As some of you may remember from this post on popcorn a few months back, I planned to take a writer’s retreat this fall. And, like some of my goals, I managed to achieve it this past weekend, when I went to a spot near Monterey, California, for a two-day intensive writing retreat.

This is the stack of materials I brought with me: some memoirs for inspiration and laughs, some books on writing, some old notes, some old manuscripts.

Getting away with my laptop, my books, and my bad self felt like the best thing I’ve done for myself all year. I knew it would be all too tempting, on a weekend without my kid in a beautiful setting, to watch movies on my computer, take all-day walks, and read trashy magazines, so I set some clear guidelines: I would write as much as I could. When I needed a break, I would walk by the ocean. I would relax with a glass of wine on my balcony every night. I would get plenty of sleep. And I would shut off any voices of dissent or discouragement, focusing only on putting down what needed to get put down.

Saturday dawned very gray and foggy, and I’d not slept well since the room I was in was too close to a couple of loud parties. So, I requested to be moved, and landed in a corner room with a fireplace. I set up my stuff, turned on the computer, lit a fire, and wrote for about five hours without stopping.

The work itself.

Later, I wrote some more. And then I read, by turns, Bill Bryson’s Neither Here nor There and Alice Sebold’s Lucky. One reminded me to take myself seriously. One reminded me that a little levity is good.

The next day, I did it all again.

I think the best part of the weekend was how easy it was once I’d stopped making such a big deal out of it all and just got started. After all, I have been writing this book for going on six years, and the reason I wanted to go away was to tie up the last loose ends, establish theme, make sure all the threads were drawn tight. Of course there were moments I got stuck, and moments I faltered, but in general I managed to just do what I set out to do. First day, I wrote a five-page…thing?telling myself it would either serve as a prologue or as something to be chopped up and put lots of different places. Prologue, I decided when it was done. And then, using that as a foundation, a kind of well of source material, I drew big stitches, like in one of those cardboard kids’ games with a picture on the front and large holes in it with a shoelace attached. I need to go here now, I’d think, and reference this source material. Now here. Stitch.

Stitch here. Then here. Now here. Stitch, stitch, stitch.