Van Dyke episode in which he attempted just that, retreating to a cabin in the woods with his typewriter, only to end up doing everything but write.

Most of us can identify with his failure to communicate.  Even if we create the most ideal of circumstances, it's not a guarantee that inspiration will magically follow. But take heart, because there are many ways to connect with your muse so that wherever you sit down to write you won't be at a loss for words.

Each year there are numerous retreats in idyllic locations designed specifically for writers. Looking at some that will be available this fall, for example, a farmhouse in Tuscany or a hamlet in Denmark could be just the getaway that gets your literary juices flowing. With a price tag of a couple of thousand dollars, however, these retreats are clearly not in everyone's budget.  But there's nothing to keep you from creating your own retreat in a favorite setting closer to home.  Maybe a three-day weekend at a B&B would be just the right change of venue.

For a longer escape, you might consider the recent travel trend known as a silent retreat.  Who wouldn't be able to write in a Waldenesque locale offering nothing but quietude?  Well, besides Dick Van Dyke.

There's one coming to a city near you soon, guaranteed.  Whether it's a day-long intensive or a multi-day event, leaving the world behind to focus on the voices of experience is a push toward productivity. Meeting other authors is a confidence-building bonus. Many conferences even include a writers bookstore with discounts for attendees. By the end of the conference you'll be dying to get back to your keyboard to write.

Whether they meet once a month or more often, writers groups are an excellent way to stay committed to your craft as well as accountable.  By design, no two groups are the same.  Some focus on instruction and exercises, others resemble a support group or social club. Each has its own personality, which is a good thing, since you can try them all and find the one that makes you the most motivated to write.

The business side of publishing may be highly competitive, but it's always encouraging to see how non-competitive writers are with each other. We celebrate everyone's success and are inspired by each new book release instead of envious. Welcoming each other like family, we readily share tricks of the trade. So it's easy to make friends in the writing community.  Whether we foster those relationships through email, social media, or face to face, there are few things more stimulating than an inspired back-and-forth with another creative mind.

Some of my most invigorating conversations have been over lunch with writer companions.  This past Thursday, four of us enjoyed a spirited repast at McAlister's, and I came away with three really good new story ideas.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't just the Kale Parmesan soup that triggered them.

Where do you think best? What setting clears your head and opens your imagination? For some, it will be outdoors in a park. Others relax at a coffee shop.  The library is a favorite hangout of writers, surrounded by all the literary masters. A museum or art gallery offers a similar sense of communion with creative genius. Whether you plant yourself there with a laptop or stroll the halls contemplating something you'll write later, a brush with greatness never fails to inspire.

Performing a mindless task inherently causes your mind to wander, lusting for something more interesting to think about.  You can use the thankless time spent mowing the lawn or doing the laundry to ponder a scene or a plot, unimpaired by the dull duty in front of you. Sort through story ideas while you're sorting socks and you could have the first paragraph of your next writing session ready to roll.

When all is said and done, getting our words written is not a matter of escaping to a place of perfection. The most prolific authors say that where you write is not as important as getting in that chair and simply writing, period. Books get written through sheer will and the tenacity to see it through. So the real escape is sometimes from our own procrastination.

For your entertainment, here's a YouTube link to the classic cabin scene from that Dick Van Dyke episode mentioned earlier. May it serve as a reminder to avoid distractions wherever you choose to write, or if you can't, at least have fun.

By the way, you'll be glad to know that in the very last episode of the series, he finally did finish his book, just as you will.

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