Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Retreat Is As Good As A Rest

This week's post has been delayed slightly, because yesterday I was traveling back from my writers' circle's annual retreat. Eleven of us headed into the depths of Wales for a weekend writing break.

The idea behind our retreat is that members can devote as much of their day to writing. We hire a large self-catering property, giving us all plenty of room to spread out and write. Several of the group are currently tackling NaNoWriMo, so were able to increase their word counts significantly. We have few rules on our retreats.

  • You get up ... when you want.
  • You get your own breakfast ... when you want.
  • You get your own midday snack ... when you want.
  • But we all eat together in the evening.
  • Nobody is forced to do any writing ... although this is such a wonderful opportunity everybody does! (And there is something to be said about the guilt factor, if everyone is writing and you're not!)
The whole point behind a retreat is that it offers a freedom that you don't get at home. On Sunday morning I woke at 7am (much to my disgust because we'd been chatting until 1.30am!) and had been thinking of how to structure a short story idea I'd had for several months yet hadn't been able to write. I began reading a short story magazine and the third story had the structure I needed. Suddenly, I knew what to do, and began writing.

By 9.30am, I'd written nearly 800 words and was clear what my ending was going to be and how I would achieve this. My reward was breakfast! If I were at home, others in the household would be shouting, "The kettle's on, do you want a cup of tea?" or "Are you having breakfast this morning?" On retreat, you're free to do what you want, when you want, or rather, when it is convenient for your writing. After breakfast, I went back to my room and finished the rest of the story.

Part of retreating is going out and exploring, and this usually involves a good walk! It's always good to stretch your legs and get some fresh air because it re-invigorates the brain ... and also allows the photographers amongst us to take candid moments. (There are some censored images that will not be appearing on this blog.)

After the walk, I returned to my room, where I typed up my short story and undertook a basic first edit. Others were tackling edits for their publishers, or structuring the outline for a new children's book, ploughing on with NaNoWriMo, or plotting a new poem. And the benefit of being surrounded by other writers is that you can ask writerly questions. Several retreats ago, one member said, "What's a better way of saying glutimus maximus?" to which the other seven writers in the room, all replied simultaneously, "arse!" With help like that on retreat, you can't go wrong can you?

 You don't have to go away with writing friends to benefit from a retreat (although if you can, do!). The whole point about our retreat is that it's a change from our normal daily routine. Simply altering your own routine, for one day, can make your day more interesting and creatively stimulating. If the first part of your writing day involves you switching on your computer and checking your emails, then make a conscious decision not to do that for one day. Go and sit down with a notebook and pen instead. Don't sit at your writing desk, plonk your bum in a comfy chair.
 Changing your surroundings for an hour or two can make a wonderful difference.

At the end of a 'normal' day - plan a 'different' writing day:

  • Decide what you're going to write about.
  • Decide where you're going to write - in a different room at home, in the garden (if it's warm enough), in the local library, or at a cafe.
  • Make sure you have everything you need with you - pens, notebooks, research material. You don't want to have to keep nipping back to your usual writing place.
  • Treat yourself to 'special' drinks. Don't make instant coffee, have a latte, ground or percolated coffee. Or instead of Sainsburys Red Label tea, have an Earl Grey.
 No matter what you do, however big or small, change it in some way. Use a different pen. Write in a different notebook. Do some completely different writing. (I spend most of my time writing non-fiction, so tackling fiction whilst I was away was wonderful.)

Start off small, with an morning, or afternoon retreat, and you may surprise yourself with what you achieve. Do it once, and you'll soon find yourself planning the next. On my retreat, I managed 3,000 words over the weekend. And now, sitting back at my writing desk, I feel completely refreshed.
 So even though I was still productive over the weekend, as I said in my title, a retreat is as good as a rest!

Good luck.


  1. Sounds & looks lovely - where did you go?

  2. Hi Christine

    We went to the Crogen Estate near Bala. I can heartily recommend it. For more information, visit http://www.crogenestate.com/Accommodation_Accommodation.htm


  3. Simon - looks great fun and also productive what a perfect combination.

  4. Sounds great to get away from the shackles of normal life and devote time to writing, talking about writing plus a bit of exercise so you don't feel too guilty!

  5. Looks fantastic and is a brilliant idea. Glad to hear it was productive.

  6. What a great idea! Writing retreat courses are so expensive, but it sounds like you were just as productive on your do-it-yourself one. I cat-sit for my brother in another county every year and it was in that environment that I (a) started my novel last year and (b) got it out of its dead end this year! Thanks for reminding me that changing your routine can do this too!

  7. Thanks for contributing to the good time we all had, and laying on a guided walk too. I thought you were going to have to carry one of us, going up the hill, but you managed to inspire her. As you inspire us all.