Writer’s Retreat: The Extreme Edition

I have a problem. Right now it’s called an April 15th deadline with less than twelve thousand of a fifty thousand word novel written. Don’t ask me what on earth possessed me to go ahead with my two-month Africa trip when my deadline got moved from December 2016 to April 2017. Probably stubbornness. With a healthy dose of self delusion. Which is why I ended up here, in this tree hut.

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My temporary tree hut. The thatched roof is a great place for critters to hide FYI.

I don’t know when or why I got the idea in my head to go to Zanzibar. But, like the lingering echoes from a previous night’s dream, a longing for the place buried itself inside me then transformed into a definite decision to visit once I “planned” my trip to east Africa. I don’t regret my visit though. The island is beautiful, disorienting as well as evocative in the most unexpected ways. I very much feel like I’m in a different place, this relocation tilting my mind toward other concerns, unspooling different threads of creativity.

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Beauty at the door.

On the island, Maasai men wander the beach in their traditional shukas, their figures brilliant splashes of red and dark against the white sand. The streets of the old town are like a maze, leading from one confusing alley way to another and oftentimes spilling the bemused traveler out in front of a magnificent door or hauntingly weathered building. Throughout the day, the call to prayer ululates from nearby mosques.

But back to my tree hut.

Seven days on an island with nothing to do but write, go swimming, hunt for mangoes, and did I mention WRITE? My procrastination game is strong so I need this tree hut like Prince Rogers Nelson needed purple. Or was it the other way around?

The novel at the center of this tree hut has been planned for a little while but elements of the beast kept shifting until my original outline became a shadow’s shadow of the book I initially proposed. It didn’t help that I completely caved to the executive editor when it came to initial revisions of the proposal*.

The novel itself is coming along painfully slowly. Progress on a glacial level that I hope will speed up in time for me to meet my deadline next month. Next MF month. I’m just crossing my fingers that this tree hut isn’t where hopes and dreams come to die.


The seven days I was supposed to stay in the tree hut turned into five. In those five days, I got in an additional twenty thousand words, a lot of swimming, mangoes galore, plus some spectacular sunset gazing. Now I’m in Dar es Salaam with plenty of distractions and the skeleton of a novel which has already attracted the copious use of my red pen. The clock is still ticking but at least it no longer sounds like it’s rolling toward doomsday.


*Don’t ever do this to yourself, kids!

Doors and the Zanzibar Cafe.


  1. Fiona, what a wonderful gift you’ve given yourself! Your memories of the places you’ve seen, the breezes you”ve felt, the foods you’ve smelled and tasted will be with you always. They will surface in your writing, at times unsummoned, but needed. Thank you for sharing your photos and experiences with us. Your return trip will be long. Perhaps you can write then. Travel safely

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  2. As much as I don’t long for a roof full of critters, I envy you your hut, Fiona! Some days, it’s all I can do to open the manuscript I’m writing. Starbucks, Pandora Radio, and headphones help, but that comes in a weak second to a hut in Zanzibar…


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