A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It's a fascinating compilation of the work habits of well known writers, artists, musicians, scientists and other creatives. The book spans a few centuries and many continents with descriptions gleaned from personal correspondence, biographies, and the like.
I love it.
Last week, I was in the countryside of Northern California on a writing retreat. I found myself working and reading this book by turns, trying to understand my own methodology when I write. As a writer with a day job, my work schedule while on retreat is vastly different from the usual post-dinner grind.
In a regular working week, I don't sit down to write until after a full day of work, dinner and some TV with my darling husband. So that means 10pm or so, for an hour or two, longer if the work is going well. (I confess there is lots of websurfing and noodling around during these two hours, or I'd get more done. But the brain needs to do what it does... or so I tell myself.) I'd rather be tired the next day and know I accomplished something, than fidgety because I quit early and lay awake wondering why.
On retreat, however, I hit my sweet spot. When I was at Hedgebrook on retreat, I'd get up by 10 AM, make a cup of tea, an egg and some toast for breakfast. I'd build a fire. Then I'd sit down to write until around noon. Then I'd shower for the day-- Hedgebrook has a bath house in the woods, so it meant a trek in my blue "smurf" robe (because I look like a smurf cleric in it) and my hot pink boots. I'd come back, fix my hair, brush my teeth, and eat lunch. I'd listen to the radio and/or read while eating. Then I'd head down to the farmhouse at the front of the property and sit in the living room checking email, writing, web surfing and eavesdropping on the goings on in the kitchen where one of the wonderful cooks was prepping the evening meal. An hour or so before dinner, I'd go back to my cabin, write a little more, grab my basket, and head back to the farmhouse for a communal dinner with the other writers. After dinner and some conversation, I'd load my basket with an egg and some bread for the next day, snacks and my lunch, and return to my cottage to write until one or two in the morning, pausing only to eat more toast and watch a downloaded episode of Downton Abbey or Cranford. (Period drama lends it self to cottages, I find.)
This past week was not a Hedgebrook retreat, but a stay with a generous family who kindly let me lurk in their guest house on a hillside overlooking vineyards. It was heavenly. I had a giant picture window that encouraged earlier rising, so I found myself getting up by 8 AM, making the requisite toast and egg (from the chickens right outside! So good!), and cuppa. Then I'd light the fireplace (gas fireplace-- no wood to carry!) and write until lunchtime. No need to trek to the bathhouse as I had my own shower in the guest house. I'd dress and eat lunch on the deck with nothing but the bees and the hawks for company. And my copy of Daily Rituals. After lunch, I'd go for a walk along the property or down the dirt road beyond. Then I'd eat an apple, and keep writing until dinner called me away (if I was lucky enough to be invited to join friends) or I'd make my little supper and eat it while watching downloaded episodes of the first season of Call the Midwife. Then I'd write some more, or make plans for the next day of work. Surf the web, check email, and go to bed between 11 PM and 1 AM. And do it again the next day.
I get a lot of writing done on retreat. In real life, three hours a day is an accomplishment. On retreat... I just go.
*sigh* So, that's how I spent Easter week. If you made it this far into this post, do pick up Currey's book. You'll likely find it very interesting, too!
P.S. I do not know Mason Currey, I just like getting a peak into other lives!