Ever seen writing retreats advertised, and thought to yourself, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice’? Time to give them more than a passing thought: they’re invaluable! Here’s why.
But first: what are writing retreats?
The term can refer to a variety of formats, ranging from DIY to fully organised. This article is about the latter. They’re partially or fully catered and offer daily schedules inclusive of writing workshops, feedback, group discussion, private writing time and, sometimes, optional leisure activities (e.g. walking, or visiting places).
At what stage are they helpful?
Retreats enable significant leaps forward. If you’ve always wanted to write but never had the time, then a retreat covering elements of the craft will get you up the learning curve, fast. If you’re an experienced writer, it will offer you the ideal environment to kickstart or complete a project. A well-structured retreat can address a broad range of needs, especially if numbers are capped.
Are writing retreats expensive?
Some are pricey, some reasonable, and many in-between. Make sure to compare like with like: e.g., a fully catered one-week programme may well turn out to be far better value, and more relaxing, than a 3-day programme with only breakfast included. Some are aimed at the luxury market, some at writers on a budget.
Top ten reasons for going on a writing retreat
- Time and space for you and your writing
Allow yourself a proper break from daily responsibilities and distractions, and focus on your writing. Everything will be taken care of: accommodation, food, workshops… It’s a chance to do something good for you.
- Inspiration and creativity
Most retreats take place in scenic landscapes. Let nature, architecture and people inspire you. Removing yourself from your everyday will open up new possibilities. Your tutor, fellow participants and, generally, the vibrant atmosphere on a retreat will stimulate your creativity.
- Hone your craft
The workshops on most retreats will address at least some (depending on retreat length and focus) of the elements of writing: characterisation, sense of place, structure and plot development, point of view, voice, dialogue… A workshop can be structured to enrich at different levels the craft of a beginner and of a seasoned author – but check in the description whether the retreat is aimed at specific degrees of experience or areas of interest.
There’s nothing like full immersion in your writing to boost both the quantity and quality of your stories. Your characters and imaginative worlds will be more vivid, coherent and psychologically true thanks to the continuity of your focus and your developing skills.
- Feel supported and make friends
Writing does not have to be a lonely business. Yes, you write on your own, but how wonderful to find others who ‘totally get’ what it’s like and who encourage and support your efforts to bring your words into the world. On a retreat, you can share and test in a safe environment what you want to say.
- Quality feedback and your inner critic
The feedback and support from your coach and fellow participants will highlight your strengths (most of us are too close to our own work to perceive them) and enable you to overcome weaknesses, in a supportive atmosphere. This holds true for beginners as much as for published authors, though in different ways. The process will help you tame that pesky inner critic, so that it may work in harmony with, not against, your intuition.
- Learn from each other
You’ll absorb even more from your group than you might realise there and then. It’s partly because you’ll be helping each other with creative problem-solving. You’ll also be learning from each other’s experiences: how do different people build writing time into their daily routine? What happened when they submitted work to competitions, agents or publishers? Which social-media channels and accounts do they find helpful, and how?
- Motivation and confidence
Your motivation and confidence will be boosted by the joy of being able to focus on something you love, by the new skills and insights acquired through the workshops, the sight of others writing, the opportunity to share your words and ideas, and time to reflect on and shape your projects. Like most benefits of the retreat, they will outlast it.
All this makes it sound as if a writing retreat involves incessant work. That isn’t the case. Scheduled workshops and discussions are interspersed with enjoyable social occasions – be they chats over meals or optional walks through the countryside – and time on your own. They say ‘a change is as good as a rest’ – with a retreat, that effect is compounded by having immersed yourself in an activity that nourishes you, in the company of new friends in idyllic surroundings… and often with very good food.
- Writing buddies and mentors
Which brings us to the last point: you’ll have met a group of people with whom you can stay in touch to sustain each other’s writing in practical ways. A retreat can also be an avenue to finding a teacher for the longer term, someone who understands your project and might be available to coach you in future, if and when required.
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(c) Valeria Vescina
Valeria has been teaching creative writing since 2013 to a variety of audiences: from secondary-school pupils to university BA and MA students and from Adult Education classes to individuals. She is a novelist, a reviewer and the Literary Programme Director of the Hampstead Arts Festival.