Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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The countdown begins

The calendar says July. Seriously? What happened to June? In a week, the summer will be half over.

If we’re into July, that means the reunion with my Writing Sisters is coming up. I can’t wait!

Wait, I’ve got to get 20 pages ready to send around before the reunion. Hoo boy.

One of my fellow bloggers asked about my writing sisters (B, has the baby arrived yet?), and I’ve mentioned them before, so I’ll give y’all a brief history of my fantabulous WS and some ideas on how you can find your own awesome writing group.

It was a dark and stormy night… Er, wait, wrong story. Give me a minute *shuffles papers* Here it is.

It was June, 2012. I’d learned (through my Writers’ Digest subscription, I think) about a writing retreat in Madison, WI, a six-and-a-half hour drive–super close when considering most writing retreats are in the Pacific Northwest, or out East, or someplace like Italy or Iceland (that one’s on my wish list 😀 ). I was at the point in my writing journey where I felt ready for something intense, like a week of writing by a lake. I’d heard wonderful things about the novel Master Class at Write-By-The-Lake, so I closed my eyes and jumped in.

There were only six slots, and the instructor had to accept you. Gulp. She did (woo-hoo!). We started slow, as people do when meeting strangers for the first time, and especially when we’re all writers, and the point of the class is to critique each other’s work so we could improve it.

We had different genres (YA, mystery, women’s historical, SF/dystopian), and had taken different journeys to get to where we were. But we clicked. And to seal the deal, one of our classmates invited us over for dinner one evening.

The Writing Sisters were born. Not with the name, not yet, but we had a bond. We had stories to share. And we had fellow writers to encourage us, critique our work, and offer ideas.

After our week was up, we kept in touch. We reunited the following spring at the Writers’ Institute in Madison. And afterward, we started our annual reunion tradition. Every year since that week of writing by the lake we’ve gotten together, even if some couldn’t make it. We’ve had sisters move away and return. We’ve adopted a new sister who fits into the group like she was in our Master Class with the rest of us.

Of the seven of us (not counting our mentor), three have published novels (two through publishing houses, one self-published), one has an agent shopping a manuscript, and three are within spitting distance of getting books published. Our beloved mentor continues to guide us, challenge us, and encourage us.

We’ve become more than a writing group. We’ve become good friends.

I promised some ideas on how you can try to find your own “writing sisters” (or brothers, or whatever). The most important step (in my opinion) is to get out of the house (yes, I know we’re all introverts, but you can do it). Go to conferences, classes, or writing retreats. Meet other writers face to face. Talk to them (Yes, I know, the whole introvert thing. Take a deep breath and do it anyway. They’re just as anxious about it as you are.). You can meet other writers to bond with online, but somehow meeting in person seems more “real”.

You won’t always “click” with the writers you meet. In fact, you might cross paths with some you can’t stand to be around. The important thing is to try. Be open and welcoming.

Regular writers’ groups are a good place to meet other writers, but sometimes there isn’t a group near you that “feels” comfortable. I highly recommend going to writing conferences. They are great opportunities not only to learn more about the craft, but also to spend more than an hour or two with fellow writers. Often there are critique group sign-ups with the added benefit of meeting other writers who may end up in your group.

If you can attend a writing retreat, do it. Not only for the time you can focus on actual writing, but for the time you will spend with other writers. A learning/teaching retreat, as opposed to one that offers only time and space to write, encourages you to get to know fellow writers and get a “feel” for how you get along.

At some point, you will run across other writers you can form bonds with. It might be just one or two, or it might be half a dozen. You might meet in real life at the local coffee shop, or you might never see each other in the flesh. In any case, finding one or more writers you can collaborate with, bounce ideas off of, or learn from is valuable.

Another weekend of butt-in-chair-staring-at-the-computer-screen. I think I’ve got a few things figured out, though, so I’m hoping–no, planning more productivity this weekend than I’ve had lately. Bonus: the kids are staying with my SIL until Sunday night. Woo-hoo!

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!


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Gardens, retreats, and updates–oh my!

I add the new publishers from the second round of submissions to my list on the whiteboard in my writing office. I sense my Muse behind me, his energy radiating into me like a heater gone all psychic-creative vibes in place of warmth.

He settles beside me, his arm a solid line along my own. “What’s the tally, love?”

I add a footnote below the list and mark two entries with an asterisk. “Six passes, five radio-silent but could still be interested, and seven active.”

“What about these two?” He points to the marked entries.

“Those are ones who asked for the revised manuscript when my agent nudged them and offered it. So, crossing my fingers they’re still interested.”

“Hrrumph.” He rocks on his heels. “What does your agent think?”

“She thinks my latest revisions are good, and that might be the clincher.” Hoping. Searching for that damn leprechaun who’s supposed to grant wishes … wait, no, that’s a genie.

“So,” he slings an arm around my shoulders, “writing retreat to your dad’s this weekend.”

“And next weekend.”

He nods. “Does that mean you are going to stop procrastinating on that second draft you keep promising to work on?” His arm tightens around my shoulders.

Almost like a warning.

“Yes, after I get my promotional plan and three-to-five page synopsis done for my manuscript. One of the publishers my agent submitted to is asking for them.” I know he’s aware of that. I suspect he wants to remind me I’ve been dragging my feet and he’s done watching me do it.

Gulp.

“It’ll be a dreary weekend, and you’ll have all day Saturday to work. On writing,” he adds, an edge to his baritone voice. “Right, love?”

“That’s the point of going to my dad’s while he’s away. No distractions.”

“Uh-huh.” He squeezes my collarbone. Hard. “Just remember that.”

Er, o-kay. At least I managed to get the garden planted before the cool, rainy week set in. Needless to say, it’s been too wet to do much outside, although when I checked the garden last night between rainshowers my onions were still looking good. Whew! Those are the ones I worry about the most, because they’re just tender seedings about 5 inches high and about as thick around as the wire from a coat hangar. Once they’re strong enough to stand up, I can stop worrying about them.

No pics this week since it’s been so icky outside and the garden looks way too forlorn. I imagine by the time the rain finally stops and it dries out enough to work in the garden that the weeds will have a decent head start. Sigh.

Hey, since I’ve got you here, anyone know of any good blogs aimed at middle-grade readers or writers? One of my writing sisters is looking for opportunities to guest; her next middle-grade book is coming out this summer.

Enjoy your weekend–stay warm, stay dry, and WRITE!


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A Weekend with Writers

I hear the door to my room open. “What the–”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.” My Muse slumps into a chair in a corner of the room. He’s disheveled, and has a grass stain on a shoulder of his rugby shirt. His cargo shorts are wet on one side, and his tennis shoes look like he’s been slogging through puddles.

“I was already up. Where have you been?”

He pulls a flashlight from a pocket and sets it on the small table beside him. “Scavenger hunt.”

Okay, let me think about that for a minute. “Weren’t you out with the other Muses?”

He leans his head back. “Yep.”

“Sooo, how does scavenger hunt fit in? New drinking game?”

“Sort of. A couple Muses aren’t exactly beings, human or otherwise. Couldn’t include them unless we got creative.” He groans. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“You don’t get old. How did you come up with the scavenger hunt?”

“Well, one Muse is a library card catalog, and one is Nature. What else do you do?”

Good point. “Like beer pong? Every time you find a clue you get a drink?”

He nods. “Some of those gals are fast. It was like playing rugby.”

“Hence the grass stain and wet. And I’m sure it was torture to play ‘chase the treasure’ with those women. You’re the only male Muse in the group, aren’t you?”

He stretches, rubs his eyes. “C’mon, love, it’s too damn early for this. Let me rest.”

And so ends a glorious weekend with my Writing Sisters. This year we stayed at a bed and breakfast in a mansion. What a gorgeous house! And a lot of places we could gather in a group. We brainstormed, critiqued, caught up on news, and yes, enjoyed cheese, fine chocolate, and wine.

The local town Square (yes, an actual Towne Square) was about a mile walking distance from the B&B. Good food, reasonable prices, and they didn’t mind a group of 6 writers showing up without reservations.

Will we stay here again next year? Maybe. Or maybe we’ll try a different venue. In any case, we will get together again. We just have too much fun creating and conversing to stop our annual tradition. We’ve got a new writer in the group who fits in just fine, and by next year one of our other Sisters should be back in the Midwest.

If you’ve never experienced a weekend with other writers, try it. If you have a few writing friends you met online or at a conference, and you keep in touch, try gathering for a day or a weekend someplace–a B&B, a hotel with suites that have nice “living rooms”, or a convent or other retreat facility where you can gather together and work. I use the term “work”, because as writers, even brainstorming on tangents is considered working.

This weekend consisted of critiques, suggestions, and brainstorming plots for our writing mentor’s next Fudge Shop Mystery.

Today is our farewell until next time. Next time never seems to come soon enough!


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Anticipation

Can you believe we’re halfway through summer already? No, not the actual astronomical summer (you know, like the solstices and equinoxes), the school’s out summer.

We’re halfway through July. O. M. G.

I feel like I missed a big chunk of it so far. Wait, I did. Two weeks’ worth after my surgery. Not to mention all the other busy stuff.

Ack!

Finally got the weeding finished (and of course I need to start over, but I’m tired). Started picking zucchini and green beans. Mmm! Fresh green beans from the garden trump frozen every time. Canned beans don’t even come close. And it’s early enough in the season that zucchini actually sounds good. (Yep, just wait a couple weeks 😮 )

I’d post pics, but I haven’t taken any since I beat the weeds back. I’ll try to post some next week. The corn is tassling, so we should have some in a week or so. Raspberries are ripening, but it seems like they do an every-other-year thing. Last year we had a bumper crop. This year, not so much. I’m not picking wild black raspberries this season, either. I made a couple batches of jelly with what I had frozen from last year, so we should be good for a bit. Besides, I really don’t want to be lunch for mosquitoes.

Made it two-thirds of the way through revising my WIP, and I should be able to finish this weekend. Whew! I’m behind, and the two weeks I was out of commission didn’t help. Now that I’ve caught up on weeding for a minute, I’m focusing on finishing.

The best thing coming up? Nope, not my sister’s visit next week, though I am looking forward to it. Nope, not the pool party family gathering the weekend after.

*Drumroll*

My writing sisters reunion retreat! Three weeks. *happy dance* Not only do I get to spend a few days with some crazy creative writers and good friends, but I get to focus on writing. All weekend. This year we’re having a plotting weekend. So. Much. Fun. There’s nothing quite like getting a bunch of writers together and helping each other with plotting new stories. We throw so many wild ideas out there, the brainstorming wall needs cleaning a couple times a day.

I’ve made some writer friends in the blog-o-sphere, and I was thinking about what it would be like to spend a day with them talking about plots, writing, and all the fun stuff that goes with those creative processes. Man, I think it’d be a hoot! We’re scattered across the country, many countries, but wouldn’t that be cool?

My point is, if you can gather with a couple writer friends for a weekend, just a girls/guys weekend where you do nothing but talk writing, do it. If you know a writer who lives fairly close, meet at a halfway point. There’s an energy that surrounds us creative folks that just seems to multiply when we get together.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wait. Almost forgot. I suppose you wanted an update on the orphans, right? Well, we found a new home for the pair. I put an ad in the local paper, and we got one call from a gentleman who wanted them both. He just got a kitten about the same age as the orphans, and wanted a buddy for him.

We dropped the kittens off last weekend. Now, before you worry about the sort of home our little foundlings are in now, let me tell you, we have no worries. The gentleman, in his late 70s or in his 80s, has a menagerie. Seriously. We drove up and saw a well-kept yard. Behind the house, a number of fenced areas housed chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, peacocks, and at least one donkey.

This gentleman took the kittens from their box and cradled them in his arms before handing them off to a couple friends rocking on the porch, one petting the other kitten. An old collie kept an eye on everything.

Yep, I think they’ll like their new home.

Okay, you want a couple final doses of cuteness? Here you go.

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10 things I learned from my writing retreat

When the ubiquitous “they” make recommendations for blogs, one common recommendation is lists, like “Top 5 ways to procrastinate on your WIP” or “Top 10 ways to sneak your family members into your novel without them knowing”.

I like lists. I like them even better when I can cross stuff off my lists (to-do and shopping). As I was driving home from my retreat, my Muse suggested I post a list this week.

Disclaimer: This isn’t an all-inclusive list, nor is it a top-anything list. These are just things that might help other writers when planning a retreat.

  1. Comfort rules. When you’re comfortable, you’re more relaxed. More relaxed, in my experience, means your muse doesn’t have to work as hard to shove those creative energies into you. This extends beyond clothes. Whether you write at a desk, a table, or in a recliner, make sure you don’t have to  constantly readjust your position to stay comfortable. Caveat: Don’t be so comfortable you fall asleep. That defeats the purpose of going away to write. Right?
  2. Silence may not be golden. There’s something to be said about lack of noise (TV, kids sniping at each other), but there’s also something about background noise, like a playlist or even a thunderstorm. I like quiet, but I need to occupy the easily-distracted part of my brain, so I feed it music. That way, it can process something and let me write in peace. Caveat: Don’t start playing with online music services for the first time. I discovered YouTube music lists (Epic Celtic Mix music and The Piano Guys (their Star Wars farce/mix is awesome))(and no, I won’t post the links; I won’t be responsible for you falling down the music rabbit hole) and Amazon Prime streaming music. Oh boy. Talk about distraction. Unless you listen to that anyway, I recommend sticking to whatever your usual inspirational/writing/relaxing playlist is.
  3. Take breaks. Absolute necessity. This gives your brain and eyes a break. Get up and get another glass of water. Make a circuit of the backyard. Stretch. Walk. Take a nap (never underestimate the power of a nap, or at the very least, a 10-20 minute meditation session). Addendum: Find a good place to walk. The town where I grew up has a grand population of around 750, so there’s nothing like the walking paths that larger communities have, and no access to the trail system in the area. (In contrast, my grandmother lives in a tiny community on the Lake Wobegon trail.) Trying to walk for 2 miles without heading to the next town over is a challenge. Even walking out to the cemetery just outside town and back was barely 2 miles.
  4. Healthy snacks. I know, chocolate is a good thing, and coffee is the elixir of writers, but trust me, if you’re going to nosh (and you will), make it something like carrot sticks or grapes or even veggie straws. And no, I’m not being a kill-joy (much). I rewarded myself with chocolate for hitting various goals, so it was a treat rather than the snack of choice. Point is, you don’t feel as blechy if you binge on a bowl of grapes as you do if it’s Cheetos. And water instead of coffee. Add those neat flavor packets if you have to, but at least you won’t have the caffeine shakes by 3 in the afternoon. Bonus: It’s easy to get your vegetable/fruit servings in without trying. (Just because you’re on a retreat doesn’t mean you can’t take care of yourself.)
  5. Have more than one work area. A change of scenery can help knock you out of a rut or inspire you if you’re stuck. My dad has an awesome backyard he’s worked on since my mom was sick over 12 years ago. By now, the flowers and trees have matured, giving the yard and patio a cozy-by-nature feel. Not all the flowers are blooming yet, but the Japanese lilac was in full bloom, and there’s a birch with branches that arch over the patio path. I sat out on the deck to go through some of my notes. I also used the kitchen table to spread my notes out. I sat in a recliner to do most of my writing, but it was nice to move around a bit. Addendum: Community flower gardens usually have nice spots to sit. And flowers, trees, birds, and all the nice nature stuff. Take advantage of them, if you’re one of those people who likes that sort of thing.
  6. Prepare simple homemade meals. My dad lives alone, and we know he doesn’t have much in the house anyway, so when we gather at his house, we bring food. Since he was going to be gone for a couple weeks, there was even less than usual. I made sure to bring a few things: cheese, milk, carrots, blueberries (my personal splurge, and I didn’t have to share), eggs, frozen veggies, frozen chicken breasts, and craft beer. Dad had pasta in the pantry and bread in the fridge, so I was able to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner pretty easily. Granted, the variety of food was limited, I don’t mind an egg and toast for breakfast, and I ate a lot of leftovers, but those basics are flexible enough to make a few different dishes. Add some spaghetti sauce for more options. I did reward myself for meeting one of my major goals by ordering lunch one day, and I took my grandmother out for lunch another day, so I didn’t eat boring stuff the whole time.
  7. Beware of ghosts. So, your (fill in relative or friend here) is leaving for a week or more, and you wrangled a writing retreat at their place while they’re away. Awesome! Depending on the relative or friend and the house, old memories may creep up on you. This will disrupt your writing. It’s okay (and recommended) to take time to work through those memories. Otherwise, they’ll distract you throughout your retreat. Try to keep that time down to a half-day. You are there to write, after all.
  8. Leave a to-do list for the family back home. I left a list of chores for my kids to do while I was gone and unable to “strongly remind” them to do. Addendum: Leave a to-don’t list as well. As in, Don’t Call Me To Fix Something I Need to be At Home To Fix, because that just ruins the whole creative energy flow, and I’m not going to torpedo my retreat because you didn’t think of trying whatever it is before I left. (Yes, my daughter. Yes, it screwed up my energy for a while.)
  9. Be prepared for overload. I didn’t really expect it, but in hindsight: Duh. You may get so entrenched in your WIP that you can’t tell anymore if what you’re writing is good, bad, or ugly. Then, you don’t want to look at it. Ever. Again. See #3. Needless to say, I haven’t touched my WIP since I’ve been back home. Taking a few days away from the project is a good thing in the long run, but it really puts a cramp in my race to the deadline.
  10. Accept you may not make as much progress as you plan/hope. It’s okay. Look at the bigger picture: did you get more writing done than you would have if you hadn’t done the retreat? If the answer is yes, the retreat was a success. Have some chocolate. Plan another retreat as soon as possible.

Take advantage of any opportunity to get away for a few days/weeks to write. I can’t wait until the next time my dad leaves on a trip for a few days. Getting out of your usual environment removes all those distractions like needing to clean this or do that laundry or mow the lawn. At a different location, you don’t have those responsibilities, and you can focus on the task at hand: writing.

 


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Treat and Retreat

Laptop computer? Check.

Notebooks? Check.

Notes from writing sisters? Check.

Assorted craft beer? Check.

Chocolate? Hell, yes, check.

Muse?

Muse?

Bueller?

Anyway, I’m off for my long-ish writing retreat. My mini-retreat last weekend went well, but two days is just long enough to really get going before having to leave.

I ended up spending about half a day dealing with ghosts from the past. The 11th anniversary of my mother’s death was earlier this week. Last weekend at the empty house where we grew up, along with pictures of her and all the memories, brought out emotions I haven’t indulged for a long time.

Once I worked through that, I was able to settle down and work on my WIP. I’m taking advantage of the extended holiday weekend to finish off this revision, then start in again from the beginning, working through all the great feedback I’ve been getting from my writing sisters.

Some writers can work when there’s activity around, like at home, or in Starbucks, or even the library. I can, to a point, but when I’m trying to revise, the fewer distractions I have, the less I procrastinate.

Some writers are able to head to a hotel for a writing weekend, but I find it hard to write at a hotel; the desks and chairs they have never seem comfortable enough. My dream retreat would be a cabin in the woods with indoor plumbing, a nice screened porch with comfy chairs, a walking path for when I need to take a break, and Internet access (I back my writing up to a cloud drive (and yes, I also back up to an external hard drive, but the online drive is more up to date)).

Or, there’s always a little beach getaway. Or a mountain hideaway. What’s your dream writing retreat?

“You ready to head out, love?” My Muse’s overstuffed backpack hits the floor with a thud. He’s got a folding chair (you know, like the ones that come in those bags) slung over one shoulder and a shade umbrella under an arm.

“Really? You don’t need the chair or umbrella; my dad’s got chairs and an umbrella that goes with the picnic table on the deck. Besides, it’s supposed to be rainy most of the weekend.”

He lets the chair slip to the floor. “Fine. Give me a few minutes, then let’s go.”

Sigh. Looking forward to days of writing. Am I going to miss out on any Memorial Day fun? Nope. Not even driving in all the traffic that will be heading to any of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes. Like anyone considers that fun. I’ll also take part of a day to check on (read: go for a walk with and take out to lunch) my grandmother, and try to catch a quick visit with my BFF from high school.

For my American friends, have a safe weekend, and take some time out to write. For my outside-of-America friends, enjoy your weekend.

Write well! Write on!


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Garden time again, and a treat

You know you’re getting old when you spend 3 hours in the garden laying out the soaker hoses, raking cut grass for mulch, and covering the hoses with landscape fabric weighed down with said grass, and feel twice your age the next day.

And I’m not that old. (let’s just say I was in jr. high when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out)

Ugh. Or I’m just really out of shape 🙂 Not so sure about that, considering I have no second thoughts about running a 5k tomorrow with my daughter. I’m pretty sure I won’t be sore from that. I’ll be sore from spending another 3 hrs in the garden tonight finishing mulching and getting the planting done.

Why not wait until the weekend? Well, that’s where the treat comes in. I’ve got two–count ’em, two–mini writing retreats: this weekend and next.

Excuse me while I whoop and hollar and dance around like the crazy writer I am.
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“Hey, watch it, love.” My Muse jumps aside before I happy-Snoopy-dance into the space he occupies.

“Sorry.” I stop (I was getting tired anyway). “Hey, you didn’t tell me you were meeting with my writing sister’s Muse.”

He tries to pull off a who, me? expression, but he doesn’t fool me. “Which one?” he asks once he realizes I know things.

“The one plying you with drinks while you gave her tips on how to annoy her writer.”

His cheeks redden. “Oh, that one. She, ah, asked for advice, and since her writer is one of your writing sisters, I figured I’d give her a few tips.”

Uh-huh. I’ll just bet that’s how it went down. Not. “Yes, well, stop giving her ideas. She’s supposed to be inspiring her writer, not trying to bug the hell out of her.”

Sheepish, he leads the way out of my writing office and onto a tropical beach. Turquoise water stretches to the horizon, framed by palm trees and jungle-covered fingers of land that protect the lagoon. An expanse of sugar sand is interrupted only by a pair of low-slung beach chairs under umbrellas.

The enticing part isn’t the view as much as it is the salty smell of the ocean and the soothing whoosh of waves lapping the shore. A light breeze carries the sound of rustling leaves to compliment the rhythm of the sea.

“Are you trying to bribe me?” I ask in mock-offense. I’m itching to shuck off my shoes and dig my toes into the warm sand.

“Is it working?”

Like I’m going to tell him. “We’ll see. You ready for this weekend? I’m talking balls-to-the-walls writing marathon.”

“Yeah, about that …”

“There’s no ‘about that’. We’re going to an empty house where I won’t have any interruptions. No arguments to overhear, or loud televisions to block out, or gardens to plant. I can sit on the deck and drink my coffee in the morning. I can walk around the old neighborhood when I need a break.” Short break; it’s a small neighborhood.

He drops into one of the beach chairs and reaches his toes into the water. “I’m supposed to meet someone at …”

“Really? You better not be telling me you’re going on a date with my writing sister’s Muse.”

An eyebrow arches high. “Date?” He laughs, a full-bodied guffaw that echoes over the lagoon. “No, it isn’t like that. Besides, love, why her when I’ve got you? Not that there aren’t times I’d like to spend a weekend with someone who doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out when she can’t get past a roadblock.

“I was going to say I’m supposed to meet someone at … eh, forget it. I’ll tell him his writer needs him more than he needs a weekend pub crawl.”

“Mr E.? He wants Mae to give him a juicier part. He’d better stick around her place. And I need you with me. I’m going to make the most of this writing weekend if it drives me nuts. I’ve got a month until my soft deadline, and that doesn’t even include my beta readers. I need to send out the almost-ready-for-beta-readers draft to my other writing sisters by the end of the month.”

He tugs on my hand. I relent, and settle into the other beach chair, aches and all. The water is warm, the sand is warm, and I think I’ll just hang out here for a bit before I dig into my WIP this weekend.

If you ever get a chance, take a mini-retreat. Take advantage of a relative going on vacation to take over an empty house and focus on writing. Write on!