A while back, writer Donald Miller wrote in a blog post that the only way a writer can get any writing done is to retreat to a cabin. His thoughts sparked a chain of disagreements on Twitter and various writers’ blogs. These writers’ responses were correct: Writers have to learn to write anywhere. We don’t always have the luxury of leaving everybody and everything behind to go off to a cabin for a week. Many writers hold down regular jobs and/or care for their children in addition to writing, so we all know the struggle of carving out time to write in between our other responsibilities.
That said, I had been longing for a writing weekend where I could be away from internet and TV, which are both big distractions for me, and I told my husband that what I wanted for my birthday was some time away to write. So last weekend, I went away to a cabin in rural Kentucky. I had no internet access, other than my data plan on my phone, which I tried to use sparingly. I also had no TV. Instead, I had a small cabin in the woods with a screened-in porch, a writing desk, a twin bed, and a kitchenette.
Here’s what I learned about writing in a cabin: Writing is hard no matter where you are.
I thought that being away from my daily life would allow the words to come freely, that every hour, every minute, would be productive. Yet even though I had no kids to entertain, no laundry to fold, no big meals to cook, and no internet to check every ten minutes, I still got distracted. I still struggled to find the right words. I still got frustrated when the words wouldn’t come. I still had to force myself to sit there and do the difficult work of writing.
Going away doesn’t mean that your writing is better.
When I got really sick of sitting there, I would get up and leave the cabin. There were two lakes on the property, one with a walking trail surrounding it, and I would walk to the lakes and take a couple of loops around the trail. Near my cabin there was a prayer labyrinth that I walked at least once a day, either praying the Jesus prayer with my prayer rope or reading prayers from a prayer book. There was also a short trail in the woods next to the labyrinth that I would walk. Sometimes I just grabbed a book and sat on the enclosed porch, half reading, half watching the beauty of the forest.
After those breaks, I’d have to force myself to get back to the work of writing. The good news is that Transfigured Faith is finally, ultimately finished. After two years of working on it, I have nothing more to give it now. I have written and re-written and re-written (and re-written!). I wait to hear back from literary agents and hope for the best. I also was able to work on a few different essays.
In addition, I was playing around some ideas for a second (!) book. For that, I am working from Henri Nouwen’s quote, “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world, but leads us deeper into it.” Growing up I think I always believed in this dichotomy between “the church” and “the world,” as if I could interact with the world, but my “true” life was my life of faith. Back then, that life of faith seemed mostly mental/intellectual/abstract, though. I am coming to see that my physical life in “the world” and my spiritual life don’t have to be two separate things, and I would like to explore that idea further. (Other writers who have influenced me regarding this topic are Mary Oliver and Barbara Brown Taylor.)
Though the writing part of it was hard, my little retreat into the woods was heavenly. I did not have to be a slave to time, or duty, or the Internet. I could think. I could rest. I could be. In the mornings, I sat on the porch with a cup of coffee in my hand and watched for deer (I saw several!). When I wrote, I didn’t have to worry about getting a certain amount of words on the page by a certain time because I had other responsibilities lingering over me. In the evenings, I placed a candle in the middle of the labyrinth and slowly walked my way inward to it. As the sun set, I listened to the wind whispering the leaves around me. It was a wonderful time of silence, respite, and work.