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Cathy: Denver retreat

Friday night, I arrived with Honey in Denver, CO. Gor-ge-ous sunset on the drive from the airport. Sorry, I did not bring a camera for this trip. I was going to write, after all, not fool around taking pictures! But I did curse myself up and down for lack of camera when it came to that sunset.

We helped my husband’s cousin set up his speaking engagement/seminar, and ate a late dinner of hotel bar food. the Grand Hyatt 1876 Lounge had a three-sauce sampler for fried zucchini and portabello mushrooms that was a bit greasy, but the middle sauce for dipping was a tomato jam I could have eaten on anything for eternity and never missed another flavor. I ate it on Honey’s sweet potato fries that came with his pork sliders. I couldn’t get enough of that tomato jam.

Food rhapsody over for the moment, I turn to the purpose for leaving my children on Mother’s Day weekend: to write!!!

My manuscript is, after all, my other child. They do vie for attention constantly.

Saturday morning, my dear Honey trotted off to do his tech support function for his cousin, while I stayed in the hotel room under the auspices of writing. I proceeded to drive myself completely berserk, agonizing over getting past the block I had regarding what I knew I needed to do to the manuscript. I’d been having this block for months and was blaming my lack of time alone for it. So I got the time alone, and still went bonkers.

I finally said, I must walk! I am in a new city. I have never set foot in Denver proper. I must find the nearest green space to find some solace in my frustrated writer’s soul.

I rode the elevator down to concierge and she pointed me toward the capitol and its park. Then she looked dejected as she recalled, “But there is a huge Cinco de Mayo Festival going on there, so you won’t see much of the green.”

I replied, “No problem, I love to people watch.” Along the walk, I met an adorable nine-week-old brindle coated sweet little pit bull puppy. And the young man on the other end of the leash, who had a big smile, proud to show off his new little girl. It’s been a long time since my “Boston days” between tall buildings, seeing the slant of light and shadow play down the walls and windows. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I hit the busy amusement park set up of Cinco de Mayo, on the eighth of May. Lots of good sights and sounds and distractions and rhythms, and some construction of the park, and children on rides, and walking and Spanish and dancing, and a lot of Dos Equis displays.

I didn’t stay long, and the capitol building in Denver is a gold domed beaut, like my beloved Boston capitol building, so that was nice for my suburban aching heart to see. Then I turned back to the hotel and to face the open document on the laptop.

More agonizing. I called a friend, who asked me to send it to her, to which I promptly said NO! Then backtracked that I was sitting there staring at seven critiques already. She kindly said, “Oh, no, you don’t need me to look at it. You need to know that what you know you have to do to your manuscript is good because it will make it better!”

I said, “Aha! That was the missing piece! Editing will make it better!”

And so I began to edit. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I still struggled, was still largely attached to what I had already written, but I moved stuff around, rewrote the beginning.

Loads more to the weekend, but as far as the writing, that’s what I did. I agonized, I moved something around, I agonized, I moved stuff around. I agonized, I deleted a few lines here and there. And I agonized some more. I made it to page 5 out of 120. And I was disappointed enormously with my new first line.

I thought, “If I picked this book up off the shelf, and read that opening line? I’d put it back.”

And then, the day after my arrival home, my writing group met to write on Tuesday. All of a sudden, I was able to work much more effectively in the company of my writing group all sitting quietly with their laptops and notebooks, doing largely the same thing I was doing: editing what we already had.

But if I had not gone to Denver; had not driven myself crazy until I chiseled away a crack in the writer’s block, I would have been of no use to myself or my manuscript on Tuesday.

And, like Edith Ann says, “That’s the Truth, thpblbubblepppbubth!”

[Cross-posted from my personal blog.]

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kristine #

    Bravo, Cathy! I’m glad the weekend proved to be productive for you after all.

    Sometimes you just have to apply the bum glue and do it, as painful as it can be. I’m always amazed at how unstuck I become once I dig in and just push myself to do the hard stuff…even if I’m gnashing my teeth the whole time. 🙂

    I hope your momentum continues. Go with it!

    May 17, 2010
  2. ooooh! exploring new cities by foot is one of my favorite things to do. Not only is it a wonderful way to feel a place. But I seem to fade away into a my own fairy tale as I walk about and the creative bunnies come out to play!

    May 18, 2010
  3. my biggest obstacle is being attached to the words already on the page!! What I love about your post is that in the midst of it all, community is KEY; connection and comradrie helps me to put anything down/move anything around on the page.

    May 18, 2010
  4. you all gleaned excellent aspects! thanks, it’s good to recognize what works, and for me it seems to be a little of all of the above. exposure to new to get the creative juices flowing, sense of writing community connection, and a bit of bum glue in the end. pun only mildly intended!

    May 18, 2010
  5. Hi Cathy, As I read your post I FELT that gritty, infuriating agony of writers block. I have been seriously blocked for sometime. I have tried all sorts … setting deadlines, freeing up hours to focus, yet nothing seemed to work. The worst thing is when you have really taken time out and it SHOULD be easy, but still the block remains. Thankfully, something has shifted in me over the last few days and like you, suddenly I am now much more able to cut through the woods and clear those new pathways.
    It was great to read your post. Just as Robin said, through comradarie and community we can push on. Phew!

    May 19, 2010
  6. i’m glad that you found something in my frustration that spoke to you, bethan!

    i can’t really put a magic fix on my blocks, except sometimes to just let them be and then eventually use the buttglue kristine so viscerally stated!

    so, since then, i haven’t really gotten back into the manuscript, yet, but i have written two poems and started what is likely to be a novella.

    so i opened a vein, just maybe not the one i meant to. lol!

    May 19, 2010
  7. Brittany Vandeputte #

    Cathy (and anyone else with writer’s block), another thing you can try that has worked wonders for me when you want to write, but don’t have anything cohesive to say, is number a paper from 1-100 and write down 100 things you know about the character, the plot, their relationship with someone else, the scenary from their point of view, etc. Heck, I’ve even discussed plot points with myself like:

    57. Something has to happen between John and Ivy where John is wrong and Ivy is right.
    58. What could that be?
    59. John still has to be sympathetic.
    60. Maybe a misunderstanding?
    61. Ivy is using “mountain medicine” to control an alcoholic.
    62. Look up plants that curb alcohol cravings.
    63. She could tell him it was for some other minor ailment.
    64. Look up plants, alcohol cravings, and side effects.
    65. If he has side effect, it gives her an excuse to give him more medicine more often.
    66. John could tell him it’s junk and pour it out because he doesn’t understand Ivy’s motivation.
    67. Confrontation over John’s meddling.

    Whenever I try this, I find I automatically begin expanding on a particular thought and fill up my hundred things with an-almost-entirely fleshed out scene–or fill-in-the-crack details that I knew subconsciously or need reminders to research.

    May 20, 2010

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