Thursday, 23 September 2010

Writer's Retreat - Part 1

I've been blocked. Just in case you have missed the bloomin' obvious I haven't posted to this site since April and even before then the frequency of my blog posts was in serious decline. I think I made some excuses about not having enough time but whilst that was certainly a factor it wasn't like the day suddenly had less than the 24 hours it had always had.

I believe I stopped writing because I didn't know what to say and I didn't know how to say what I did want to say.

I've always harboured a deep desire to be a writer, not just a blogger but a fully fledged, card carrying, published in paperback, want to see people carrying my novel around type of writer. I don't want to be famous like JK Rowling but known to my readers like Lionel Shriver or Ian McEwan: unrecognised on the street but moved to tears and/or laughter by their words.

So I finally decided to stop letting my dreams be jut dreams and trust in myself to make them a reality. But carving that time out of the chaos of my life is not only difficult, I found it quite simply impossible. I've got a full time career which to be fair has pretty much defined me for all of my adult life. I've got a husband who needs and deserves more of my attention. I've got 2 amazing children who I don't play with as much as I would like or should. I've got a high degree of commitment to my friends and communities which make it painful to say no when they need me.

This past year I have been plagued by pneumonia, back pain, weight gain, stress and general fatigue and when it all got to much I decided it was time for me to stop saying no to me and stop depositing some serious investment into my well being, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

I am back on the treadmill of losing weight. I've lost 14 pounds so far and the battle continues. I've set myself some aggressive targets but also some whopping big rewards. but the weight is a symptom not the problem. I needed to dig a bit deeper.

I decided to escape into the wilds of the northwest corner of Scotland. I haven't been to Scotland much having only been to Edinburgh twice for short weekend jaunts. This is most certainly the furthest north I've ever been in Great Britain since there isn't much more north to go before falling off into the North Sea. And the west coast is littered with only islands requiring boat, ferry, surf board which was perhaps a step too far for me this time.

I started my research back in April and decided a wee small chunk of my bonus would be spent on a Writer's Retreat. I had no idea what a writer's retreat was or what you did or what to expect. In fact, I found great difficulty in packing. Normally, I can get myself packed for a trip in under 30 minutes. But for days I circled the luggage struggling to come to terms with the dress code. What do writer's wear? What is their uniform of choice? Did I need high heels and a ball gown? Would I be allowed to wearing my pajamas all day long? At 2 am I surrendered and threw random items into my suitcase and hoped I was appropriately booted and suited.

Normally, the obsessive part of my personality ensures that I research any new venture with relentless energy and focus. I buy books about the subject. I speak to experts. I take classes. I do google searches until the wee hours of the morning. Nothing is approached without the full spectrum of the latest research committed to memory. But not with my writing.

I think writing is something you are rather than something you learn or do. I've always written and long time fans of this blog have commented on more than one occassion that I sure used to have a lot to say. But I knew that I wanted to add some dimensions and depth to my writing and I certainly didn't have a clue where to start to get the novel out of head and on to a page.

Lat Saturday, the alarm went at 5 am. I showered, dressed, agonised over what and how many books a writer takes to a retreat. Shouldn't I be reading rather than writing? But I couldn't help myself as I picked out 4. Just how much reading could one do in 7 days? A lot, if that writer couldn't write, I reckoned.

The children were eased out of their slumber bribed with the promise of a McDonald's breakfast and deposited in the car. Abigail couldn't decide if missing me was a good thing or a bad thing.

Whenever I've flown out of Luton airport, we've parked the car at the long stay and taken the bus to the departures hall. But Marc had to go round the round abouts several times before we figured out where to drop me. As I exited the car and unloaded the suitcases from the boot, I dropped the book I was carrying and it started to rain. I was trying to kiss the children and my husband goodbye, pull 2 small suitcases and keep the book and magazine from getting wet whilst trying to get the hood of my coat over my head and stay out of the way of impatient fellow travelers more eager than I invading the space behind me. I could hear the frustration in their sighs. I nearly started to cry. What was I doing? Why was I doing this? This was crazy and I had clearly lost the plot.

I entered the safety of the departures hall and found comfort in the predictability of an airport. I know what to do when I see an arrow pointing at Departures. I approached the desk, handed the small man with the perfect haircut my passport (photo id, not because I was leaving a country) and the boarding card I had printed out at home. I heaved one suitcase on to the belt becoming aware that my carry on was much heavier than my checked luggage which seemed wrong on so many levels.

I received my boarding pass back and made my way to the departure lounge to wait. I had managed to get a pretty good deal on my flight from EasyJet and I was trying to focus on the positive aspects of money saved as it became clear that the scheduled time of departure was clearly not going to be met. I don't know why I always expect EasyJet to do as they say they will. They never have in the past so why should they start that day?

Amazingly, despite a 30 minute delay in boarding the passengers, everyone was on board and we headed north landing 15 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. Clearly we passed through some space and time continuum because we almost landed before we took off with no time zone changes. Or I had already lost touch with reality and all concept of time, which is entirely possible.

There is only one building at Inverness Airport, one gate, one luggage carousel, one Starbucks (hurrah!). I had a 4 hour wait for my bus to Ullapool so I made myself comfy and immersed myself in technology fully aware that before nightfall I would be off the grid. Where I was headed had no mobile phone reception, no wi fi, no internet, no connection to the wider world other than a landline phone which I was entirely convinced I still knew how to use.

I lost track of time in twitter, facebook, hotmail, text messaging, my book, my magazine, my thoughts, my head. With about 30 minutes to go before the bus departure I decided to enquire about where and how I might purchase a bus ticket to Ullapool at the Information booth. Politely, the lady informed me that I couldn’t get there from here. My nervous breakdown was unfolding before her very eyes as I realised it was a very real possibility that I would miss the only transport that day to Lochinver and the gateway to my dreams.


David Cook said...

Stress is the silent killer and it is the little things that slowly mount up.
I read your article and it reminded me of myself,-the-Silent-Killer---Putting-Life-Into-Perspective&id=3220624
Just stand back and say it will get sorted otherwise every little thing that happens will just become bigger and you feel you are drowning.

Cherilee said...

Ok...this blog itself could be the beginnings of a book. I am on the edge of my seat already! Part 2, soon, please!

Louise said...

i think the writers block is cured :-)

Clare said...

Bravo dear LaDawn!