I am writing a novel. Check that…I wrote a novel….hellooOOOoooo. I wound up this Turkish family in my book for 350 pages (the poor dears). Someone asked me the other night while we waited for a live comedy show to start, “So…how do you know when you’re finished?”

And I paused because it was a good question (and also because I thought I saw Lady Gaga in the crowd) and I gave the honest answer which swirled up in my gut: “I don’t feel finished. I feel like my characters are pausing mid-breath waiting for me to continue their story even though I put a period at the end and clicked save.”

It is heartbreaking, really. I don’t feel finished and here I have a complete story, a finished manuscript–and not that it buttons up nicely at the end like an old Disney movie–and yet, I haven’t actually sat down and read my own novel cover-to-cover (or page 1 to page 350, I guess).

I’m afraid to do it and here’s why: I know I’ll find errors and mistakes. Blast! I know I’ll want to add, delete, refresh, refine, remove. I can tweak and nudge my story around until my fingertips are blue with pecking and the earth yells, “ALRIGHT ALREADY!”

I guess I’m admitting I’m scared to edit but this is where I need to be. I need to be in the Land of the Big Edit.

So, I’m getting out and finishing that novel, baby. And by finishing I mean I will get it to a point where I could kiss it goodbye and drop all 350 pages into the USPS to an agent knowing not one of my characters is left under a laurel tree to whither in a cold desert night.

It doesn’t mean they’re left there now, but I can’t be sure all corners have been turned, all torches have been lit, all spoons have been licked (and heaven knows I love to lick the spoons!).

I’m getting out. I’m breaking free and I’m headed to an Abbey to cash in on my husband’s Christmas gift to me: A weekend alone to read and write and write and write and eat and write and write and sleep and write and write. I’m giddy with anticipation. Plus, an Abbey!? How very magical-realism-novelisty is that location?


But the whole point of this post is to cheer on novelists and writers and especially their friends and family because getting away to get real with your work is ridiculous and necessary (and you need your fans to be supporting your goal). Going away to write feels self-indulgent and perfect. It seems superior and brilliant. Just get out there…into whatever open space you need to concentrate and honeymoon with your work for a weekend or a night or day.

I don’t know about you, but I have an awesome life filled with lots of wonders into which I want to invest lots of time and energy (like my 12 and 2 year-old humans, my bald husband, my hairy dog, my freelance business, my creative writing projects, gym membership, my cooking, my piano, my magazine editing). And then I have other not so wonder-inspiring things like backed-up loads of laundry, a chaotic photography project, sticky dinner dishes, that same hairy dog who smells like something crawled in her mouth and died in her throat, etc. etc. etc.

In the midst of all that wonder and stench I can’t get to my zen writing mindset because someone needs me to read that book for the tenth time and someone else needs me to respond intelligently to their email and then someone in a blue uniform knocks on my door with a bunch of bills (you get it…no zen writing mind for this chick).


Sometimes you just need a new view. Even if it is your local Super 8. Just give yourself that gift (or tell someone that’s what you want) and get the heck outta Dodge. All that deliciousness will be there when you get back…fear not. But what can’t wait is the world—we can’t wait for your writing so fend us off and get on with it already, geez, how many times do I have to ask you to write, for the love! We need to hear what is burrowing from your mind straight down to your fingertips.

I’ll give a full report about my writers hideaway once I go but until then here is my list of what I plan on bringing (and no, I’m not going to read all those books, I’m going to be reading my own book, but I am creating a visual pastiche for my writing nest [okay, I might read a few choice chapters like Anne Lamott’s Radio Station KFKD]):

  • My favorite healthy snacks (sometimes I eat when I write…don’t judge):
    • cashews + raisins
    • crisp apples + peanut butter
    • rooibos tea + honey
    • carrots
    • sweet potato chips
    • carob chips + walnuts
    • almond crackers + gouda cheese
    • ginger brew
  • Laptop + charger
  • Phone + charger
  • earbuds
  • sneakers
  • embarrassing clothes I’d never wear out of the house
  • My novel (printed off at FedEx)
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende
  • The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
  • If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
  • The Stream & The Sapphire by Denise Levertov
  • Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

After writing this I’m even more excited…pray tell…have you done any successful Writing Getaways? Any advice?


  1. Thanks for this Claire! I hope your retreat goes well and I look forward to hearing about your “finished” novel 🙂


      • That would be cool, but I’m not running in Menno circles as much as I used to, so it might be less likely than it would have been.


  2. Love this, Claire! You capture life so vividly! Your retreat sounds like just the right potion whether you edit or not. Enjoy.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. I don’t have any kind of a retreat planned but I’m going to get on it! Great article. I’m inspired and headed over to the Delta website! Thanks for sharing.


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