Emerging from my "off-grid" experience, I find Joanna Penn's words to be more true than ever: "Even if you plot your books, sometimes you won’t know what is coming until the words appear on the page. Something happens when you commit to the page, to the word count goal, and you write through the frustration and the annoyance and the self-criticism."
I went into this experimental excursion, this exodus, with the need to write and an ambitious goal of finally having a completed novel.
While I'd technically "finished" my novel back in June (you can read about that experience HERE), I had made so many changes along the way, that much of what was written still had gaping holes and unfinished chapters.
In my time since June, I've revised the first seventy pages or so, which turned out to be a complete overhaul of the work I'd written for my thesis last year. And the flow happened, and the words were real, and there didn't seem to be anything wrong. But upon further examination, I realized I didn't have a middle to this novel, and as most writers will undoubtedly agree, the middle is difficult, maybe even, the hardest part. I knew what was meant to happen, had known it for too long, and I dreaded going to those places, and exposing the things that would bring PART TWO of this novel to fruition.
Two weeks ago, I decided I would exile myself off-grid for a week to finish this book. Life got in the way (as life is want to do) and I only had two and a half days away from everything and everyone.
This time away was glorious.
I got a hotel room.
I shut off my phone.
I opened a bottle of wine.
I sat down to write.
And I wrote.
Now I'm not going to say that this time away was not without it's challenges. When I turned my phone back on, it was to hundreds of emails and notifications; examples that the world did not stop because I shut it out. I have since caught up on all of these trappings of reality, and am left with 105 pages of writing.
This amount is almost an exact number of pages which took me some four(ish) months to write whilst working on my thesis in 2015. And even from this world of non-stop writing, I found myself in doubt, and reaching out to the best friend, who promptly shut down my attempts at distraction as I so asked him to do before departing for this writing retreat of my own making.
I finished PART TWO.
I finished the chapter I so dreaded from the moment I knew it had to happen.
I found a conclusion that would lead into the third part of the book, which had been constructed and realized months before. And I did so with coffee and wine and Pop Tarts and The Writer's Journey and TheDreamer's Dictionary by my side.
I wrote alone with the support of friends and family who knew I so needed this time away because I am writer. Or at least that is how I justified this break.
But it was more than just the writing that I found in my time away.
I found a stillness in the sanctity of writing that I haven't felt for so long; the way the world seems to stop when I'm inside a story.
I found heartbreak and redemption and catharsis and even a bit of that balance I have been seeking.
I discovered just how many books I've used as reference to help with this novel, and I discovered what it feels like to write mostly on hotel paper because the thoughts are too quick for post-its and real pages. And I discovered the thrill of typing and typing and writing words that have for too long been hidden from me.
Just as Joanna Penn talks about the committal to the page and the word count and absolving the frustration and the annoyance and the self-criticism, I suppose I am discussing the same things here. As soon as I let myself have the freedom of poor writing, it didn't matter what I was putting on the page, just that I was leaving something behind.
I've grappled with this same idea many times in the past week.
Death brought destruction to many in our community just before I took off for this trip, and many of these people discussed what we leave behind when we depart. They spoke of if and when and maybe and never.
Like writing an ending, death has a funny way of showing us just how much we forget, how much we take for granted while we're busy living (or in the case of writing, moving on to the next story). And I hope I won't forget what this time away writing has done, and I hope I won't ever take for granted this story, which has allowed me to escape, discover, and fulfill my goals for the future.
I think it's true (for us writers anyway) that we only discover what we know once it's been written. After reading the last chapter of PART TWO I now understand that "Grief is grief. Loss is loss. And anyone who tells you how to do it right, has never done it before. There’s no real way. There’s just living."