An email landed in my in-box a couple of weeks ago. If I booked early, there were spaces on a four-day writers retreat for just £375 (about $480 US) for next spring. Now whether I am a real, actual Capital-W writer or not we’ll leave to one side for now – it’s a different topic or debate. Whatever the case, the retreat sounded lovely – the location, the meals, the accommodation, plus tuition… And totally unaffordable. I do not suggest it is poor value for money, simply too expensive for me.
Yet the idea is highly appealing. Think how much you’d get done, the satisfaction, the sheer head space. In fitting in writing at home between work, commuting, family, everything else, many of us struggle to gain simple, undistracted time and space for more than an hour or two on most days.
Coincidentally, my two children were off for a week with their father, leaving me with the house to myself. Four days of that week I had to go to work, but taking a Friday off gave me three days of solo living. Could I use that opportunity to recreate a writers retreat in my own home? Or, at least, gain some the benefits ?
The advantages of retreats, tuition or mentoring aside, evidently include the below:
- Time only to write – ie to focus, get more done, perhaps improve… Without distractions or ‘excuses’.
- Physical space – dedicated for you to write, in peace, whether alone or communally.
- Gain a chance to establish new writing habits – or try out ‘what works for you’.
- Leaving behind the distractions of daily life for a new setting – at least physically, and one hopes mentally.
- The fresh perspective gained from being in a new location – which may itself provide inspiration.
- Interaction with other writers – apart from immediate feedback, this can mean stimulating ideas, gaining a sense of community, future networking, gaining support….
- Some locations also have additional resources, such as access to a library.
In trying this at home, numbers 5 and 6 are an obvious no. Numbers 4 and 7? Not completely. Numbers 1, 2, and even 3? Perhaps. Here’s what I did and how it went.
First I had to establish some ‘rules’ for myself, as below.
- The sole leisure activity is writing. No countryside hikes, furniture upcycling, baking, gardening, whatever. And no social events either. I am a massive homebody, so this one is fairly
easy for me, yet even I had to turn down a lunch invitation. Limiting reading was harder for I love the luxury of a rare ‘big-reading’ session, but it had to be restricted.
- Keep practical activity, such as housework, to a restricted time-slot. I remember a published author telling me that if she wanted to write, too bad if there were dishes in the sink and vacuuming to be done; it could go hang. I cannot quite do that. Our house is no show-home, but I need to tidy the ‘top layer’ to get it off my mind (and as it’s the long summer holiday with the kids around a lot, eruptions of extra mess ensue). Still, I limited myself to a block of morning housework and that had to be it.
- Leave the house – but not for too long. Felt a bit weird this, but I rationed myself to a short walk each day to get a minor bit of fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise, plus any shopping (for food only). Long walks may be inspirational or free the mind, but I could not fit them in.
- Have a schedule and set some goals – itemise what you want to get done, or how many hours, or how many words — whatever a helpful unit of measurement may be.
- Have a work station that can stay ready throughout. Gather and lay out in advance what you’ll need or like to have around you, then leave it set up.
- Plan in small treats – such as making something simple (i.e. not time-consuming!) but gorgeous for dinner with a glass of wine, or having a hot bath with something delicious in it (or someone delicious in it, if that’s an option), etc., to reward yourself.
Was it worth not doing anything else for a weekend? I think so. Doing more writing may still not make you into a writer, but it was satisfying and I made the progress I wanted. It was a bit anti-social, and other hobbies were ‘neglected’, but only for one long weekend. And it made a change from constantly ‘fitting in’ writing, giving it a good run – the same would be true for any non-day job activity. A painting, crafting, gardening (and so on) retreat would have the same rules apply.
So maybe I could not totally recreate a writers retreat at home, but I did manage to get some of the advantages – under certain circumstances. Not a retreat then, but a wee (i.e. small) treat.
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