WRITING LIFE: Solo Retreat (S)Log by Debra Leishear-King

“Book a week at our timeshare,” my husband said. “I’ll stay home with the dog.” It was a generous and supportive suggestion. A personal retreat to “finish the damned book.” His words or mine? I scored a one-bedroom/partial kitchen condo.

I planned. I plotted. I dreamed about this week to devote to my memoir. I envisioned my chapters spread out like the scene in Greta Gerwig’s film about Louisa May Alcott’s writing of Little Women. The one where Jo lays pages upon the floor and moves them like a puzzle. I packed a bedsheet for my 25 chapters. A clean surface for a fresh start.

My days would be devoted exclusively to wrestling this five-year manuscript into “good enough” shape to cross the finish line. No cooking, no dog to walk, no errands, no hours at my part-time job. I’d work out with my Zoom class, take long walks on the beach. My writer friends were envious. My non-writer friends were perplexed. Why would I choose to take a beach vacation alone?

I planned the foods I would bring. A budget for seafood orgies from several local restaurants to celebrate my successes. Into a small kitchen supply box, my favorite coffee cup, snacks for nervous munching, wine for the evening. I checked the weather forecast. Sunny, but cool. I removed the shorts and t-shirts from my suitcase, a move I would later regret. Two days before I left, the resort called to remind me to bring bedding per COVID precautions. The website indicated a queen bed. I would have a king.

I packed all the materials for my Great Writing Retreat. A plastic tub filled with craft books on memoirs, the first drafts in three-ring binders, laptop and iPad, chargers, Post-Its, index cards, extra pens and pencils, colorful highlighters, and markers. I wasn’t sure what I would need, but I would be prepared.

Day 1: Visions of Rewrites

On drive down, to set the mood, re-listened to Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. Arrived at resort. Twenty-one steps up to second-floor condo. Everything packed had to go up. Slowly and carefully. No time for an emergency room visit. Lost count of trips up and down. Forgot Fitbit. No credit for stairs today or rest of week.

Partial kitchen defined. No coffeemaker. A microwave with a tray that didn’t fit. No stove. A portable electric two- burner buried in a cabinet. A dorm-sized fridge, inadequate for two stuffed coolers, and disturbingly not cool. Called office to request coffeemaker and refrigerator maintenance. Former new, latter adjusted.

Popped leftover spaghetti in microwave. Explosion erupted from wobbly tray. A salvaged but messy dinner. Discovered television stuck on Roku, not the channels listed in packet.

I refuse to let these disappointments get me down. I go to sleep with visions of rewrites dancing in my head.

Day 2: Writing with Abandon

Coffeemaker is slow to drip its elixir. Milk is frozen, as are salad fixings. My homegrown lettuce is wilting. Adjust temperature again. Two podcasts and articles on rewrite process inspire a synopsis. Chapter shuffle can wait. I write with abandon for several hours. Am pleased with result. Email copy to coach and writing buddy for feedback. Suppress guilt for this feeble request.

Day 3: Procrastination

Check email. Facebook. Text with a friend. Attend exercise class. Feedback from writing coach. Work more on “cause and effect,” less on “and then.” Insert “but” and “therefore” to move story. Buddy sends more suggestions. All encouraging, but I’m not feeling my book today. Walk on beach sparks musings of my ex-husband. Back at condo I pound out a 10-page treatise that feels important but is irrelevant. But I AM WRITING. Buy steamed shrimp for dinner and watch an old movie.

Day 4: Shopping

The weather has turned warm. I shop for shorts and tops after writing the first draft of this essay. The 25 memoir chapters are untouched. The refrigerator continues its assault on my food supply.

Day 5: Pitch Book to Bartender

Synopsis flows. But ex-husband is taking up more space in my head. Visit pet store. Am recognized by owner couple. “Why are you here alone?”

“I’m writing a book about growing up with a gay father.”

They want more. I outline my story. They want to read it!

I celebrate this encouragement with dinner at a swanky seafood place. I sit at the bar. Spill out the story to the curious bartender. Another intrigued listener. Maybe I should go back to the condo and work on the book.

Day 6: More Shopping

Synopsis rewritten. Resend to coach and buddy. Drive down island for more retail therapy. Seafood lunch. Spend an hour reading mystery novel on beach, as I have every afternoon around 4. Decide to leave a day early.

Pack car. Ignore heavy, untouched tub of books and writing supplies. Scowl at ruined vegetables.

Final word from coach: Your story seems to be about secrets.

I drive home, wondering what I accomplished at my Great Writing Retreat. A synopsis that changes the narrative. A telling chapter of a forgotten incident. This essay, a log about unfulfilled expectations. One question remains: Do I have the skill and the courage to pull it off? I will have to tell my husband, “No, I didn’t finish the damn book.”


Debra Leishear-KingDebra Leishear-King is a retired librarian who spent her career planning to write. Her memoir-in-progress, Approaching Lavender, is about growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the secret of a gay father. Her piece about the courage to write appeared in Streetlight Magazine. She has several children’s books in their infancy, essays in progress, and stories on index cards. Her plan is to keep writing, with the memoir the primary goal. Today. You can find her on Twitter at @debrakva and at dllking@outlook.com.


  1 comment for “WRITING LIFE: Solo Retreat (S)Log by Debra Leishear-King

  1. Debra, I love your solo retreat story. I can so imagine myself in your shoes–or rather sandals. You are making progress. Those conversations with strangers who are genuinely interested in your memoir matter. They fuel us through dry spells. Good luck with your book. You’re getting there! — Beth Ann Mathews elizabethannmathews.com

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