Why Residential Workshops Are A Great Idea by Brian Finnegan

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Brian Finnegan

Brian Finnegan

Do you dream of a time and space where you can write without the multiple interruptions of daily life dragging at your heels, and with the encouragement you need to keep going available on tap? A residential workshop might be just the thing you need.

Lots of writers dream of a time and space where they can work unencumbered by the day-to-day grind of living, where their work will be encouraged, understood and nurtured, and where their imaginations can be given a chance to roam free without interruption. I say ‘lots of writers’ because there are very few of us who have the luxury of not having to do a day job to make ends meet. Unless we’re independently wealthy, or huge bestselling authors, we mostly fit our writing into the hours where jobs and family and cooking and housework and supermarket shopping, and all the things we have to do to survive in the world, don’t interfere. Those hours are few and far between.

The Luxury of Writing Time

Before I left my full-time job as a magazine editor, I wrote in the mornings before work. I’d get up at 5.30am, shower, make a pot of coffee and be at my desk by 6am, ready for three hours of writing before I had to leave the house. It was a tough schedule to maintain, but easier for me than having to sit down at my writing desk after a full day’s work.

Not everyone has the luxury of finding even an hour or two for writing alone. Juggling family, job and home leaves very little time for writing at all. My son was grown up and in college before I could embark on my early-morning routine.

For a long time I stumbled and mostly fell, trying to write in the in-between times, never quite getting a flow, not finding my way to the end of the first draft of the novel I so desperately wanted to be published. Then I came across an ad for a residential workshop on a far-flung Grecian island that promised me what I felt was lacking in my writing life – mainly time. I had two weeks worth of holidays coming up, so I took the plunge and registered.

Expectation and Trepidation

I went on the residential workshop with a combination of great expectation and trepidation. It promised a world-renowned tutor and a beautiful, quiet location where I would be encouraged to relax and just let the words flow. Because I needed this so much, I was afraid I’d get blocked.

Having invested my time and money, I worried I’d find myself even more pressurised to deliver. What if all the other writers were better than me? What if they were all published and smug about it? What if the tutor didn’t rate my work? What if, what if, what if?

There was another ‘what if?’ in my mind too. What if I finished my first draft? I’d been working for over a year at it, but I was still floundering two-thirds the way in. I thought this was because of time constraints, and to a point it was, but what I found on the residential was that mainly I needed someone with knowledge of the process to take my work seriously enough to help push me towards the finishing line. Unlike published authors, I didn’t have an editor to do this. I was working in a vacuum, not sure if anyone would even want to read what I had to write, or whether it would ever see the light of day.

Wholly Immersed

Workshops took place in the mornings after breakfast. They were about the nuts and bolts of writing, full of practical advice and excercises about plot and character development, first pages, the middle, and endings, and I got a huge amount from them. By the time I settled down to write in the afternoons, I was raring to go. The space was amazing, not only the surroundings, but the headspace. From day one I found myself wholly immersed in my writing in a way I’d never had the chance to be before. By the end of the week, I had my first draft done, bolstered and improved upon with the great one-on-one advice I got from the tutor. (By the end of the year I had a publisher.)

The Big Bonus

The great bonus was meeting other writers in the same boat as me, and getting to spend quality time with them. It was like finding my own community for a week, a group of people who cared as much about writing as I did, who wanted to talk about the art of it and the pitfalls. I learned a huge amount from the chats we had and there were some great laughs along the way. Some of them have become close friends who I share my thoughts about writing with to this day.

Once when I was waxing lyrical about my experience, a friend said: ‘Yeah, but residentials aren’t for every writer.’

I’m not sure I agree. What writer wouldn’t want a break from their desk in a place and space where their work could be nurtured and encouraged, and where the usually solitary task of writing could be a more shared experience? If you haven’t given yourself that gift, and you’re in the position to afford it, I’d say do it now.

The Free With Words retreat, with tutor Paul McVeigh and facilitator Brian Finnegan, takes place in Tuscany  from September 7-14th, 2019. Find out more here.

(c) Brian Finnegan


About Knowing Me, Knowing You:

1983 – an unforgettable summer of rebellion, first love and shared secrets for four teenage friends and ABBA fans. Three decades on, and much has changed . . . Devoted wife and mother-of-two Maggie Corcoran can barely recall the freedom of those halcyon days, as she comes to terms with some life-shattering news – alone. Reclusive ex-pop star Daniel Smith is reluctantly back in the super trouper limelight, and problems close to home are challenging his desperate need to hide away.Dee, now a successful business woman, has come a long way since her wild youth. But while she’s very bit a force to be reckoned with in the boardroom, her marriage tells a different story.And for the once shy and retiring Charlie, life has changed in ways the four could never have imagined. But personal happiness has come at a heart-breaking price.When Maggie decides to reform the old crowd for an ABBA reunion concert in Stockholm, old memories are reawakened, good and bad. And each discovers that to lay the past to rest, sometimes you’ve got to take a chance on the future . . .

Order your copy online here.

About the author

When I was 10 years old I won first prize in my class in a story writing competition and had my Eureka! moment. When I grow up, I decided, I am going to write books.

It’s taken me a long time to grow up. In the meantime, I’ve been a painter (after getting a degree in fine art), an usher at the Chippendales strip show, a production line worker in the Chap Stick Factory, Santa Claus in a department store, a market stall owner, and a reliable line-up member for the police. A stint as a magazine designer led me back to writing. I became a freelance journalist, writing for most of the newspapers in Ireland, and a magazine editor, which I still do as a day job.
But the hankering to write a book always remained, so a couple of years ago I decided to take my courage in my hands and strike out at last. The result was my first novel, The Forced Redundancy Film Club, published by Hachette Books.
My second novel, Knowing Me, Knowing You was published, the story of a teenage ABBA fanclub who reunite 30 years later, when ABBA play one reunion concert in Stockholm. I realised throughout the writing of this book that what interests me, and what informs my books so far, is the complicated ties of friendship.

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