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Killing people at diners
Or, why I'm trying a new ending after a writing retreat.
I have some very cool writing friends, one of whom is Donna “The Plot Doctor” Freitas. Last week, Donna came to Maine and we went away to write and eat and drink and talk and walk around. Even when we were done actively writing for the day, we kept coming back to our works in progress. Basically, we went on a retreat. And if you’re a 30 Rock fanatic like me, you know the punchline: We went on a retreat to move forward.
Specifically, we were working really hard to move our manuscripts forward. Donna needed to choose between two writing projects, both of which I read before we got together, and then she needed to sink some time into her chosen manuscript. I needed to assess the first draft of the project I started at the end of April; she read the whole draft before we got together.
Homework done before we arrived, we checked into The Lincoln in Biddeford. (Mainers: IT IS BEAUTIFUL.) We wrote every morning and early afternoon, breaking for breakfast and lunch, and then spent late afternoons and evenings eating more, drinking cocktails, walking or driving around, and always coming back to our books as we visited. Andromeda: Please take note that THIS is how a writing retreat is supposed to go, not like the nightmare that unfolds in your upcoming novel, THE DEEPEST LAKE.
Donna and I discussed several potential improvements to my manuscript, including, essentially, just really going for it. I had pulled some punches, and Donna wanted them full-force. (Ben did too, for the record.) Once we got into discussing villains and killing POV characters, I got really into it, and I replotted a good chunk of the novel and wrote some scenes. We also sat elbow-to-elbow with strangers at a diner while I told Donna who I’d decided to kill that morning and how.
I’m all for subtlety. I love low-key drama that feels incredibly realistic and emotional. But I also love over-the-top scary stories; I love books that deliver what a genre promises, particularly when it comes to a book described as a “horror” or “thriller”, and I think I went 70% of the way toward writing one of those books. So I’m going to take it the other 30% of the way and see what I think.
If you’re interested in doing a homemade retreat with a writing friend, we made a 10-minute video with some advice. Actually, we made two videos…we did the first one in the hotel lobby, which had amazing decor but poor wifi so the recording was super wobbly. We tried again the next morning, in my office in front of my prized artwork (a collection of Pants Pants prints). This one is also wobbly but gets better as it goes. (You can also just listen to the audio.)
If you can’t tell by our demeanors, here, Donna has been up for hours and has already enjoyed an emergency cup of black tea while she wrote in our guest room; I have been up for about five minutes, zero milligrams of caffeine in my veins. (Don’t worry, we had coffee when we were done filming.)
Don’t forget to check out Donna’s substack. She’s starting a 90-day novel/memoir program on September 15 and my goal is to have my current draft off to my agent by that date, so I can play with something new with Donna and her other fans!
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Have you ever gone on writing retreat, either formal or self-made? Was it like ours, or was it more like the retreat in Andromeda’s upcoming THE DEEPEST LAKE, where you’re there because your adult daughter died working there and the enigmatic retreat leader is stonewalling local police? Bit of both?