To Retreat, Or Not To Retreat?

Get away from it all...

Get away from it all…

I’ve been thinking recently about writing retreats. I know that organised retreats are popular, the amount of ads in Writing Magazine alone testament to their popularity. And I can see how, for many people, spending time somewhere with the express purpose of writing would be a wonderful pathway to creativity. However, I’ve never been on one myself.

It’s a tempting idea, to sit in a room with nothing more pressing to do for the next few days or weeks or however long than write. Ever since I’ve started writing, it’s always been with a backdrop of other things to do. A child to care for, work to go to or complete, a house to manage, appointments to get to, phone calls to take, classes to attend – you know, the usual bits and pieces of a busy life. Sure, I take walks and work out plot points, but those walks are usually to or from somewhere, like school or the shops or the dojo. When I’m on holiday, I always take my notebooks and part of a WIP with the best of intentions, yet I usually go home without much progress made.

I was talking to my brother about this a while ago – he’s a musician and artist, so is very familiar with the creative process. He agreed with me, that he’s always more creative when he’s busy. On his rare downtime, he finds he doesn’t really write many songs – it’s only when there are lots of other things happening that the music flows.

I know that writing retreats work for other people – I’m just not sure they would work for me. The idea of waking up and knowing I’m supposed to be writing would seem like the worst sort of pressure. And I personally feel I would find that counterproductive.

There’s a place quite near to where I live called The Booksellers Retreat. I had thought it a writing retreat sort of place, where you could rent a room for a day or week or longer, expressly for the purpose of concentrating on writing. However, it is something different to that, as I’ve subsequently discovered and, after some more research, I will write a post about it. But it got me thinking about the idea of a writing retreat, and whether it’s worth getting away from it all to write.

So I’m putting it out there. Have any of you attended writing retreats? And, if so, did they work for you? Or do you thrive on being busy, preferring to write as and when the muse comes to you?

55 thoughts on “To Retreat, Or Not To Retreat?

  1. I’m still dreaming about that Write-NaNoWriMo-in-a-Castle retreat that Derek Murphy is organising. But you’re right, I’m not sure how much writing I’d get done. The experience would be fabulous, though…

  2. I went on a retreat in France with Circle of Misse ( last autumn and found it a very productive time. I went specifically to develop a detailed outline for my second novel, and I got all the way there, some 6,000 words or so, in a week, along with pushing out the first chapter or two in very rough form. It was a worthwhile experience from a writing perspective, but it was also a lovely holiday in a beautiful place, in the very pleasant company of other writers. I think there’s a value in clearing away the clutter of ‘real life’ to write for a few days in a totally immersive way. My problem is, since that point, I’ve written… almost nothing at all!

    • Oh Jools, that sounds absolutely lovely! I’m coming around to the idea a little more, I must say, hearing about all these lovely places and the fact that it can be a pleasant writerly experience. Hope you pick up a pen again soon! 🙂

      • I’ll be getting back to writing when I’m a little less busy with work. Meanwhile I’d warmly recommend Misse for courses and retreat. I’ll be going again, maybe next year.

  3. No, never thought of it Helen, but I’ve read about many Authors, such as Agatha Christie, who would take writing retreats. In fact, I visited the place she went to write only a few weeks ago. Looks as if it worked for her.

  4. I would like to go just to be in the vacinity of so many writers and artistic types. The air would team with words we would bounce off each others thoughts. One that was yoga and healthy eating (prepared by people in the know) I would write and swim and yogatise… talk and write and learn. I think I would love it, if you didn’t write much you would soak up so much just by sitting under the collective word tree. I am in Somerset maybe a group of us could…

    • Hi Amanda! I saw you on Saturday, but it was just as you were leaving, so I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hello to you.
      Yes, the writer’s retreat – I’ve never been on one but, judging by the comments, they’re pretty popular. I think one might be being organised right now…

      • Oh, that’s okay. I apologise too. I didn’t get to speak to half of the people I wanted to speak to and I felt awful for having to leave early. The weekend was a bit of a disaster actually (although, I did enjoy the blogger’s bash!) I’ll explain in my next blog. It was a strange weekend, put it that way 😳

        Next year, I’ll make sure I have more time and if you’re organising a writers retreat – count me in! 🙂

      • Oh no, sorry to hear it was a disaster (other than the Bash) – I’ll wait to hear on your next post!
        And no need to apologise, I didn’t speak to half the people I wanted to, the day just flew by so quickly. Next time 🙂
        And if we organise a retreat, I’ll let you know!

  5. oh yes love them; mostly because there are other writers around and you talak to them at mealtimes about process and problems and having them nearby they inspire me to write more.

    • I do fancy it! It looks quite extraordinary, actually. Apparently Sacha was talking to Suzie about setting something up, then Ellen downthread was talking about doing something in Somerset, and I notice Italy has also been mentioned. This Irish retreat sounds pretty amazing – sounds like we might need to give it a go!

  6. The retreat idea has sounded fascinating to me also…but I’ve never been sure I could produce under pressure. My writing has always been a little spontaneous.

    • That’s how I feel, too – like I’d be under pressure to produce something, which is a bit of a passion killer 😀 However, I won’t knock it till I’ve tried it – at least it might be a nice social thing to do, if nothing else.

  7. I would love to (have always wanted to) go to a writing retreat. ❤ I've been to writers conferences but that's completely different and not at all the atmosphere of a writing retreat (and by that I mean what I've made up in my head since I've never been to one but whatever). Go. Write. Be happy.

    • Hehe, I have a vision of writing retreats as well, and I always kind of thought you spent most of your time alone, but apparently they are quite social. I imagine there’s not as much pressure to share as there would be at a workshop, though. Might need to give it a try… 🙂

  8. While I’ve never attended one, I like the idea of a writing retreat. It appeals to me because sometimes the muse can come to you simply by being in a different environment. A change of pace can oftentimes stir creativity.

  9. I keep having exactly the same thoughts as you, Helen. Having to steal the time to write means you never get writer’s block! However, I agree with Goeff that it’s inspiring to talk with other writers. So might be worth a try – but not Somerset, Tuscany, maybe? So if no writing gets done, at least there’ll be sun and pasta…

    • Ooh I love the idea of Tuscany! I think it would be inspiring just to be there and, if no words come, like you say there will be sun and pasta 🙂 Ali has also posted a link to a beautiful place in Ireland, where I think you could soak up the scenery and history if nothing else. I’m starting to think it might be worth a try 🙂

  10. I once attended a Writer’s Weekend Seminar on Denman Island…one of the Gulf Islands off the BC Coast…Jack Hodgins chaired the seminar. It was very good. It was more of a workshop though where we all looked at each other’s writings. But it was helpful where style and focus are concerned. I do attend a monthly writing group in my town here. It’s very small. But it does help us to get the creative juices flowing. I think they can be helpful even if it just makes you move forward on your project, like the Camp NaNoWriMo. To me, writing is always personal, as are the rewards of a writing group.

    • Yes, writing really is a personal journey, and we all have our own ways of getting there. I’ve certainly found beta readers so helpful, and I imagine a writing group would be much the same in terms of getting feedback. Sadly, there’s not one where I live, so maybe I do need to try a retreat after all… Your one on Denman Island sounds great – I imagine the scenery alone would have been inspiring.

  11. Go for it, Helen! I’ve gone away specifically to write a few times now, and it’s always been worthwhile. I’ve done self-organised solo retreats and a couple of years’ ago, I won a residency to a beautiful old house in the Blue Mountains called ‘Varuna’. I was there with four other writers, and we worked during the day, then met for dinner and sat around afterwards, reading and chatting. It was a very productive time, and I made good friendships, too. It was for two weeks, and towards the end, I must admit it was getting hard to sit at my desk and keep writing. I’ve also hired cottages in the bush and out of internet range for a week at a time, and I’ve found those productive, too. It takes a day or so to let go of everything at home, but then the world of your characters takes over and you don’t have to come out that world! Writing retreats get the thumbs up from me! 🙂

    • Yes, I remember you writing about a recent retreat you took, and how helpful it was. And the Varuna residency in the Blue Mountains sounds wonderful – I used to love going up there when we lived in Sydney, it’s just such a beautiful place. I must say, I think I do need to try a retreat one day, just to see if it would work for me. I am finding at the moment that I’m snatching bits of time here and there to write, so perhaps having some dedicated time would be really good. Hmmm, need to get onto doing this…

      • I think every writer should go away for at least a week, and do it at least once a year. In my ideal world, I’d go to Italy or England or Ireland, or somewhere conducive to writing, for four weeks, so that I could have time to walk and explore and so forth, as well as write. That will never happen, of course, but I do envy writers who do it. And I can dream … *sigh*

      • Wow, that’s a wonderful dream, Louise. You never know, you might get to live it one day. A week away for me would be fantastic at the moment – I have booked a weekend away in September, where I’ll be walking the old stone circles as part of a workshop. I think that might be pretty inspiring, though I don’t know that I’ll get much writing done.

  12. I’ve been on retreats and always found them productive, I think it’s because being with other writers puts you under pressure to write in the best way possible. I definitely recommend them. And whether it’s with writers or not, I write best when there’s somebody in the same building. Total solitude doesn’t tend to work for my creative thinking. Ireland does have some amazing writing retreats, although many are hideously expensive and only accessible through the sorts of bursaries awarded to writers already recognised by the cultural establishment. Doesn’t mean I’d refuse one though 😉

    • It’s been very interesting reading the comments on this post, because I think perhaps my idea of retreats didn’t necessarily match the reality. So now I’m intrigued to try one and see what happens. Ali shared a link for a gorgeous one near her, but I haven’t had the guts to look at the prices yet…
      Still, it’s good to hear you find retreats to be productive. Now I just need to sell enough books to afford to go on one!

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