A writing escape

As you may have guessed, I’ve gone slightly underground to finish the book-in-progress, 100 Breakfasts, which is due in six short weeks.  Last weekend, I spent three days in Pasadena, mostly holed up with the manuscript, combing and combing, unbraiding and reweaving.   In the spirit of my friend Anne Stuart, who often keeps track of her writing marathons, I logged my progress, and thought you might be interested in the back-scenes process.

First, a little background.  While I was in Australia last year, the Langham Hotel in Melbourne was giving away B&B packages around the world, one each day, in honor of the Olympics. They have six hotels, two in the US, and to my great delight and amazement, I won a package.  To Pasadena, where my eldest son had just moved for a year-long clerkship.  The hotel was approximately a mile and a half from the hotel.  

Serendipitous on so many levels.  There is the weird and obvious benefit of landing within walking distance of my child, from a hotel halfway around the world.  I also really was ready for some immersion time in the book, and in fact timed the trip so I could do this work for three days without any phone or other dogs distractions.  Oh, and sleep.  I had the Colorado Plague for nearly two weeks and still haven’t quite kicked the dregs of it. 

So, last weekend, I packed up the laptop, some good walking shoes, and a notebook and headed to the Pasadena Langham Hotel, which used to be the Ritz-Carlton.  It sits in the midst of well tended, California Craftsmans and Frank Lloyd Wright style homes on zillion dollar lots. There are gardens and courtyards and a Painted Bridge that was created in 1932.  In those days, it spanned a gulch.  Today it gracefully leads to the cottages between the swimming pool and the garden pools that tumble down the hill.

Anyway, this is my writing log for the weekend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I just had a very nice breakfast with Ian and then he took me to Trader Joe’s (the original TJ) so I could lay in some supplies–cashews and apples and a giant pile of very sweet grape tomatoes and cheese.


Pasadena is a beautiful place, and this is a gorgeous hotel, and I must confess I’d really rather do something besides work. Ian is working but I could take a long walk.  But I am here to work and I do need to do that. Write pages, THEN for a walk. 



Walk was very nice, rejuvenating. I am making some hot water for tea and will work now until 4:15, at which time I can take the long walk around the neighborhood that I’m dying to do, and come back to eat my very simple supper of apples, cheese and nuts. And I have to work again after that.

3 pm Edited two more scenes. Pretty sleepy. Will nap for a quick minute.

4 pm. Napped 15 minutes, read through the dinner scene and it still sucks but I don’t know what the fix is yet. Still missing information. Going for a long walk now, clear my head. Will work some more later.

So far: edited/read 80 pages.

6 pm
Had a good long walk, an hour or more, around the neighborhood, ate leftover pizza and read a little bit of Alice Hoffman.

I’ve been rewriting all day.  Which is fine. That’s writing, too.  I’m still not happy with a couple of spots, and there are  some quality problems with [one scene in particular] but I can fix them later.    [Deleted spoiler details here. ]

The Amazing Race comes on in an hour, so I’m going to work until then.

Added another scene, worked through some of the trouble.  Finished with edited 100+ pageds and about 1500 new words.  REALLY tired now.

Monday, March 30, 2009
It’s 9:50 am. I had a really good night’s sleep.  I had a shower then a nice breakfast at the Terrace restaurant, and sat with my notebook for a little while.  One character is not coming through on the page as well as I’dThe old hotel looked as if we could go back in time at any second like.  I let her talk through my pen and she gave me enough insight that I have a place to start.

11 am
Scene from Vita POV.  Dozed for ten minutes and they’re doing something with noisy, noisy machines, so I’m going to go write by hand in the garden. Give the computer a chance to cool, too. It really gets hot if it stays up all day.

Oh, hmm. Now the machine is off. Maybe I can just stay here.

So, got the bread scene moving. Feeling kind of restless now. Maybe I’ll go write by hand in the garden simply because I would enjoy it. Have done five pages this morning so far. That’s slow, but I’ll live with it.

5 pm
Wrote by hand and then read awhile. Typed in the pages and feel much better about the scene. Not meeting Ian until 8 or so, and I’ll walk up to the shopping center in a little while, have some supper, get the cobwebs out of my head. Maybe come back and write a little more. We’ll see. 

Feels better, though. That’s a good thing. I’m really in the belly of the book now, and the only thing to do is just be with it.  I’m tired. I’ve been working and working and working!

11 pm
I walked over to the shops and had a very nice combination of salads at the local Corner Bakery. It was absolutely delicious and made me realize there are ten million things you can do with salad that I never think about. I love salads and don’t make them very often enough. Met Ian at his apartment and spent a couple of hours with him and his cats, then he brought me back to the hotel. 

Enough. I am very, very tired tonight. It might not have seemed as if I accomplished a lot, but I was at it the whole weekend, taking time only for walks and Ian. That’s all a person can do.

Ready for bed now.

Tuesday evening, home again.

6 pm
Something broke free in all that work, because the minute I arrived at the LA airport, I started writing in my notebook, scene after scene after scene, and wrote all the way home.  (Until the horrific turbulence–it was scary horrible, and I’m not a nervous flyer.)   A very productive three days and I feel quite well rested, too.

But of course, the best part was seeing Ian. Hanging out. Being able to give him a big hug and feed him the lovely breakfast at the Langham. 

(I notice that I cat-napped a lot during this telling, and almost deleted it, but chose to be faithful to my true process. Anyone else cat nap a lot?)

Writing is lonely work sometimes, that’s the truth. What do the girls want?  Maybe a nice walk around the grounds, or just over to the bridge.

Stop being so cerebral, the girls say.  Just go write the next part.  Rewrite the scene with Natalie and Tessa, then maybe have a little nap and a walk around the grounds and come back and do another scene. I can do a lot of work here. I’m here to work and I love my job so let’s just get to it.

Okay, I dozed for a little while, wrote the scene with photos, and the computer is really hot, so I’m going to take a walk around the grounds and look at the bridge and come back.

10 thoughts on “A writing escape

  1. Janelle

    Naps are a vital part of my creative process, though I tend to feel horribly guilty about them. I mean, how is that WORK? But, it’s as if my left brain can’t let go and let me listen to the girls unless I go to sleep for a bit.

    I love coming out of a nap, equal parts asleep and awake, and *knowing* what I need to write next.

  2. Tapsi

    Ahh, my ‘cat naps’ last for two hours, at a minimum, so I don’t think they can really be called that. I’m in the middle of studying for an exam, have somehow mislaid my motivation along the way and hence the naps serve to quiet the muted, yet insistent, voices in my head that tell me I have to study.

  3. Hey Barbara! How wonderful that you won that package! When I was in America in November last year, I indulged shamelessly and stayed two nights at the Langham in Pasadena on the way back to Australia. It was ridiculously expensive given the exchange rate but, for a whole lot of reasons, just what I needed. I thought it was fantastic. Beautiful grounds, fantastic food, just a completely luxurious experience. And a wonderful place for naps!

  4. Keziah, I love it that you went there, too. It is a very pretty spot, no kidding. And the food was excellent, I agree. Great hotel.

    Tapsi, seems like napping for exams would serve the same purpose, to help access the hidden material in the brain. Or, well, not.

    Hey, Janelle, we’re in good company. Thomas Edison was a big cat napper, too. Very creative habit. CR knows that I’ll work for a couple of hours then come lie down and I’m always asleep instantly, then awake in 10-20 minutes. If I’m really working hard (often at the end of a book, when I have to immerse), I’ll work/nap/work/nap for periods of 12-15 hours. That’s only possible for a couple of weeks, and only when the book takes over my life.

  5. I try to take a cat-nap every aternoon–I only need twenty minutes and I’m good to go again.

    Great to read your process, Barbara. It’s always fun to see how others do this stuff.


  6. afternoon, that is. Sheesh!

  7. Your traveling life must be great. Books are great too. I’m really an art/ book person. I’m getting unbelievably calm and relaxed all of a sudden… cool…

    P.S. CAT NAPS ARE G-R-E-A-T!!!

  8. Kiwi, traveling is one of the great boons to the writing life (at least for me). I love seeing new places, hearing new stories, finding new things out bout history and life and…..

    LOL, cat naps really ARE great! Think I’ll take one now.

  9. Good to see you, Maggie! Not surprised to find you’re a napper, too.

  10. pianogirl88

    Oh my yes, I’m a napper! On the days I teach (at a college), I’m up at 5:30 and out of the door before 7am for a 2 hour drive. By the time I get home at night, I will have been gone for 13-15 hours, depending on my schedule that day. Fortunately I’m only there 3 days a week, but I try to block off a 30 minute chunk of time when students can’t rehearse with me each day. I dim the lights in my studio, lock the door, and set my timer for 17-18 minutes. I usually awaken just before it goes off, but I’m refreshed and ready to face the rest of my long day. The couch in my office is so ugly a high school drama production would turn it down for a stage prop, but I will not let the music department get rid of it!

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