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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Nothing Could Be Heard

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For many, those words cast a shadow over their weekend. For others, they are a light to which we flutter. Every second Monday, joy of joys, PenPals meet. PenPals Writers’ Club. We meet to share thoughts, inspiration, ideas and writing, and each meeting we select a writing prompt to encourage us to write something we can share at the next meeting.

Often, there is a mad scurry on Sunday night or Monday morning to wrestle something out of the ether. Other times, much thought and research goes into the production of a short story, an essay or a poem, which comes together…often in a mad scurry on Sunday night or Monday morning. Most times, it’s a mixture of the two: the prompt wanders around inside our heads, gathering crumbs of information, marinating thoughts until they’re ready for serving…usually in a mad scurry on Sunday night or Monday morning.

So, today, and for the next few days, I’d like to share some of the results of this Monday’s meeting using the prompt, ‘Nothing could be heard.’

First up, I’ll give you my own effort, not because it won any prizes. Far from it. I felt humbled by the quality of my fellow members’ efforts. Mine is short and simple by comparison, and falls into the first of the mad scurry categories, being wrestled from the ether in the wee small hours of Sunday night/Monday morning and bears the hallmark of one who is lying awake in the loneliness of a dark night.

Image: night sky by epichtekill

Night_Sky_by_EPICHTEKILL

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Nothing Could Be Heard

Nothing could be heard when the midnight sky was plundered
By the billowing, belching cloud
Stolen stars were silenced
Disappeared without a word

Nothing could be heard when with pain my heart was sundered
By words written in a note
Terminating love forever
Derelict of hope or thought

Nothing can be heard as I go under
In the waves of tortured blue
Only the cry of night birds
Screaming reproach on all who knew

No-one tries to save me
No helping hand is found
Nothing can be heard in the ocean of pain
Where I drown without a sound

*Christine*

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Her Need to Write

 

From time to time, someone will ask a writer why they write. Sometimes it is a question with a barb, as in…Why do you bother to write? No-one is going to want to read it. Or a question with genuine incomprehension, as in…Why would anyone want to write when you can just watch the tele? But most times, it is a genuine question, requesting a genuine answer. An answer that is not always easy to give.

Having started up our writing group again after a longish break, I set that question, among others, as our first exercise. I sent out the Agenda: I always send out an Agenda. It gives me an air of being organised: of knowing what I am doing. So, this time, on the Agenda I asked our members to give some thought about a few important questions: questions I feel are as good a starting place as any to set the scene for a season of writing.

What have we been writing? What do we want to write? What stops us writing? What are we going to do about it? How can we help one another? Why do we write?

And I asked everyone: ‘Tell us your unique story about you as a writer.’ 

The results were amazing and very thought-provoking. One, in particular, I really wish I had written.

Does that ever happen to you? You read something that gets in about you: something powerful, that says exactly what needs to be said…and you wish you had been the one to say it.

I’m hoping you’ll get the chance to meet the writer of the following piece quite soon. I’ve invited her to join us by the fire for a bit of a chat, but she’s very shy and isn’t sure she can talk about herself and her writing. She has written this piece in third person, as you’ll see, because she found it hard to write something so personal for public perusal. I am indebted to you, Sharon, for permitting me to publish it here, on my blog.

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Her Need To Write

by

Sharon Scordecchia

Her writing started four years ago, born out of need. You see, she’d lost her real voice. Her voice had become wired to grief and fear. When she spoke her heart rate increased, her throat restricted and her eyes stung. Her real voice worried its listeners.

She began to write about her thoughts and feelings. They were all crammed inside her head and heart, jamming up her throat. She needed to scream them out without making a sound. Some of those thoughts she was supposed to stifle, to beat to nothing. Nobody wanted to hear them – they were dangerous, sometimes violent. She needed to silently unwrap them and lay them bare – black words on a clean, white page. She needed to stare them out, play with them, mix them up a bit, make some sense of them, then to leave them on the page to grow stale and mouldy. She wrote to diminish the resentment, disappointment and grief she’d felt.

            Her other need to write? Well, it’s because she couldn’t remember who she was. She needed to write down some small memories before they disappeared. She needed to write, to paint the scenery in her mind, to gather the players, set her own stage and collect all the props. She needed to dim the lighting and turn on the spotlight, to start searching for her loves and hates, her memories and desires. She needed to write to gather together her own perfect words.

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