Friday, December 2, 2011


By Susan

Once a year, the six of us here at What Women Write desert our families, day-jobs and comfort zones to attend our writing retreat. We rent a house--usually near water--divide up kitchen duties, and claim roommates before leaving the city for the getaway. I think we all agree that our collective goal is to maximize our writing time in a stress-free environment. Yet every year, our individual goals are very different. As I looked around the house this morning, I realize just how far we've come in the past few years as a critique group.

Last year, as we read to one another around the table on the second evening of the retreat, Julie introduced us to Isabelle and Robert—an interracial couple in 1930s Kentucky when it was illegal to marry outside your race. This year, she's secured an agent and a book deal for this love story now known as CALLING ME HOME, to be published by St. Martin's Press in early 2013. Julie's goals for this retreat? To dive into her official edits so that she stays on deadline. Yet her goal is also to relax—after the past few whirlwind months, she deserves it!

Pamela is wrestling with concepts and character development. Thirty thousand words into her current manuscript, she's recrafting her hook, defining her protagonist's primary goals, and shaping the ending in ways that surprise even her as the words race forward. She's also discovered that her saga may end with a completely different twist than she'd originally imagined—reminding us all how unpredictable and exciting the writing life can be.

Kim? She's an estimated five thousand words away from the completion of her epic historical fiction manuscript. Tightening, perfecting, and creating. She's currently squirreled away in a quiet place, with furrowed brow, I'm sure, weaving together the next string of dialogue and narrative that will bring THE OAK LOVERS to a close—launching her into the land of queries, edits, and agents.

Last year, Elizabeth was our most prolific producer, pounding out almost 10,000 words toward her story in our four-day retreat. This year she is on track for the same. She's so distracted by the fresh voice unfolding in her storyline that she was the first to seclude herself yesterday as we arrived, eager to pour paragraphs onto paper. And I can't wait to hear tonight, when we sit to read around the table, what that voice had to say.

Joan arrived late last evening, after a long week of work, ready to unwind. This morning, she disappeared with her MacBook and her Snuggie, diving into a read-through of her 87,000-word manuscript. She's verifying that her timelines are succinct, her characters well-developed, and the manuscripts shines. She and I plan to brainstorm this afternoon, submersing ourselves in her novel together, looking for ways to sharpen its edges and perfect the flow.

And me? I'm starting all over with a nugget of a story that will become my second novel. It's exciting to see new characters, yet unnamed, overcome the fresh and scary obstacle course that is mapping itself through my brain. New characters, new challenges, and a new setting make me feel like I'm writing for the first time. And so this retreat? My goal is to erase my anxieties about my completed manuscript that is gracing the desks of agents as we speak. The only way I know how to do that? Write something new.

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