On the Eve of Escape

Here at The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, we have scheduling fairies who put names on a magical calendar so that we all know who is posting and when. And, weeks ago, when I saw the date I would next post, I immediately thought, “Oh! That’s the day before I escape to…”

maine beach web small

Every year, this land-locked Ohio farm girl spends a week in a cottage on the  Maine shore with nine writing friends. It is often the most inspiring and productive week of my writing year. I can smell the ocean air already!

I began to wonder how other middle-grade authors escape the daily grind. Where do they go to think more clearly? Breathe more deeply?

And, so, I just asked.

Some of you might follow author Cynthia Lord on Facebook. If you don’t, you probably should click on her name and do that now, because she posts thoughtfully and with her heart, and you’ll love following her. And if you already do, you know that she has this great little escape in her own backyard.

cynthia lord's writing shed

Cynthia told me that she got her writing shed (aptly dubbed “Walden Backyard”) after RULES won a Newbery Honor and she and her husband were a bit cramped sharing an office in their house. Cynthia’s escape is close to home, and she loves writing in her multi-season shed. (We would say all-season, but she does live in Maine, and I’ve seen pictures in which the snow was piled nearly as high as the shed!)

lisa yee   Author of WARP SPEED and THE KIDNEY HYPOTHETICAL, Lisa Yee was caught in mid-escape when I contacted her. She wrote back:

“Ha! As I reply to your question, I am sitting in a hotel room where I’ve escaped to get writing done.”

Enough said, Lisa! Now, get back to work and don’t let me get in the way of progress!

I was surprised how many authors escape to water.  Kirby kirby LARSONLarson, author of HATTIE BIG SKY and the new DASH and DUKE, escapes ocean-side to be with the eagles and hummingbirds. It’s interesting that negative ocean ions can positively affect one’s blood pressure!  Thanks, Kirby!

tricia springstubbMixed-Up Files Author Tricia Springstubb echoed the water theme as well. Her newest middle-grade novel MOONPENNY ISLAND is set on a fictitious island. It’s no small coincidence that Moonpenny Island mirrors Kelley’s Island and Tricia’s favorite rocky and remote get-away.  Tricia finds water so motivating, she often swims to clear her head and has solved more than one plot dilemma after coming out of the pool!

Some writers, though they enjoy a good vacation, have found a more accessible escape. Margaret Peterson Haddix (the MISSING series and the SHADOW CHILDREN series) and Marlane Kennedy (THE DOG DAYS OF CHARLOTTE HAYES and the DISASTER STRIKES series) both agreed that when they are caught up in a good writing moment, their best escape is the story itself. Marlane shares, “When I am deep within  a story, I am not even aware of my surroundings. I am transported to wherever and whatever is happening in my story, and my writing escape is more within my mind than anywhere else.”  (Margaret’s escape mode, however, is not entirely waterless. Like Tricia,  she’s another swimmer/thinker!)

Peterson and KennedyMargaret Peterson Haddix and Marlane Kennedy

Lots more  Mixed-Up Files Authors weighted in as well! You can see their pictures and read about their books here But first, take a moment to read about their escapes:

Jacqueline Jaeger HoutmanCoffee shop. Earbuds. Vivaldi.

Michele Weber HurwitzI’m a big walker. Nothing like a long walk to clear my head and work through trouble spots in a WIP.

Greg R. Fishbone – Long train rides are great for writing.

Amie Borst – When my office won’t suffice, I love to sit on my back deck or by the lake. (There’s that water thing again!)

Valerie Stein – On the sailboat! Calm, quiet motion at the dock, free of distractions. (And again!)

Rosanne Parry – Love writing in my treehouse in the summer. Fresh air, lots of birds & squirrels for company and no distractions. Bliss!

Okay, I admit it. I just couldn’t leave Rosanne’s comment without hoping on over to her website to see if, just maybe, she had a picture of said treehouse. And, bingo! Here it is.

rosanne tree house

So, we would love to hear about your writing escape. Comment below and let us know where you go! I’ll try to respond, but remember, in less than 24 hours, I’ll be escaping to…

maine porch web small

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She loves mail (the real, slow, stamped-envelope kind) so she created the 52 Letters in a Year Challenge to encourage writers young and not very young to help revive the art of letter-writing. Visit Michelle at www.michellehouts.com. On Twitter @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.

Michelle Houts on FacebookMichelle Houts on InstagramMichelle Houts on Twitter
Michelle Houts
Michelle Houts writes middle-grade, chapter books, and picture books from a restored one-room schoolhouse near her home. She loves reading, mail, hiking, and birds. Michelle visits schools and libraries to share writing excitement with future authors. To find out more and to learn about Michelle's 52Letters Challenge, visit www.michellehouts.com
  1. I’m curious….where in Main is this beautiful retreat? I love that porch!

    My goal this summer is to try to write in as many different places as possible. Usually, I’m a sit-at-my-desk kind of girl, so I’m hoping this will open up new roads of creativity for me.

    Would love it if anyone would post pics of their favorite writing place or space on Twitter using #iwritehere. We all love the writing inspiration!

    • Hi Jennifer! That cottage is near Stockton Springs. It’s owned by family members of one of the writers in my retreat group. And I agree with you… I love that porch!

      I also love the #iwritehere on Twitter. It’s so much fun to see where everyone is creating!

  2. A week in a cabin by a river, lake, or ocean would be such a gift. (sigh) Maybe someday.

    • Someday, Rosi! Maybe just a friend’s cabin in the woods in the meantime. There have been several times that I’ve parked the camper in the back yard and just made that my daily escape for a whole month.

  3. Once a year I head up to the Whiteley center in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It is quiet, quaint and I am always productive. (my wife is generous on that one) We also have an old smelly detached garage in the backyard, which is where I had every morning to define my writing time. But if I have a rare moment of time the coffee shop is always a nice quick retreat. Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks, Mark, for pointing out that writers really need all kinds of escapes. Sometimes quaint and lovely, but sometimes nitty and gritty. And sometimes with caffeine!

  4. I’ve always written in various places around the house for 20 years, mostly with a desk in my bedroom. But now I have a writing cottage that my brother built me in the backyard (we have an acre of land along the Rio Grande) when I sold my YA trilogy to Harper three years ago in a major deal. A dream come true!

    Two years ago my local writing buddies and I started a little retreat together. We escape north to Taos to write and talk shop for a few days. It’s heavenly.

    • Hurray for your backyard cottage, Kimberley! I’m sure you love having a daily work space that provides that “get-away” feeling! And, oh, there’s nothing quite like shoptalk with other writers!

  5. I have a new writing spot – my office in the Visual Arts Building at Hollins University (I teach in the MFA in Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books program). I set up my office about two weeks ago and I am getting so much done in there! It’s so quiet, I’ve dubbed it the “focus capsule”! 🙂

    • I’m so excited for your new adventures, Elizabeth! I can’t wait to see what comes out of your “writing capsule!” Thanks for sharing!

  6. I tend to escape only from my office to my living room couch. What did I ever do when I was tied to a desktop computer?

    I’d love a report when you get back on how you structure your time at your retreat. Do you have writing time and social time? Do you discuss/critique each other’s work? How do good friends get any work done??

    • Jennifer, what DID we do when we were chained to desktop computers? I think I’ve repressed those unpleasant memories! Send me an email – Michelle (at) michellehouts (dot) com and I’d be happy to share our writer’s retreat schedule and structure with you or anyone else! I came into the group a couple of years ago and the founding writers already had a fantastic structure in place.

  7. Sigh. Exhale. So lovely.

  8. Packing now for my Maine escape. Looking forward to a productive week with my writing buddies Michelle and Cathy:)

    • Looking forward to seeing you, my beach-bound friend!

  9. Thanks for compiling these great escape ideas into your post! And have a productive, restoring getaway!

    • Thanks, Michele. After this one I want to try the train, the treehouse, the… oh, you know. I want to try them all!

  10. Have a wonderful get-away, Michelle.

    A friend of mine is going to the beach shortly to have a picture book workshop with a writing friend in which they dig out all their old picture book ideas and sift through them to see if there’s a gem just waiting to be polished. Love that idea!

    • That is a great idea, Rosanne! We all need time to sort out the most promising of our WIPs and get another’s feedback! Smart!

  11. Guess what? I’m escaping to the same porch…to work on my first middle grade novel. See you soon, Michelle!

    • Two chairs for two friends, Cathy! Can’t wait!

  12. Thanks, Sheila! Solitude is good, but being with like-minded writers can be even more inspiring! Have fun on your next escape!

  13. This is such a good idea. I have two writing friends in Alabama, ( i moved to Florida 2 years ago), but we do this every other year. It’s great to escape!