Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Motel Room by the Hour

Sharon Wildwind

If you want to have fun as a writer, rent a motel room by the hour.

Years ago members of a local writers’ group discovered a motel that rented rooms for $10 an hour between 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM. A few rules applied. At check-in, room renters were provided with two hand towels, a small bar of soap, and a plastic garbage bag. Rule 1: don’t unmake the bed. Rule 2: Use the hand towels and soap provided and leave both the bathroom towels and the complementary toiletries alone. Rule 3: Before you leave, wipe down the bathroom sink, put your garbage in the plastic bag provided and leave the bag and the used towels outside the door.

The idea was that since check-out time was 10:00 and check-in time was 3:00 PM, extra income could be generated during normally non-income-producing hours by renting the rooms not as bedrooms but as small meeting rooms.

Four of us decided that once a month for six months, we would split the room cost for series of self-guided writing workshops.

We didn’t dare ask what the food and drink policy was because it was a lot easier to be innocent if we weren’t suppose to be smuggling in coolers and wine, which was exactly what we intended to do.

The first month we had a silent writing day. Our original plan was to write for a little over two hours, then break out the wine and goodies and spend the rest of the time reading and critiquing what we’d written. We lasted an hour on the writing. Somehow a bottle of wine got opened early, we chatted, and well, that was that for the writing. We learned a lot about one another that day, including that we weren’t as self-directed as we thought. So we decided to add more structure.

Even with one session, we’d discovered how much we appreciated that one hour of silent writing time, so we decided that each workshop would start with that. Then a short program, a resource roundtable, and wine/snacks. One person would be responsible for the wine, another for the snacks, the third person would plan the short program, and the fourth person would lead the resources round table, beginning with a book report on any book—fiction or non-fiction—they’d found helpful as a writer. We’d rotate tasks each month.

The second month we all read Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage before the meeting, then watched Joan Hickson’s version of Miss Marple in the same story. We talked about the English country mystery and what story choices the director had made in turning the book into a movie.

The third month we did what the program person called “Fill-in-the-Blank Stories.” We started by writing 250 words or less about a real life event that had happened to us. We copied our story leaving blanks for almost every specific detail. For example if the story began,“This story happened when I was ten. My grandmother and I drove to Chicago for a family reunion” the blanks-added version would read, “This story happened to me when I was _____. _____ and I _____ to ______ for a family ______.” We switched stories and had to write a new story by filling in the blanks. Switch again. This time we could changes up to 50% of the words the previous person had used. Switch one more time and the last person could change only 10% of the words the previous person had used. Then we read the original story and the fill-in-the-blank story.

The fourth month one of the members challenged a friend of hers, a university English professor, to come and give us a punctuation review. She told her friend that if she could make the use of six punctuation marks—the comma, semi-colon, colon, hyphen, en-dash, and em-dash—enjoyable and educational, we’d feed her all the wine she wanted. Fortunately her friend was not only a gifted teacher, but had a sense of humor. It was a riotous afternoon.

Writers being, by and large, interested in people, by this time we were on first name basis with the desk staff, and that afternoon we waved gayly to them as we tottered out of the motel, English professor in tow.

Like every group activity, life happened. One of the group was ill, another had to go out of town. The fifth meeting was a quiet affair of just two people who spent the entire afternoon writing. Both had a good time.

The final month was party time. We invited the English professor to join us. Someone brought left-over Christmas crackers, so we each had a party hat. We hand-made mini-year books, full of writing quotes and recommendations for further reading to celebrate our six months of workshops. We autographed each other’s books. We played pin the subjunctive clause on the sentence—more of the English professor’s work.

When we trooped out at the end of the day, still wearing party hats, to hand the key to the desk clerk and tell him we wouldn’t be back, he said, “We’ve been trying to figure who you are and what you do out. You come in her looking serious and leave a few hours later laughing and looking a lot happier. Not that it’s any of our business, but what have you been doing?”

One of the women leaned over and said in a whisper, “If we tell you, we’ll have to kill you.” After we enjoyed his reaction, we fessed up that we were a bunch of mystery writers—and one English professor—who were working on making our writing better. He said he wished all of his guests had as good a time as we had.

Quote for the Week
One of the things that changes as we age is that people stop nudging us. We need to be nudged all our lives. Find people who will nudge you.
~Dr. Gene Cohen, gerontologist, teacher, writer, and humanist

Dr. Cohen is the Director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities in Washington, D.C. Visit the Center’s Website and subscribe to their free newsletter for updates on wonderful projects that are helping people maintain their connections to the arts into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and on past a hundred.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great idea! Gosh, Sharon, at first I wasn't sure what kind of post this was going to be, with the motel by the hour intro. :)

It also helped that you had a great group of people/writers in your club. I haven't always been able to find a group like that.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sharon Wildwind said...

Being able to find a congenial group of writers, all of whom are at about the same place in their writing development may rank slightly higher than finding the Holy Grail.

Sandra Parshall said...

I keep wondering where you all sat. On the bed? On the floor?

Sharon Wildwind said...

Two people sat in chairs and two on the bed. We'd change places from time to time, and at the end of the day, we'd smooth out the bedspread.