When Writers Retreat

The writer’s retreat is a common trope in writing circles. Often this term is used to refer to a place remote from the world where writers sequester themselves away to do their lonely work. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, describes some such places in her own writer’s journey. One is a pine shed on Cape Cod, another a room in a dark library, and still another a deserted faculty lounge where she spreads out the pages of her manuscript on the table.

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Often “retreat” is used as a noun, but for me, who doesn’t have a remote cabin in the woods or a breezy bungalow on a beach, the verb is the thing.

When I get deep into a project, like I am now with the book, I find myself pulling back from the rest of the world. Almost unconsciously, I become inaccessible. I pull away from Facebook. I resist my phone. The blog slides to beyond necessity and rests uneasily on some guilty mental to-do list.

Whether this is just a characteristic of writers in general or just certain personality types, I’m not sure, because I have the sense I used to do this as a college student. As a teacher. I pulled away from the world to sit and think and work. The current paper, or project, or unit, became all consuming, always looming in my brain.

These days this mass consumption of my mind means I become flaky in all else. I don’t like  feeling that I won’t be able to read my Bible again until this book is out of my head. But frankly, my brain is just too full, too busy chewing on lately manifested manuscript problems, to hold another thought.

Sometimes I feel guilty for going light on my devotions, but I still pray every day, sometimes spending up to twenty minutes on my knees.

When I remember that the Bible says Jesus rose early to pray—it doesn’t say He got up early to read His scrolls—I think maybe this is okay.

It’s a kind of retreat even Jesus needed. In these times of prayer, when my head is full with work and my mind can’t accommodate whole chapters of the Bible, sometimes I can latch on to just one Bible verse and meditate on that, such as “Jesus is the Word of life.”

I’ve liked that one lately, because I’m struggling to find words. But knowing I can rest my cares on Him who created words—who is the Word (even if I don’t fully understand that) gives me peace.

As a Christian writer, I get a special kind of retreat that other writers don’t. And best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing. Today I’m thankful for the Word of life—I’m thankful that God doesn’t need my words to get the job done.

When I look at my dining room table these days, I am reminded of these lines from Annie Dillard:
“How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet.”
–Annie Dillard, The Writing Life