My First Writing Retreat

on February 14, 2017

My first book THE PREY was released on December 27, 2005 and my 30th book, MAKE THEM PAY, will be released on March 7th … only 3 short weeks away. I can write anywhere, by necessity, but I’ve never been on a writer’s retreat before … (You can click through to MAKE THEM PAY for all the pre-order links and whatnot!)

Make Them Pay-3

Make Them Pay — the 12th Lucy Kincaid thriller — on sale March 7th!

Before I sold my first book, I worked full time in the California State Legislature. And, I had kids. At first three … then four … and then five. Before I sold, I wrote at night after the kids went to bed. They were younger and I had a den in the house, so I could close off from the world and write for three hours every night after they went to bed, before I crashed for six hours. Then I’d wake at six a.m., get the kids off to school or daycare, and commute to work. It was a gruelling schedule, but I knew it wouldn’t be forever. My dream was to make my living writing fiction, and I knew that to achieve that dream I had to work my ass off for however long it took.

I quit my day job three years after I seriously started writing. By that time, I had the five kids and no longer had a den. I moved my desk into the living room, but that afforded no privacy. I’ve always been able to work with noise … it’s the interruptions that kill me.

So I started writing at Starbucks. Or a pub. Depended on what time of the day (or night) it was.

Elk Grove Brewery had the best porter I've ever had ... unfortunately, they closed a few years back.

Elk Grove Brewery had the best porter I’ve ever had … unfortunately, they closed a few years back.


I ended up writing books 4-10 outside of the house, in the hustle and bustle of Starbucks or my favorite pub (which has since closed) or BJs restaurant. There were times, in fact, where after I got the kids fed, I’d head to Starbucks at six or seven at night. Write until they closed at 10, then took my laptop to BJs and wrote in the bar until they closed at one. Went from 4-shot lattes to margaritas or wine. It worked for me! I had a rock playlist on my iPod and could shut out the commotion around me.

In the middle of writing book #9, we moved to a bigger house where I had an office again. It took me awhile to adjust to writing in the middle of inaction … but I adjusted. Now, I much prefer writing at my desk than anywhere.

I also prefer having uninterrupted writing time. Three hours is the turning point … if I know I have less than three hours to write, I’m not that productive because time feels like it’s against me. More than three hours, and I can jam. But what I like isn’t always what I can do.

Mary at bat at a tournament her team won last November ... her first tournament this year starts March 4th!

Mary at bat at a tournament her team won last November … her first tournament this year starts March 4th!

I have kids. Kids have activities. Sports. Plays. Detention … sometimes, I can’t be at home, but deadlines don’t wait for my comfort. And sometimes, ideas come and I need to jot them down.

Over time, I have learned to write anywhere. I have an iPad with a keyboard — much easier to take anywhere with me. My youngest daughter Mary plays competitive softball … and any parent who has kids in sports or drama knows that it’s a lot of sitting around. It’s ridiculous to drive Mary 30 minutes for a 2 hour practice and then go home. So I started writing either at the softball field in the stands, or finding the nearest Starbucks (or bar) to work. Adjusting my writing locations has greatly improved my output. And even though I have 2 hours tops to write, I’ve forced my muse to adjust so that I don’t get antsy if I don’t have three hours set aside.

Some other adjustments I’ve made:

  • In the past, I preferred to work on one project at a time. I can easily put a project aside to work on copyedits or page proofs, but I found it difficult to (for example) write two different stories at once, or work on writing during the day and proofreading a different book at night. This is something I convinced myself I had to fix, because sometimes, I do get stuck, and I don’t have the time to stare at a blank screen. Now, I always have a “fun” project. If I get stuck on my WIP, I work on something completely different. Sometimes just for a couple hours, sometimes for a few days. This process has helped me re-discover my love of writing for the joy of telling a story.
  • My iPad is great for creating, but not so great for editing. There’s a slight lag in scrolling when I’m editing a 100K word book. This is another reason I’ve started working on multiple projects simultaneously — when I’m out at softball or waiting for the kids, I’m always working on a rough draft of something — even if I have a project to edit.
  • I’ve always been big into getting the “sloppy copy” down and then going back to edit. In the past, I had to finish the entire book before I could revise. Now? I edit as I go. I’ll re-read what I wrote the day before and edit those pages, then continue on. This helps me stay in the story — as well as having a cleaner rough draft when I’m done.
  • Long before I was published, I edited on hard copy, but over the years I got away from that. I don’t know why — I see more errors (typos, repeating words, etc) in print than on the computer. Plus, I get a far better sense of pacing and story if I have it in print. So the last few books I’ve written, I’ve printed out at least one draft and edited on paper.
  • Early in my career, I wrote on airplanes and in airports and at conferences. Then somehow I stopped doing that … why, I don’t know. A mental block? People looking at me oddly? I still don’t write as much on planes as I used to, preferring to read, but any layover and I can create; conferences, I set aside writing time in my schedule. I’ve always believed in writing every day — there are few days I don’t write.

Copyedits for SHATTERED … already back in NYC!

I read most of my books outloud during the copyedit or page proof stage — especially the dialogue. That’s one thing I can’t do in public!

But even though I’ve written in a multitude of places and times, I’ve never actually gone on a writing retreat. I’ve locked myself in my office for a weekend and banned the kids; I’ve threatened to check into a hotel if the family didn’t leave me alone, but I’ve never actually done it.

A few months ago, I was invited to rent a huge house in NOLA with several other authors for the purposes of WRITING. Every day we have quiet time, where the goal is to create.

I’m both excited and scared. Excited because I love the idea of having no other responsibilities for a week. No driving to and from practices or school. No cooking. No cleaning (well, I don’t clean, so that’s never really a problem for me …) No telemarketers calling, no grocery shopping, no last minute school projects (Mom! I need a science fair board tonight!). Next week is the perfect time in my life for it, too. I have a book I’m just starting, but all the research is done. I have a novella half-written that I know I can finish in two days if I focus. And there’s nothing major going on in the lives of my children.

But it’s a little intimidating because I’m spending money to get away to write … and what if I’m not productive? What if I get caught up in the scenery and avoid writing?

Still, I’m more excited than scared. I’ll let you know how it goes … I’m going to try (ha!) to keep a daily journal of my productivity. I’ll let you all know how it goes … and next week tell you about my new book. Maybe. 😉