Writing is hard. Well, not always the actual writing but fighting off those pesky distractions is the real battle. There’s always something, a river of excuses, a toddler, housework, that gripping drama on the telly you simply can’t miss, or that shiny new book by your favourite author. Not to mention social media conning you out of your precious time. And then there’s just plain old laziness. How on earth do people stay on task and actually write a book?
Writing retreats have been around for yonks, they sound blissful and artistic, even indulgent perhaps. But are they any good?
The idea of a whole weekend of immersing yourself in the creative process feels like bliss. No responsibilities, no one making demands on your time, just you, your pen and your imagination. However, they can be expensive and far from idyllic, what if you end up with a bunch of plonkers and there’s no escape (think Stephen King’s The Shining)? What if you spend all the money but the words don’t flow.
Maybe you rent a cottage on your own and you could get side-tracked, lost in your own head and lose any productivity. You build yourself up to a writing frenzy and then when you come to sit down to write, your mind goes as blank as the screen.
I had, in all honesty, lost the momentum with my WIP. The word count a stagnant, stinky bucket of word slop. That was until I heard about one day writers retreats with Writers’ HQ.*
I was dubious at first because, well what happens when you squish a load of introverted writers in a room? The answer is silence, awkward silence. Did I want that, did I want to sit next to bunch of strangers while we all wrote about murderous zombie lovers who fly into space and save the planet with a poem. No. Not really.
So against my better judgement I booked on a one day writing retreat anyway. You only live once, hey. Ok, ok, so it was in Birmingham but beggars can’t be choosers.
As it turns out, paying good money was, to my budget-conscious senses, a great motivational force. I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted my time or money paying to sit in a room staring at a wall and writing nothing.
I planned the scenes I wanted to write beforehand, I had a rough word count goal and a skip in my step. Not in the least because it also meant that I had zero child care responsibilities for 8 hours, YAY!
I have to admit that it went really well. There was an endless supply of tea and snacks and lunch was provided. I underestimated the effect that not having responsibility for daily life stuff had on my mindset and more importantly on my productivity.
It was refreshing to not have to think of anything but getting the damn thing written. The general buzz of creativity and tippy tapping of fingers on keyboard helped keep up the momentum.
I worried I’d not reach my word count goal while others seemed to set and achieve far greater word counts than I did. Then I remembered I’m in a one woman race and that for all I knew they might just be writing the same eight words a gazillion times.
I have come to realise how isolating writing can be, no, the characters in your head don’t count as company. Being with other writers and sharing the experience of writing was an enjoyable part of the retreat that I’d not anticipated.
My final observation about the whole experience is the effect of a change of scenery. I tend to write at my desk, tucked away in the corner facing the wall, or at the kitchen table looking out over the garden. This retreat was in an office block, 21 floors up. The view would have been incredible had it not been the epitome of a British grey day. You’ve all heard of the colour British Racing Green, Royal Blue, well now I give you British Winter Grey.
Also, I’m a stay at home mum so going anywhere that isn’t a park or play kingdom is a winner. Still the change-up in scenery, the shiny newness of it all, did impact positively on my writing and impetus to keep plodding on to the end.
Overall, for me, the retreat was well worth it, I definitely plan to do it again. I would recommend you give a writers retreat-for-a-day a go too, if you haven’t already? If you have, I’m curious if it worked for you?