I promised to tell you about my retreat. Although I am thankful to be home safely, and I missed my daughters (and, okay, my husband, too), I don’t think I can rave enough about how amazing this trip was for me.
The Gell Center is a rather ordinary-looking house sitting on a 26-acre estate in the Fingerlakes Wine Region of New York State. Built in 1929 by Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Gell, it was donated to Writers and Books upon Dr. Gell’s death. Writers and Books have served the bequest well, adding a lodge for larger groups, and two very cute cabins deeper in the woods (no water or electricity, alas).
If I know my audience, however, what YOU want to know is what I did there. I wrote. I got up every morning, very early. I scribbled in a notebook, as is my habit of many years, but I found that there was none of my usual whining about wishing I could be a “real” writer. By the end of the morning’s entry, in fact, I was usually drafting something to be typed into my novel manuscript.
The second step was to open my laptop and read what I had typed the previous day. This was “retyping,” mind you. But, still, there were plenty of changes to absorb. Remember last summer when (I think I shared this with you) I decided a character had to die? Well, for the longest time my manuscript simply sailed on after that chapter, with no significant consequences. I realized, sometime earlier this fall, that that wasn’t going to do. In a novel, everything has consequences. If a character coughs, she has TB. If a knife appears, someone is going to be stabbed.
As I often tell my students, everything in life has consequences, but in the turmoil and 11,000 bits of stimuli every minute, we often don’t pay attention to those consequences.
So I read aloud for a long time–often an hour or more. Then, I pulled out the as yet not retyped, extremely messed-up pages, and began typing. I typed about 5,000 words on an average day. I wrote one new scene, and made many, many changes throughout the manuscript.
I had a few other other things on my mind. It was “the Fingerlakes Wine Region,” after all. I visited the Imagine Moore winery in Naples and bought a bottle of a white called “Gratitude.” (And I was grateful.) I had purchased groceries on my first day, but on a couple of days I went in search of the perfect cheeseburger. I found Lake Canandaigua and got spectacularly lost, but found my way home again.
I worked on the manuscript in the afternoons and early evenings, but by seven or eight o’clock I wanted other company. So I read books (there are over 1000 books at the Gell House, and of course I brought a suitcase full of them, coals to Newcastle). I watched TV shows on my laptop. At bedtime, without fail, I got out my notebook again and jotted down some additional ideas. I dreamed about my story! (Something I cannot ever remember doing while at home.)
At dawn and dusk there was an interesting rustling in the ceiling above the living room (the one with the amazing picture window) where I usually worked. At first I worried that there were mice or something, but it sounded too heavy. It sounded like a cat. One day this cat (see picture) was sitting on the lawn glaring at me. What do you think?
I’ll have a few additional insights to share–about the writing, not the cat–in my next post.