Getting the Most from your Writers’ Retreat

You’ve gathered a few writing buddies together and you’ve booked a cottage in the country, you’re all set to try your hand at creating a Writers’ Retreat. So, how are you going to get the maximum benefit from it while putting the minimum time into planning it? Because, let’s face it, we’re writers. We want to write. Not spend hours and hours organising ourselves to write.

So do have a meeting or a virtual meeting before you go, to decide the main things in advance.

My friends and I have tried different approaches and each time we have gone away for a week, we have structured it a little differently so perhaps the most helpful thing for me to do would be to tell you some of the things that work well, not necessarily the things we have done.

One of the things to remember is, although you are going to your retreat to write, you will also need to eat, so planning a rough menu beforehand is worth considering. Shopping for that menu can be done in advance if you have room in the car for the shopping. Failing that, perhaps locate the nearest supermarket to you cottage and, after you unload the car, you can go back out for a shopping trip. This is where the planning meeting is useful. You can decide things like:

Will you share the cooking, perhaps on a daily rota? Or will everyone fend for themselves?

Will you share the shopping or will one of you volunteer to bring the supplies to the cottage and everyone chip in with their share of the cost?

Your meals need not be elaborate affairs. As long as there are plenty of basic things like bread and cheese, plenty salad and fruit, wine and coffee, everyone is usually happy to see to themselves for breakfast and lunch, unless your group wish to plan who prepares these meals too. Good to know in advance who is going to be responsible for producing a simple evening meal. Do one or two of your group particularly enjoy cooking? Or should you make a rota for everyone to have a turn.

Simplicity is the key.

No-one wants to spend the best part of the day in the kitchen — unless cooking is their passion, of course. In which case, enjoy! It’s a creative retreat, after all, and cooking is another delightful creative outlet.

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Something else you might want to discuss beforehand is whether you want to use the retreat as a quiet place, conducive to writing, where you can each get on quietly with your WIP uninterrupted, or would you like to also have some structured writing time. If so, it would be good to plan who will lead that session and how. There are many useful books with suggestions for writing exercises, or you may have some old favourites of your own.

Starting the day with a little light physical exercise, like a short walk or such, followed by a timed writing exercise or two can be useful to wake up the body and the writing muscles. Similarly, it’s important to incorporate short breaks in the day to stretch out the muscles, get some fresh air and refresh yourselves.

After eating the evening meal, it can be pleasant to spend time relaxing together for a while, perhaps watching a film, playing music, or just sitting chatting over a glass of wine.

This might also be a time you would enjoy reading out some of your day’s writing to one another and getting some feedback.

Set goals.

At the planning stage, it is good to discuss together what each member of the party hopes to achieve. Whether some of you want to set yourselves a daily word count, or a weekly one, whether the aim is to edit a certain number of pages, poems or chapters, the best way to achieve the maximum benefit from your retreat is to set clear goals and encourage one another to work towards them.

Respect one another’s space.

Respect the silence.

Respect each other’s writing.

At the end of your week or weekend together, celebrate!

Discuss what worked and what didn’t, what helped and what hindered, and plan your next retreat.

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What about turning your annual vacation into a personal writer’s retreat?

If your friend or your spouse likes fishing, skiing, white water rafting and you don’t, why not book a log cabin where he or she can do their thing and you can write, sharing a meal together in the evening, a glass of wine by the fire or in the evening sun, sharing the stories of the day.

My husband and I do this from time to time, where he pursues his interests during the day while I enjoy some quiet writing time and we share the evenings together. It works.

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I would love to hear your suggestions.

What have you tried?

Have you enjoyed the luxury of a Writers’ Retreat?

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Many of my novels have been partly written on one of the writing retreats my writers’ group have enjoyed over the years. You can find them all on Amazon Kindle or here if you prefer a paperback edition.

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How to Plan a Writers’ Retreat

Ever thought about planning your very own Writers’ Retreat?

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I suspect most authors dream of a quiet cottage somewhere away from the day-to-day routine, somewhere to concentrate on getting that first draft finished, or that tricky edit done, a place conducive to writing with as few distractions as possible.

The ones you see advertised in writing magazines always look terrific, but are often expensive. Then there’s the uncomfortable feeling that you won’t know anyone. What if you have to share a room? What if there are people there that you just don’t gel with? What if not everyone is serious about getting on with writing and they see the week as an excuse to party?

So many reasons to never get around to indulging in the luxury of a writers’ retreat.

But what if you were the organiser? You, or your friends? Many of these doubts and worries would be alleviated. You could choose the location, the price, and the company. You could set the tone.

For the past few years, that is exactly what my writing friends and I have done.

So, how do we go about it?

Perhaps the first decision has to be who to go with. That was an easy one for us because we had already formed a small Writers’ Club, PenPals. We are friends who got to know one another through our love of writing, and, although there are some ten or so of us, nominally, there are three of us who meet regularly, so three of us who have gone away together the last few years. The first time, there were four of us, but we haven’t managed more than that at any one retreat. We have found three or four to work well, though I can imagine six or eight would still be manageable, if you found a large enough cottage.

The beauty of the smaller number is privacy.

When we went away in March, this year, the cottage was large enough that we could have a room each, great if someone snores! And great for being able to write without distraction.

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The second decision is where to go.

This is not difficult. There are always going to be a few deciding factors: price; availability, and suitability among the important ones.

Let’s deal with suitability first.

Suitability might include size. How many of you are committed to the venture? Are you willing to share two to a room? These factors will help determine the size of cottage you need.

Suitability might also include location. How far are you willing to travel? Is there an obvious halfway point between your various homes? Is there a pleasant area nearby, where there are holiday cottages for rent? Is the cottage somewhere suitably quiet? Renting one in a holiday park may not be conducive to quiet reflection and peaceful writing.

Next, you might consider price.

How much will your share of the rental, the petrol and the food be? How much are you each willing to pay? If you have a figure in mind, it might help you narrow down any options.

Obviously, the price will vary depending on the size of the cottage, but it will also vary depending on when you choose to go. Most holiday cottages are cheaper ‘off-season’ when the demand for them is lower.

Armed with information like that, you can then go on-line to look for your retreat.

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This last time, in March, we went a little further afield than usual, paid a little more than usual and had a bigger cottage. The main reason was because one of our members was writing a book set in that particular area and we wanted to support her in exploring it. We didn’t regret the decision to go there. It was a fabulous cottage in a stunning location, here in Scotland on a hill overlooking Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

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Okay! So let’s say you have chosen your company, your location, your price. You’ve booked your cottage and you’re ready to go.

What now?

How do you turn a few friends holidaying together in a cottage into a Writers’ Retreat?

In my next post, we will discuss what to do to get the maximum benefit from your inspirational break.

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Country Living

There are a lot of advantages to country living.

It is blissfully quiet and peaceful.

We have a lot of fun with our children and grandchildren in the fields behind our garden, and we have a beautiful open view. Sometimes there are cows or sheep in the field, sometimes there are swans or ducks on the pond that has formed in the field. Even the winter, when there is snow on the hills, can be very beautiful.

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But, oh my goodness, there are disadvantages to living in the country too.

I say we live in the country, and we do, but, it is not the ‘middle of nowhere.’ We are only two and a half miles from the nearest small town of South Queensferry, only about fifteen miles from the centre of Edinburgh. Yet, as far as commodities like electricity, water and internet access go, we could be living in a lost civilisation.

We are frequently without electricity for short periods or, sometimes, long periods of time. A few years ago we were without power for seventeen days. Trying, to say the least.

We seem to be at the end of a pipeline, water wise, and our water gets turned off at irregular intervals while repairs and maintenance are carried out — somewhere — not always even in our village.

As for the Internet!

Well, according to the engineers we have consulted, we are too far from the exchange and too far from the mast, which also explains why our mobile phone signal is also poor. The lines cannot sustain faster broadband so, at best, our internet is slow. At worst, it is dead.

But all is not lost! We received a letter from West Lothian Council telling us, in bold type:

Super-fast Broadband will come to your village after All!

The lesson is to NEVER give up…

and then they proceeded to outline the agreement they have made with the provider that our area, including our village, will have

Fiber optic Broadband services — that will work for everyone —

and that it will be delivered to our village in, wait for it……. 2017.

Talk about anti-climax.

At least three years till we can be sure of sending an email on time, posting a blogpost when I choose rather than when the Internet is up and running, picking up comments and replying right away, carrying out a transaction, or uploading a video without the connection failing partway through.

Ah, well! As we were.

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In light of the above rant, it might sound strange, but our writers’ group is heading off on Saturday for a week in a cottage that really is in the middle of nowhere, with NO Internet or mobile signal at all.

We were in our special little cottage retreat last September and loved it, so we are going back for more. A week of writing and talking about writing with no distraction or disturbance. YES!

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I doubt if we’ll be sitting out on the patio at this time of year, unless we wrap up in coats, hats and duvets, but we will definitely be writing.

Jane assures us she has packed plenty of treats of the chocolate variety.

The farmer assures us he has stocked up the woodshed with plenty of logs for the open fire. Plus there is excellent central heating.

We plan to meet a couple more writing buddies for lunch and writing discussion on the way up the road, then we’re off into the wilds of Angus to our writing retreat.

So, it may be some time till you hear from me, but, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine!

Meanwhile, all my novels are available in Kindle or Paperback


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