Saturday, March 2, 2013
How the Sisters of the Quill Writing Retreat Saved My Book
Some retreats are an excuse to play; some are a chance to think, experiment with a new idea, or start a new project. But our Sisters of the Quill retreat last weekend went to my very identity as a writer. It was a case of, “Can I get this book done, and if I can’t, am I really still a professional, career writer?”
For me, still lumbering along in the eleventh year of my jello elephant oeuvre, this was a serious question. So in my case our retreat was neither a casual nor an experimental outing. I came loaded for bear, and I left with something much better: molded jello. Perhaps even miraculously molded jello.
After being away from this ms for months (again), I arrived at the retreat, sat down at the little wooden table in our lodgings, and plugged in. It seemed very necessary to get through all 350 pages, once through, the first day. I didn’t quite make it, but got close. The next day I set to it again, and by the end of Day Two had finally got to the epilogue.
I went to bed with the nagging feeling that there was something still NQR (not quite right) about this book. It seemed a little too fantastical, a little too God-out-of-the-box. After reading a certain review of one of my Plumtree series books once—which you must never, ever do—that it was “difficult to credit,” which is British for hard to believe, I had to admit this issue had made me uncomfortable before. I do believe in God and like to include the supernatural in my books. To me, that’s realistic. But I must not allow things to get too fantastical.
So on Day Three, freshly invigorated with morning coffee, I confided to a fellow Sister of the Quill that I had a feeling I needed to strip the book down yet again (it’s three-fourths its original length in this, its tenth incarnation). The wise SOTQ looked a little worried, and took on the air of someone calming a skittish horse. “Whoa,” she said. “Now wait just a minute.” She started walking me through the plot and we agreed that there was in fact much to be salvaged.
But it wasn’t until halfway through the morning, our bottoms so firmly molded to the hard little rush seats of the chairs that they were already numb, that I exclaimed, “This is it!” It was a simple insight, but it changed everything. It had instantly become clear that the far-out element of my plot could easily and concisely morph (with almost no work!!) into an “easy-to-credit” political plot. I told my SOTQ I’d been praying for an insight like this, longing for resolution on this project, and after hugging her I went to the kilim on my knees in gratitude.
And so, when work began to reassert itself into my writing life the next morning, a Monday that was the final half-day of our retreat, I had my book very nearly ready.
This retreat gave me my book back in two other ways, but I’ve already been too long-winded. But to me they’re just as amazing. Once again, I’m blown away by how exciting and marvelous it is to be a writer.
Let us dare to continue moving forward and taking risks, fellow writers!!