To Go Forward and Retreat

I write for money. I take on all sorts of freelance jobs from mom-blogging to academic science writing. But in my spare time – in my dreams and in my heart – I’m a novelist. I’m currently working on an urban fantasy novel – ancient gods and broken hearts and the end of the world. I’ve been working on it for over a year and I have a complete first draft written, but now I’m in my least favorite phase: editing.

It’s been a slow process, and it’s been hard to set aside time to really immerse myself the way I need to, so I was incredibly excited to be invited to my local BNCWI (Buffalo Niagara Children’s Writers and Illustrators) chapter’s semi-yearly writing retreat. The retreat took place at the Tifft Nature Preserve, a 264-acre nature refuge near Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The BNCWI group reserved a classroom in the visitor center for eight hours. EIGHT HOURS of writing while occasionally gazing out the window at amazing views. It doesn’t sound like a typical adventure – sitting still for a day – but, for me, anything that remotely resembles a new experience is an adventure.

The format of the retreat was basically half-hour writing sprints, with 15 minute breaks in between. During the sprints, there was to be no talking. It was hard-core focus time. For eight hours, I would be forced to pay attention to my book, and nothing but my book. What could possibly go wrong?

If you have an anxious brain, then you’ve already raced ahead of me and come up with your own list of Things That Could Go Wrong. I only came up with one: my stomach.

View from the classroom

I suffer from IBS. Most days, it doesn’t affect me beyond some gentle discomfort, which I prefer to think of as my insides celebrating another day of life. But when I get nervous or stressed, my stomach kicks into overdrive. In other words, my stomach makes a lot of noise. Growling, gurgling, whining. The more I stress out about it, the worse it gets. It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating circle. It brings me exactly zero joy. So that was my one big concern. During those 30-minute stretches of absolute silence, I was worried my stomach would step up to the mic.

This sort of thing is an example of what I call The Uncontrollables. The Uncontrollables are the biggest triggers of anxiety because they’re…well…beyond our control. But – BUT! That’s exactly what makes them easy to deal with, assuming you can trick my mind and your mind is in the mood to be tricked. (It isn’t always.) When Uncontrollables rear up, I tell my mind there’s nothing we can do to influence the outcome, so we should save our energy. I give myself an hour, tops, to really stress. And then I let it go. If my stomach noised out during the quiet sessions, I’d be embarrassed. I’d be dismayed. I’d suffer. But who among us hasn’t been in a similar position? People would sympathize. It wouldn’t kill me. I’d apologize, rub my tummy sheepishly, and then keep going. Worst case? I’d sit outside for a couple of sprints. But I wasn’t going to miss out on a glorious day of writing simply out of fear.

So I went. And <jazz hands> MIRACLE! </jazz hands> My stomach was quiet. During lunch I took a lovely walk outdoors and communed with nature. (Until I spotted a bumblebee and then I hightailed it back to safety.) I met some lovely people. I got quality time with friends. I got some invaluable writing advice. It was good.

It could have gone either way. This time it went well. Next time it might not. Life, by its very nature, is the biggest Uncontrollable of all. But it moves on. It carries us forward. No moment lasts forever. Not even the bad ones.

I’m a writer, and I can’t write without experiences to draw from. Good stuff, bad stuff, super-embarrassing IBS stuff - it all becomes fodder eventually, whether for a novel or a blog post about adventure.

The Tifft Nature Preserve is located at 1200 Fuhrmann Boulevard in Buffalo, NY.

#writing #nature