One morning a few weeks ago, I woke up alone, locked in a motel room near Rutland, Vermont. It sounds more sinister than it was; my imprisonment was self-imposed. I could not leave until I'd finished a draft of a novel I'd been working on for a long time.
Once or twice a year, for two or three nights, I lock myself in a motel or hotel room somewhere and . . . write. Most importantly though, I think -- in long uninterrupted streams of consciousness, about the characters and themes and settings and plotlines of the book I'm working on. I buy food ahead of time, request a mini-fridge and a coffeemaker, and off I go, or don't go. Usually, I barely leave the room. I don't sleep much and my food choices are . . . less than exemplary. There is chocolate and too much coffee.
I write most days, after I get my three children off to school, and before I pick them up again at 2:45, and I get words down on the page during these school days of writing. But I find that at the beginning of a book and then again at the end, I need to retreat.
Because I live in Vermont, I can often get bargain basement deals at hotels or motels in ski towns during the off season. So my writing retreats are usually accompanied by a view of my beloved Green Mountains, which helps, I think. The mountains emphasize my isolation. I always think that I go a little mad during these retreats, in the best possible way, living in the world of the book I'm working on, talking aloud in the empty room in the voices of my characters, going for solitary runs or hikes in order to work out sticky plot points or figure out hidden character motivations.
Writers' conferences and formal retreats are wonderful too, but when I really need a book to come together, I don't want to eat with or talk with other writers, no matter how talented and interesting they are.
When aspiring novelists ask me for advice, I always lead with an impossibly obvious old saw: Write. Write every day. Do it whether you feel like it or not. You want to be a writer? Write.
But I follow that up with another tip: Once you've got the bare bones down on the page, get away. Retreat. And discover the things about your story you just can't amidst the familiar people and routines of your daily life. Head for whatever your version of the Green Mountains is -- Or not. I once finished a book in a strip mall Days Inn in Maryland -- and revel in the retreat.