I first attended a residential retreat in Devon with Urban Writers’ Retreat in January 2017. Since then, up until January 2020, I went on retreat with Charlie two or three times a year.
Then, of course, retreats weren’t possible for a couple of years – but now I’m back! This is day six of my first writing retreat in over two years, and it’s been a glorious and fascinating experience.
First of all, it’s amazing to be away, somewhere different from home, but still familiar in the best possible way. Plus, obviously, it’s great to have the amazing Charlie taking care of everything in terms of food (and the food is incredible – especially since she makes individual snacks and desserts for me, without sugar and low in carbs).
But, the most important thing is the time and space to dedicate to my own writing – away from paid work, away from the distractions of home, and away from the obstacles I often throw in my own path.
As I remember it, I generally used to only attend the retreats for three nights rather than six – I think I did the full six once, and decided it was too long to stay motivated and focused. This time, I jumped at the opportunity for nearly a whole week away, and I haven’t regretted it.
I packed all sorts of different things to do – a wish-list of actual writing-related projects/activities, plus plenty of books, TV, knitting, etc, for relaxation purposes. And I gave myself permission to spend the time however I wanted. On one retreat, several years ago, I mostly slept and watched TV and Charlie said that was fair enough if that’s what it turned out I really needed to do. So, I was prepared for this whole week to be a total wash, in terms of progress on my projects.
But, I really surprised myself! Given the opportunity to do whatever I wanted for six whole days, in a lovely room in a gorgeous farmhouse in beautiful countryside – I actually spent most of my time working on my writing. I was worried I might burn out (and I did flag a bit yesterday), but I’ve actually kept up the productivity at quite a high level the whole time.
Admittedly, I was at one of the easiest and most fun stages of the novel-writing process for both novels – processing, collating and organising feedback from other people, with a view to building a revision plan. I love the planning – I’m just not that keen on the actual work!
So, it was relatively easy to stay focused, especially since I had several projects I could switch between. I wrote tons and tons of notes, came up with quite a few (hopefully) awesome ideas, did a lot of work around expanding and refining my outlining process, and generally really enjoyed working on my writing.
The resulting revision plan for my third novel is a lot more extensive than I anticipated, which isn’t a good sign for how much work I’ll now have to do on the actual revisions, but I’m feeling quite enthusiastic about getting on with it and making it as good as it can be. I don’t expect that motivation to last, but I hope I’ll be able to stick it out and not give up on it before it’s really ready.
So, perhaps there are lessons to be learned here. In the right circumstances, I can be very passionate about my writing, and I certainly have a greater capacity for sustained focus than I thought. But paid work and domestic obligations (and general laziness) often get in the way, and prevent me from spending as much energy on my writing as I’d like.
I’ve revised my timeline for the rest of the year, to give me more time to work on the novel revisions. I’m also planning to send the new version back to my editor for another round of feedback, which will extend the timeframe even more. But I think it will be worth it – and it’s not as if I have any external deadlines I need to meet.
The tricky bit will be finding a balance between giving myself enough time and staying motivated to keep plugging away at it until it’s done. But that’s a challenge for another day. At the moment, I’m feeling very proud of what I’ve achieved and excited about where I’m going with it next.
And I’ll definitely be booking onto another retreat as soon as I can!