A Room of My Own

by Nicola Burnell

A B&B Retreat: the perfect place to just write
A B&B Retreat: the perfect place to write

For too many years my New Year’s Resolution was to Finish My Novel. I was forever stumbling under the endless assault of life's distractions. My internal critic reigned supreme: "You shouldn't be wasting your time talking to people in your head when you have REALLY IMPORTANT things to do!"

This year I have a new goal: Rewrite My Novel.

In November, 2009, I did something completely outrageous and utterly self indulgent - I stepped out of my over-scheduled life and took myself on a mini writer’s retreat to Falmouth’s Beach Rose Inn.

I had three days and two nights to jump start my creative engines and convince the characters I’d left dangling in limbo that I was ready to let them complete their stories.

In essence, I took myself on an extended Artist Date, one of the Basic Tools of creative recovery that I’d learned from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. “An Artist Date is a block of time...especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”

Not just for artists, this is a play date anyone can enjoy. Julia suggests treating your inner artist like a child. Pamper it, play with it and listen to what it needs. Taking her advice to heart, I packed up a selection of my favorite creative toys, including my 22-year-old teddy bear, an assortment of candles, crystals, photographs and most comfortable pajamas.

My new writer’s nest had a little seating area in the corner of the bedroom with a plug-in fireplace that looked like a wood stove. My bags were unpacked within an hour of my arrival. I plugged in my printer, opened the ream of recycled paper (ever the optimist), and fired up my old iBook.

I organized the box containing pages of my unfinished manuscript (scribbled and printed) with small post-it notes and gathered up my creative toys to build my artist’s altar.

Another tool gleaned from The Artist’s Way, the artist’s altar is a place to put “things that make you happy.” I set out my candles, crystals, photos, bottle of Pinot Noir and favorite wine glass on top of the antique dresser. “Your artist is fed by images,” Julia explains. “An artist’s altar should be a sensory experience.”

I finally had a room of my own - a place to do nothing but write, eat and sleep. There were no animals to feed, no teenagers to parent, no emails, no phone calls, no classes, no bills, none of the usual distractions.

The only thing missing was chocolate. It wasn’t hard to talk myself into driving to Ghelfi’s for a box of handmade chocolates. It was after 8 p.m. when I returned to my room, and after 9 p.m. when I climbed out of the hot tub that was nestled into one corner of the beautifully landscaped gardens of the Inn.

When I finally sat in the wing back chair to face my manuscript, I got up again to stuff a pillow behind my back. Moments later, I needed to pee.

I switched on the orange flame of the fireplace, poured a glass of wine, lit a candle and opened my iBook. My manuscript stared back at me, as if asking where I’d been all night. We had a writing date, after all.

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It took time to settle into a writing rhythm that didn’t include jumping up and down every five seconds for a pencil, glass of water or a prolonged conversation with my teddy bear.

With the orange flames flickering beside me, I sank into my story, as if I were sinking into a warm bubble bath. It felt comforting and familiar. My characters welcoming my attention with excitement, not the indignation I was expecting. At midnight I was ready to crawl into bed to let myself and my characters regroup.

My characters woke me up at 6:30 a.m. For the first time in forever I gave them exactly what they wanted. I started writing again.

<img src="../../capewomenonline_images/Winter2010/wakeUp.png" width="292" height="220" alt="Waking up to write – what bliss!"
Waking up to write – what bliss!

By 8:30am I was ready for breakfast.

The floorboards of the old house creaked as I crept downstairs to the dining room, where Sheryll, the innkeeper, had already set the table with fresh fruit, organic yogurt and homemade granola. I didn't have to do a thing except pour my coffee and juice.

I turned on the fake fire before writing again. Staring at the orange glow, I waited for inspiration. I reread what I’d written earlier and began editing. This is my fatal flaw - my internal critic, being a perfectionist, seduced me into the endless cycle of review then edit.

I know a first draft is messy, even unfinished in places. When I took the NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days) I learned to just keep writing and let the creative energy flow through me like water through a faucet. Julia Cameron warns that “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse...Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.”

I forced myself to write through my desire to edit.

It was almost 4 p.m. before I realized I was hungry for the lunch I’d packed the day before. I’d lost myself in my writing and it felt great. I ate in my chair with my lap top on my knee, refusing to surrender to the temptation to leave the room.

Staying butt-in-seat paid off - I found myself taking dictation as my characters voices grew louder and my fingers flew over the keys.

I hit a wall when my story required research. I hurried downstairs to the guest computer and lost another two hours scanning websites and taking copious notes.

By the time my research was done, Sheryll had set out a bowl of salad and delicious homemade pizza for supper. I continued taking notes as I ate.

After dinner I felt tired and wanted to watch crap on television. Instead, I poured a glass of wine and attempted to write a paragraph from the research I’d completed.

Three hours later, surrounded by piles of papers, I realized I’d lost all sense of time again. I gave myself permission to call it a night and fell asleep to the whisperings of my characters planning their next scenes.

Creative chaos!
Creative chaos!

My final morning was spent writing. The story unfolded so quickly that I could barely keep up with it.

On my way home I purchased a plug-in wood stove.

My mini retreat created a Pavlov’s Dog response to the writing corner I duplicated in my own bedroom. When I switched on the stove’s fake flame my mind relaxed and let the writing flow. I had no trouble establishing a new writing routine and was soon writing toward my final chapter.

Recreating my writer’s retreat at home
Recreating my writer’s retreat at home

When my old writing blocks tempted me to abandon my goal, I returned to the writing corner in my bedroom. I recognized the fear of completing my manuscript as an old creative monster that no longer served me. With the finish line in sight, I kept writing and completed my manuscript on December 29th.

My new goal is to rewrite my first draft by the end of the summer. I’m already considering a return to the Beach Rose Inn for a few days in April. Thanks to my writer’s retreat, and the gentle glow of orange light in the corner of my room, writing has become a play date worth keeping; a sacred activity to be protected and encouraged.

Roses at the Beach Rose Inn
The gardens of the Beach Rose Inn evoke a sense of peace and serenity
Beach Rose Inn gardens
Nickey's journal
My writing journal keeps me accountable to myself. The foil stars are a great reward at the end of writing session!
Nicola Burnell

Nicola Burnell is the Publisher and a contributing writer of this magazine.

You can visit her blog
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Nicola teaches Reiki, Personal Empowerment workshops, novel writing & creativity development classes. She also works as a personal and professional consultant.

Nicola is a member in Letters of the National League of American Pen Women and an active participant in the Cape Cod Time Bank.

She lives in Harwich with her two teenage sons and several pets.