Life After a Writers Retreat—Part I: Analysis

First, an apology: a full two weeks have passed since my last post—a period of time I regret letting go by, as my (double-digit) views have plummeted with my neglect!

As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve spent an invigorating three weeks studying fiction and screenwriting at Cambridge University’s Pembroke College. I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned there and will continue to do so, but what’s been on my mind this week is reintegration back into my “real” life.

There’s no doubt in my mind now that artists retreats are invaluable for writers. Even more important, however—and what I’ve been struggling with this week now that I’m back in the States—is how to deal with what comes next, once the chef-prepared meals have run out and the nature trails have disappeared and the TV is back on*.

I’ve spent some time thinking about this and come up with a few strategies.

First, analyze your experience.

This coping mechanism actually started as an assignment for our fiction track with Emma Sweeney. Twenty percent of our grade was based on a commentary analyzing the development of our work during the course with references to the required reading and guest speakers. It wasn’t a popular assignment, but I actually found it quite valuable to revisit my notes and class materials and spend some time evaluating my writing in this new context.

The requirements of the assignment were pretty fluid. Here were some of the options for tackling the commentary:

  • offer an analysis of your creative process;
  • account for the ways in which your reading has informed your writing, in terms of both content and craft;
  • comment on the technical obstacles you have encountered and the tactics you have employed to overcome them;
  • attempt to place your creative work in a cultural, commercial, and genre context;
  • discuss your approach to editing and redrafting;
  • ask questions of your work: What did you aim to achieve, and did the finished product match or confound your ambitions? What might you have learned in producing this work, both as a writer and as a reader?

Basically, the commentary amounted to an analysis of what we had learned during the course.

After this assignment was handed in, however, I took it a step further. I walked from Pembroke down to Michaelhouse, a contemporary coffeehouse inside a working chapel, and spent a couple of hours analyzing what I had learned not just in the fiction course but throughout my time at Cambridge, both in and out of class. Topics ranged from the exercises and techniques I’d acquired to an evaluation of quality versus quantity in the production of my work to the social aspects of the trip.

Those few pages in my writer’s notebook were just the first step in preparing for my return home. In the coming days, I’ll explore additional strategies for dealing with life after a writers retreat. In the meantime, do you have any additional tips?

*On a side note, the day after I posted “TV Free” below, Ben Richards, a writer on MI-5 and creator of The Fixer, was a guest speaker in our screenwriting class. In addition to showing clips from his cool shows, he extolled the virtues of HBO’s excellent The Wire, and I missed my TV again.

Caught in the ’Net

Oops! Grammar Girl is on a book tour with her Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and one sharp-eyed Minnesota reporter discovered a grammatical error on the book’s back cover—proof that mistakes can happen to anyone.


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