Retreat! No, Advance!

In which I find being confined to an 8 x 12 room (with breaks for lunch) totally liberating.

May 10, 2012

My current university of affiliation, the College of Charleston, is doing a very cool thing and I want to tell Churm-dom about it.

From 8:30 to 3:30 from this Wednesday until this Friday, I will be in an on-campus writers’ retreat at the school’s Addlestone Library. During those hours I have been asked to do nothing other than work on the project for which I was admitted to the retreat, in my case, a manuscript in progress, a young-adult novel with quasi-fantastical elements, that was born out of a short story I wrote satirizing young adult novels with fantastical elements.

Because my days are dedicated to the project, I do not have sufficient time to collect all of my thoughts into a coherent and integrated essay. Therefore, I will do a list of my current (and provisional findings). This is the Internet, after all. It’s like the thing was invented for lists.

  • In a room of academics, the creative writer is going to be the dumbest one, by far, as in not even close. On my best days, I like to think I’m decently smart, but the first day, when we were asked about our projects, for each of the other participants, I was somewhere between impressed and dumbfounded. Some of them I couldn’t even completely understand, other than to know they sounded cool and important.
  • At lunch, we get together as a group and eat sandwiches, and I get to hear about everyone else’s projects because mine is too embarrassing to discuss. In so doing, my mind is often blown. This is a fun thing.
  • Given the current general climate of hostility outside of academia towards those inside academia, I’m thinking that it would be a good idea for someone to start a journal that explains to general audiences why seemingly esoteric academic research is actually vital to the ongoing development of society. The titles and abstracts of academic research are often easy pickings for ridicule because they are taken out of context and not intended for that general audience, and a publication that explains the roots of these projects, as well as where these branches will lead in the future might deepen the discussion of the work of the university outside of the university. Maybe this exists already. If so, someone tell me so I can read it.
  • Somehow being confined to an 8 x 12 room for six hours a day is liberating. One of the things the retreat has demonstrated to me is how haphazard and spotty my work habits have become, primarily due to access to the Internet. Nicholas Carr was right. At home, I am working all the time, but I am constantly jumping tasks and this is now self-evidently not maximally efficient. Additionally, while things are getting done,  I’m not experiencing that trance-like concentration and focus that good writing depends upon (at least for me). Being somewhere between encouraged and required to forgo those things has been a godsend over these first two days. For the first time in a long time I’ve had that very pleasurable sense of time disappearing while I work. I hadn’t realized how poor I’d gotten at letting myself be absorbed in a single task. I’m actually a little bit frightened by this and will be attempting to put some different practices in place for my homebound work.
  • Every university should do something like this. It is inexpensive, utilizes existing resources when they’re not being used (we’re currently between Spring semester and summer school and the library is a ghost town), and brings faculty across departments together in a way that otherwise would never happen. If they allow repeat customers and I remain affiliated with this university next academic year, I will be reapplying for the every retreat from here on out.
  • We shouldn’t call these things retreats since that word implies a kind of defeat. From now on, in my mind, they’re “advancements.”
  • Today we had cupcakes in honor of the birthday of one of the creators of the retreat. It could have been the best cupcake I have ever eaten, chocolate cake with a caramel and sea-salt frosting. All other cupcakes have been ruined from this point forth. This is both a great blessing and a terrible tragedy.

Friday is the last day. I will be sad to leave my room behind, but I will leave with 9000 words of progress on my novel, and that’s not nothing.



You can always write John Warner at [email protected], though he vows to check his email much less often from now on. Same goes with his Twitter handle @biblioracle.





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