• ahcrowley

Escape plans

I need to go on holiday so I can get some work done. I know: it's not the most original statement in the world, but honestly, between writing my current book, home educating my kids, and just generally trying to keep the house from falling down around us, it sometimes feels as though I have three full time jobs. And while it's true that when you're a writer you're always writing, in the back of your head, even when you're mopping up cat sick, or explaining how mixed numbers work; it's also true that the cat sick, and the mixed numbers tend to stick around, in that same back of head space, when you finally get a moment to sit down and write. And that's assuming some new disaster doesn't arise to demand your immediate attention. I mean, seriously, I've given two sympathetic hugs, held one conversation about proper essay format, and correctly identified "that piece of music from When Marnie Was There" in the course of this paragraph alone. It's Receurdos De La Alhambra, in case you wanted to know.

So I don't think it's unreasonable that, in the gaps between maths, essay-writing, actual writing, musical theory and vomit, I occasionally fantasise about getting a little time to write. I can't remember who said that the best way to finish a piece of writing was to lock yourself away in an hotel room with nothing else to do until it's done, but I think they were on to something. My own plan, though, when I have five minutes in which to dwell on it, is infinitely more complex and more ridiculous. I present it here, in the hopes that someone, somewhere, may be able to make actual use of it. If only by sniggering over the impracticality of it all.


Step One: Book a holiday


You need somewhere with all the facilities you might need, but far enough away from everywhere else that you can't just wander into town, or go off at a tangent whenever you want to.

A cabin in the woods is best, but ideally one with access to a small shop, so you can buy anything you forgot, and near a coffee shop and a couple of restaurants or takeaways, for the provision of - well - provisions once the words start flowing. A wood burning fire is nice, too for atmosphere, and you might want a swimming pool or a leisure centre nearby to help you wake up in the mornings, or for rewards if you get a lot done or...

It's Centerparcs. I'm fantasising about Centerparcs.

Anyway, tree-filled, bubble-domed bastion of the middle-class or not, find yourself a holiday somewhere. Make sure it fills all the requirements in the next couple of steps, book it, and you can move on to


Step Two: Pack

Writing things first: you need your laptop or whatever you write on, charging cables, pens or whatever else you need to go with that, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and any and all research materials. Yes, I know you can look things up on the internet, but once you open up the internet you're going to be tempted to just look at the news, or your social media accounts, or that email that just popped up on screen, and you won't get any work done and you'll end up eating vegetable soup for every meal for a week. I'll explain the soup in a minute. For now just understand that you cannot have the internet, because you to minimise soup.

Next are clothes: pack nothing that you would want to wear on a day out. Instead bring pyjamas. Lots of pyjamas. Bring as many pairs as you think you'll need, then another couple of pairs just in case: you are going to live in these things. Add socks, or slippers, or slipper socks, some basic underwear, and perhaps a dressing gown for the evenings. That's it. Ok fine: you may have one, very scruffy running or exercise outfit and perhaps a spare t-shirt. Maybe a swimming costume too. But that's it.


After clothes, food: this is where the soup comes in.

Pack enough vegetable soup to last for lunch and dinner for every day of your stay. You may buy canned soup if you must, but a better option if you can manage it is that terrifying high fibre soup that was the focus of a popular fad diet a few years ago. You know, the one that you would eat for one day and think "This isn't that bad: I could live on this," but by the second day you'd have started to change your mind, and if you hadn't given up by the third day, your friends and family would be planning a mercy killing. For their sakes as much as yours.

Make a huge batch of this stuff and freeze it in individual portions so that you can defrost and heat one at a time, as and when needed. This will also help to prevent food waste, as your main goal in all this is to not eat any of the soup. I know: you thought it was about writing. Well more fool you. Since you are not actually on a diet, here, I hope, you may also pack some bread to dip in your soup. Also butter for the bread, if you're one of those weirdos who likes greasy soup. Stick all the soup packs into a big, old fashioned ice cream tub for ease of transport. You may need to eat the ice cream first, to get it out of the way.

Now that the soup is dealt with you may think about food you would actually like to eat. Either pack a big box with enough supplies for breakfast lunch and dinner for every day that you will be away, or check what restaurants are available and plan to spend a lot of money on takeaway. Make sure you have a decent supply of tea, coffee, or anything else you need to get you through the day, as well as milk for the same. Add a packet of chocolate biscuits as well, or some other kind of treat.


Necessities: now pack all the other things you're likely to need.

Mobile phones, deodorant, hand sanitiser, whatever it takes to keep the wheels of your life running smoothly. Double check this lot because there's nothing worse than getting away from all distractions only to be distracted by discovering you've got away from something you need. One small, very exciting parcel.

Go out and buy a book you've been meaning to read for ages, or some other sort of thing to look forward to. Put this in a parcel with some normal, non-pyjama, nice clothes - or a particularly elaborate dressing gown if you prefer - and a couple of extra treats like a miniature bottle of fizzy wine or an entire knock-off Colin the Caterpillar cake, or, I don't know, whatever you'd want to take along to celebrate a good job well done. Tape the parcel up tightly and put it at the bottom of your case.

Just be careful the cake doesn't get squashed by the soup-tub.


Step three: get out of here


Either drive yourself to your destination or - better yet - have someone drive you up and abandon you there. You are now a prisoner in a comfortable, well-appointed, woodland paradise. Time to get to work. Step four: get on with it

The day of your arrival will be slightly fragmented since you'll probably miss most of the morning. Don't worry about this too much: instead go and buy a load of logs for the fire, add a pack of matches and anything else you now realise you'd forgotten, throw the soup into the freezer, and sit down, ready to work.

Don't start writing yet, though: first decide what feels like a reasonable goal for each morning and afternoon's work. Do you want to write two thousand words every morning and three thousand every afternoon? Do you want to do more? Less? Come up with a plan and write it down. You will revisit this on the middle day of your stay, whenever that is (if you're only staying three days that means you'll revisit it tomorrow).

Get some lunch, if it's lunchtime. You are not yet obliged to eat soup. Now start work as though it's the afternoon of a standard full day. A standard full day looks like this: Wake up. This can be easier said than done, so I recommend signing up for any and all early morning activities available. Your definition of early morning may vary, of course, so be assured that a ten o'clock swim is just as valid as a five-thirty am huddle-in-the-frozen-bracken-staring-at-empty-bird-feeders. You masochist.

In an ideal world, some gentle, twenty minute yoga class would be piped directly to your laptop at the exact time you swore to yourself that you would get up and start work.

Don't worry too much about the content of the activity, as the point isn't actually to learn anything or to get some exercise. The point is to make you get out of bed.

As an alternative to exercise, you may arrange to have a loved one phone you at a pre-arranged time every morning. If you do this, however, you are honour bound to get up during the phone call to make a cup of tea or coffee, and get some breakfast. Throw a log on the fire while you're up: the crackling is soothing and will help you think.

Hah! It was a trap! Everyone knows you can't leave a fire unattended. Now you can't go back to bed and you can't go out either. Might as well get to work then.

Write until lunch time. Whenever your lunch time is. Try to avoid the internet and instead use the thesaurus and other materials you have brought with you. Yes, I know it probably won't work, but we can at least pretend, ok? When you feel the pressing need to get up, stretch your brain, and get some lunch, check to see whether you have written enough to reach your goal for the morning. Add a few more words if you need to, but don't go overboard.

If you have met your goal, you may celebrate by putting on your horrible running clothes and going for a quick run to get a cup of coffee or something, then come back, make and eat lunch, and get back to writing for the rest of the afternoon.

If you did not reach your goal, make a note of the amount you did write, to help you if you need to change your goals when you get to the middle of your stay. In the meantime, thaw and heat a packet of soup on the stove. That is the purpose of the soup. It is the soup of failure. More importantly it's something you can eat out of a mug while you try to catch up on some of the writing you'd hoped to get out of the way this morning. Seriously, I don't want to encourage anyone to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, here. Food is neither a punishment nor a reward, and this soup is just a simple way of getting the nutrients you require with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Anyway, drink your shame soup while staring into the ashes of regret. After lunch, keep writing. When it comes to dinner time check to see whether you have met your goal for the afternoon. If you have, then make some food, or order it, or do whatever else you need to do in order to achieve an edible meal. If you have not, then note down the amount you managed to write and repeat the soup as above. After dinner, whatever form it took, write a little more, but without a goal this time, then get yourself a chocolate biscuit or similar small treat to congratulate yourself for a good day's work. Yes, even if you missed both of your goals: writing isn't easy and you were doing your best.

You are now permitted to phone loved ones, go on the internet, check email and so on.

At some point in the evening, head to bed.



A close up of a pan of vegetable soup. The edge of the steel walls of the pan can be seen at the outer limits of the image, and the very start of the handle, where it joins to the pan, is visible in the bottom left corner. the soup is an innocent, smooth, grey-green, and probably doesn't deserve all the horrid things I've said about it.
Soup: full of vitamins and spite. Occasionally it goes "Blorp".


When you get to the middle of your stay, take a look at the amount you set as a goal for each morning and afternoon, and at the amount you actually managed to write for each of these so far. Adjust your goals accordingly, to prevent further soup.

If you have found that the words flowed more easily than you had anticipated, you may now find that you need to increase your target amount, rather than decreasing it. Be vigilant: soup is an ever-present threat.

On the evening of the middle day of your stay, do something nice for yourself. This might mean going for a late-night swim, letting yourself stream a film, or having a bath with something pink and fizzy in it. Whatever you do, relax a little and remember that you're out here, beating your head against a keyboard and screaming into the walls, because you want to be. More to the point you've survived so far, and you're already halfway through. Well done.

On the last night - which, I now realise, could also be the middle night, if you only booked three days away - open your parcel.

Put on your nice clothes, or your ridiculously elaborate dressing gown, brush your hair, rub the cobwebs out of your eyes and either go out to a restaurant or order some really unnecessary form of take-away. Now throw a last log on the fire and curl up to read your new book, drink fizzy wine, horribly mutilate your doppleganger caterpillar cake, or indulge in whatever else you packed away and hid for yourself to find. Drink a toast to yourself and confusion to your enemies. And especially confusion to soup.


Step five: go home


On the last morning - or, if you are unreasonably efficient, the night before - pack your bags, tidy up, and - hah! can't do that in advance! - strip the beds. Go over the place with a vacuum cleaner or whatever else you need to do in order to not have to pay a swingeingly enormous cleaners' bill.

Drop off the keys, and either drive yourself home or sit in a coffee shop somewhere, waiting for whoever is supposed to be picking you up.

You did remember to ask someone to pick you up didn't you? Ok good.

You might as well get your laptop out.

You can get some writing done while you wait for them to arrive.


Step six: relax


Or, to quote an even more hackneyed and unoriginal saying: you need a holiday to recover from your holiday. A couple more days in the woods might be just the thing.

You could spend them with your family this time.

No soup required.

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