Going on a writing retreat without a plan as to what to write let’s you take in the beach, rather than wracking your brain for something that will be relevant to your readers. Write what’s natural to you, they say. Unfortunately, what’s natural for me is doubt and self-consciousness.
Instead, I open my hands in the sand and dig until dry, loose grains give way to the hard-packed aggregate sleeping beneath, still covered in the blanket of last night’s high tide. I dig with my nails, breaking it up, feel each piece in my hand, an individual and collective weight. Nothing else feels quite like this–a handful of damp sand. I let it go at some point, either before walking out to the water or once I get there. Going anywhere without a plan does not mean without purpose; aimless and unmotivated, the journey begs for your enjoyment, your presence. You can feel the salt cauterizing your lungs. You jump and laugh in the waves without remembering you’re 31 goddamn years old. After, you lay on the beach, sore from fighting against the ocean, only somewhat displeased by the sand granules imprinting your cheeks and sticky salt expanding your follicles. You sit on the emptied beach at night with your best friend beside you and stare toward the sound of the waves, seeing ghosts at the break.
You lay in a strange bed with only a screen, which may or may not be locked, between you and the outside (your friend was drunk when she attempted to lock it). You listen to the sound of the waves lapping, like listening for your newborn’s sleeping breath. You have a full-blown night terror about a Dementor stepping out of that Conjuring wardrobe in your room, throwing your heart against your rib cage, and jerking you back to consciousness on the other side of the bed.
Maybe it was the overindulgence of nicotine or alcohol, or the cappuccino from the self-aware Italian restaurant just steps from your temporary residence. Either way, you’ve dreamed. You’re alive.
Going on a writing retreat without a plan cracks you open–a bone saw to your waiting sternum that bursts apart with a sudden break in the pressure. It lets you see, think, and feel again. It lets you breathe with new, raw lungs, washed by the salt. It lets you carry home that sand still under your nails and shows you that you don’t have to let all of your doubt and negativity go. You only have to outsmart it by writing in spite of it.