Retreating to Write

Productive Bliss at Wellspring House

(This is a repost of my [Edith Maxwell’s]  blog on an wonderful long weekend’s writing retreat.)

Wellspring House. How can I thank you?
I’m greeted by Preston Browning at the door of the Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. He’s an old, stooped man with a twinkle in his eye and a broad accent. White hair longer than mine straggles out from under a wool captain’s cap.
He shows me the kitchen, with its recycling bins and compost bucket, and lauds his architect wife, Ann Hutt Browning, passed on a year now, for redesigning this carriage house retreat, right down to theplacement of the Persian rugs and the stacks of books everywhere in the living room. All available for the visiting writer to use.

I walk into the Wheatley Room upstairs. My room. A white-and-blue bedspread neatly wraps a four-poster single bed on the right. On the left a dresser with a pressed linen dresser scarf. Beyond that, under a window, a big green upholstered rocking chair.And straight ahead of me? The future site of my labors beckons. A wide wooden table, three paper-lengths deep, a table with extensions on each end, so it can be as long as I am tall, a table with a pine-cone lamp, a table for my laptop and my paper and my favorite pen and my water glass and my imagination.

I breathe it in. I set up the laptop, plug it in, turn it on. I pick up a journal on the desk, bound in a cheery red print, and open it. Each resident of this room since 2001 has written a note, sometimes a poem to the room, sometimes a love message to the proprietors. I take it to the bed and start reading, glancing back at the table as if I can hear it beckon. I want to do everything.

I set up crackers and chocolates on the dresser, the bottle of wine for the evenings, my bathroom kit. I return to the desk, to the bed, try out the chair, pace the rug that fills the middle of the painted wooden floor. I open the book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley that sits next to the bed and read about this amazing black slave in early Boston who taught herself to speak and read English in a few short months and then began writing amazing poetry. I knew nothing of her before now.

I gaze out the window at a snowy western Massachusetts hillside covered with tall trees and invaded by a few noisy snowmobiles. They’ll be gone tomorrow. It’s going to rain tomorrow. I give myself this time to settle in, to understand the room, to fully inhale the challenge I have set myself: four days of solitude for writing. That’s it. No clutter. No distractions except my own brain. Internet is available, but I find myself interested only in checking my email once every few hours. My addiction to Facebook doesn’t even tempt. I’m here to write and that’s what I want to do, what I will do.

I’ll head out later today for an hour of cross-country skiing (before the snow is ruined by tomorrow’s rain), fresh air and exercise only a tool to help me write better, longer. Tonight I’ll go downstairs to the spacious funky kitchen and living room full (full!) of books (books everywhere), cook myself a simple meal, read a mystery or the New Yorker as I eat, and then climb the stairs again. I’ll take a walk tomorrow, and Sunday, and Monday before I head home. Also only tools to clear the mind, refresh the body.

This is a gift. I’ll be back.

Postscript: I wrote ten thousand words in three days. Indeed a gift.

Here’s a tribute to Ann by Aine Greaney, who turned me onto this retreat house (when I told Preston I was a friend of Aine’s, I was IN). So much more about Preston and Ann is out there on the Internet for those of you interested.

During my stay, only one other retreatant occupied a room. It turned out artist Cathy knew my sister from Insight Meditation Center, the Buddhist retreat center in Barre, Mass. We were both amazed. Cathy and I were very good at padding around being quiet to respect each other’s creative focus.

I recommend Wellspring House without hesitation. Five rooms are available, two of them doubles. Two shared baths, a peaceful inspirational dwelling and town, ample facilities, all for a very affordable price. Bring your food or walk to a meal. Sequester yourself or roam outdoors looking for your muse. It’s all there. (Full disclosure: I was not paid to write this post!)

Have you experienced deep writing focus? Where do you retreat to really get some work done?


About Edith Maxwell

Agatha- and Macavity-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.
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