#AmWriting On “accountabuddies,” writing retreats, and community-conscious cafes

Hello, all! Welcome to a new segment about creative writing at Grab the Lapels. Lemme explain:

Last summer, my husband surprised me with a birthday gift: a cabin in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where I would stay and have my own little writing retreat. Later that summer, I found another cabin in Indiana and repeated the process. Here’s was the problem: when you’re in a cabin, you spend a lot of time fearing spiders and squashing mosquitoes, and you never interact with anyone. There is no “schedule” to follow, and thus you end up reading a lot, which you justify because you have a blog. You also Google “ice cream near me” frequently.

ice cream
Found it.

Last weekend, however, I went to a writing retreat that was organized by a non-profit in my city. We spent two full days in a gorgeous house along Lake Michigan. There was a loose schedule, meals made for me, and a bedroom with a window that attracted bees that couldn’t get in (hooray!). I wrote over 4,000 words on the retreat and tooted my own horn for several days.

my room
This was my room.

The problem with writing retreats is that they don’t often keep a writer writing once he/she returns home. I decided that’s not how writers should write and came up with “Accountabuddy Saturdays.” In case you couldn’t guess, “accountabuddy” is a portmanteau of accountability buddy. I shared my idea with the 7 other people who attended the retreat and felt hopeful. “9:00AM,” I wrote in our Facebook group. “We’re meeting at The Local Cup.” People described other obligations and a refusal to get up so early. I still went in case someone was shyly not telling me they would join me in writerly silence for one hour.

Well, The Local Cup is a pay-it-forward establishment. You give the amount of money you think you should pay for your drinks, and if you can’t pay, you don’t. Neat, right? The problem is, I forgot such a place turns into a community meet-and-greet, with everyone chatting and children tearing around in a small space, doing weird things that would make me flip my lid, like riding on their parents’ legs.

the local cup
Things get hoppin’ in a community-conscious cafe. Photo from The Local Cup Facebook page.

The goal was one hour. I made it through, but with several interruptions. In a community-based cafe, everyone wants to know what you’re doing. “Grading or writing for a grade?” they asked over the din. “Working on a short story I wrote last weekend,” I replied. I had a print-out copy of my so-far seven-page story and was focusing on tightening the diction so I had a better sense of the tone.

One young man told a stylish old lady that I was a professor at his college. “Hi, honey!” she yelled. I tried to focus on whether I should use alliteration or assonance in one sentence. “I don’t mean to disparage your profession by calling you honey!” she yelled. I told her it was okay, that I thought she “looked sweet as pie herself.”

After I left, I realized that my “accountabuddies” may never meet up with me in real life. For some, the writing retreat was it. Typically, I’m the same way, but teaching Introduction to Creative Writing this past semester has me more driven to practice what I teach, especially about risk-taking and ignoring myths about inspiration. Instead, my accountabuddies may be you, or even this e-space. Since I’ve decided to write a post about how it goes each week, I’ll feel responsible to stick to my commitment. Thanks for joining me!

Twlight writer

See you next Saturday!

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28 comments

  1. I really like the idea of finding a way to hold oneself accountable for getting writing done. For a lot of people, that discipline helps shape and focus the thinking. Not only that, it’s helpful to find out the way other writers go about what they do. I look forward to learning how it goes with you.

  2. I’m not sure if I’m more jealous over those lovely sounding writing retreats or that rather impressive looking ice cream.

    Best of luck with your WIP; I look forward to seeing your updates.

    • Thanks so much, Callum. I’m thinking that in the future I will not do a writing retreat in a cabin again. I’m too worried about what’s going to bite and/or crawl on me.

  3. Well done on your hard work finding that ice cream! What a shame no one was up for meeting up – maybe if you do it every week some people will pluck up the courage to join you. Maybe a quieter cafe, though. We have a range here, thank goodness.

    • Yeah, there are plenty around me, but many of them blast music all the time. What is it with noise pollution?? And also, thanks! I had to choose between the ice cream story and the business that delivers cookies until 3:00am.

  4. Firstly-the ice cream looks scrumptious. Secondly, that meme is hilarious. And although I’m not a writer, I’ve spoken to enough successful writers to know that the advice they give almost everybody is: constantly write, and constantly read, so you’re on the right track. I just finished a book by a woman with three young kids-she gets up at 5am every day to write, before everyone else is awake in the house. Now that’s dedication!!! I don’t think I could get up at 5am every day, but if you want something bad enough…

    • Most women who write whom I’ve met talk about how they stopped writing between their child’s birth and when they go off to pre-school. I’ve even met some dad writers who lament the days when they had their own lives and schedules. Some actually sounded pretty, uh, bitter that they chose to have a kid.

  5. Man, you never even brought back one of those ice creams. Not a popsicle.

    I’m going on my own ice cream retreat this summer.

  6. I’m not a sweet tooth, well maybe for cake, but not chocolate and wouldn’t fight you for the icecream. I’d love some of that space/time to write though. Will follow this series with interest.

  7. Minus the spiders and mosquitoes, that trip to the cabin kind of sounds amazing. I do like the idea of a writer’s retreat, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals and sharing your work. But it’s so easy to falter once you leave that environment. Will you be on the lookout for a quieter and less crowded spot to work on your writing?

  8. I do admire people who can force themselves to write regularly. Even with reviews I’m totally lackadaisical about it – sometimes I start out to write a review and three hours later discover I’ve played six computer games and watched twenty youtube videos. Other times, I blast out reviews as if I was on a deadline (mind you, sometimes I AM on a deadline – no reviews for the next day!) I’m pretty sure if I went on a retreat I’d discover it was ideal for doing great big extra doses of nothing – my favourite thing! Well, my second favourite thing – first favourite would be that ice-cream…

    I shall bully you mercilessly if you don’t report progress every week, then… πŸ˜€

  9. This. Is. AWESOME! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. I am here! I will help! My husband tries to write, but he gets in his head and never has “the right head space” to write. I keep trying to convince him he needs to do something like this… but I’m not the right sort of motivator. I don’t even know where to start to help him.

    That said– this isn’t about him. It’s about you! Do you have any goals you are seeking to accomplish?! I am super excited for this series!!

    • I used to be very much an “in my head” kind of person. Nothing, not ONE thing, I could possibly write would be worth saying because it wasn’t “profound.” When I was taking creative writing classes, I noticed that no one really taught me how to use and thing about the elements of fiction. So, when I taught my own creative writing classes, that’s very much where I was focused. I kept telling my students, “This class is NOT about creating a good story! It’s about revision and trying and risk-taking.” There is actually a category on the rubric titled “creative risks.” Well, if I’m yelling at a bunch of undergrads about risk-taking and revision, I surely should follow my own advice. I wonder if this is why so many writers are writing teachers; the relationship is symbiotic. Does your husband want to be an accountabuddy with me? All he has to do is write from 9:00AM to 10:00AM with me each Saturday. Afterward, my plan is to discuss what we did to anyone who shows up (with him, we could e-mail each other or use Google Hangouts). I’m not sure what you could do, Jackie, but your enthusiasm makes me want to keep up on things and not let you down!

      • I can relate to that, but not when it comes to writing. I’m not great at practicing what I preach… yet those who follow my advice at work are the most successful. Go figure. πŸ˜‰

        This is a big step. It takes a lot to recognize these sorts of things. I’m impressed. And proud! I hope this works well for you. πŸ˜€

        David would love to join you, but March-November he is at work between 6am-3pm. Farmer and all that. He could join you for a later time. Or, suggested that perhaps the meet up is just later in the day and the goal is that everyone writes for an hour at some point during the day? *shrugs* If you want, I can get you his contact information and you two can chat. Either way, I think this would be good for him. πŸ˜‰

        • March through November. Good gravy. What kind of farmer is he? Also, he’s more than welcome to write for an hour at any time and then we can email about how it went. I have a set time simply because I want people to literally come to the cafe with me. Send him my address (grabthelapels@gmail.com) and let him know the next “meeting” is Sunday (all the graduations in the area are on Saturday).

          • Right?! March through November. But he has December-February off. πŸ˜‰ That’s purely because he doesn’t own the land outright, mind you. He raises organic pasture-raised chicken for meat. But, he rents land from a diversified organic fruit and vegetable farm, so he also works on those crops too. It’s the most delicious. πŸ˜€

            I’ll give him the details. I hope he reaches out to you soon! We’re both excited for the prospect of expanding his writing with an accountabuddy.

  10. First, that ice-cream!
    Second, I would totally love the cabin retreat, insects and all!
    Third, I think this is a great idea and I will do my best to support you. I’m not a writer, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I’ll do my best!

    • Usually, I would stay for 3 days, 2 nights. I’m good the first two days, but by the 3rd I am SO DONE with being crawled on. Thanks for your support. I think the best thing my blog friends can do is be curious when I post about my accountability dates πŸ™‚

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