In the summer I decided to book a writers’ retreat; at the time my husband was planning a trip away, so I thought I’d book something for myself too. Initially, I was quite anxious about the experience as I didn’t know what to expect, but my nerves were soon quashed! it was an amazing experience and I’d absolutely recommend it.
Do you need to go on a retreat to write?
So let’s get that elephant out of the room. You don’t need to go on a retreat to write. I can usually write anywhere and I do find I write better when there is hustle and bustle around me. However, if you also want to get away from your usual writing spot, unwind, relax and dedicate some time to writing without usual distraction or responsibility, then a retreat is for you.
Initially, I was a bit nervous about the retreat, it was mainly the fact that I consider myself to be more of an academic writer and I was worried I’d be a bit out of place alongside the other writers. I can be self-conscious about my writing too, mostly around my grammar use, which tends to hold me back. It is a goal of mine to do more writing for fun and I’d love to write a book someday. I’m trying to take a more two-dimensional approach to writing going forwards. When writing for academia there are rules I need to follow, but when writing for fun, if I like what I have written, does it matter too much what other people think? Blogging is a different matter, I tend to blog in hope that my experiences might help others (or that others might help me), although I do find it quite a cathartic experience and a way of logging my CPD as well. Anyway, hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.
The retreat was for 3 nights and was located in the Lake District, about 30 minutes outside of Carlise. I had looked at a couple of different retreats before booking, but this one stood out for several reasons. Firstly it was full board, with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner included. There were plenty of snacks and drinks available throughout the day. The food was delicious and you definitely weren’t left hungry! Breakfast was made to order, lunch was a buffet and dinner was a set two-course meal where everyone came together to eat. Secondly, a taxi service was available to pick up people travelling by train. I do drive but wouldn’t have driven all the way to Carlise. It was just a nice extra touch knowing that the onward journey was sorted, especially as a woman travelling on her own (to what felt like the middle of nowhere!) Thirdly, I like that the activities were optional and you could choose whether or not to attend on the day. Lastly, I also liked that it was quite intimate, there weren’t hundreds of people staying there, I think in the end there were just 12 of us.
Activities and Workshops
There were activities planned each day, which were optional and during my stay there was a guest author. Ian Gouge facilitated the one-to-one sessions, readings and workshops. There was usually something planned at 11 am then evening activities from 8 pm. Originally I wasn’t going to go to any of the workshops, but ended up going to them all – and I’m glad I did! They were really inspiring and I genuinely came away from the experience having learnt something new. I learnt about found poetry – and that I actually like poetry. I learnt that short stories are enough and that you don’t need to write a huge novel to write something inspiring. In fact, I realised that short stories are just as enjoyable as novels. I have quite a busy life with lots of hobbies so don’t always get time to get stuck into a long book so short stories can be a good remedy for getting that reading fix.
I liked the freedom that the retreat offered; you weren’t forced to write during the workshops, you weren’t forced to attend, so you could, if you wanted to, take the whole thing at your own pace and do what you liked.
I booked a one-to-one session with Ian and I found the session to be immensely useful. Even though my goal was to write up some of my thesis, I found just talking to someone experienced about the issues I have with my writing (rather than the content) really useful. For me, I have an editing compulsion, where I will write something and then rewrite it again and again until an hour has gone by and all I have is a single paragraph. Ian recommended breaking my work down and trying to be more disciplined, by just editing the work written during the previous session. He also helped me with some tips on writing dialogue and recommended writing more non-academic literature. I do feel a lot of pressure when writing for academia; it’s usually such an important piece of work that needs to be accurate, clear and concise. Ian suggested finding something with less pressure associated to it might help alleviate some of the anxieties I feel when writing, and I think he might be right.
My room was lovely, it had high ceilings, ornate furniture and a big ensuite bathroom (I paid extra for a larger room and bed). The writing desk in my room was good to write at, although I also wrote in other rooms around the house. The house was huge and really quiet, I didn’t really hear any noise during the day. I didn’t have the best view from my room, the windows were quite tall so I couldn’t really sit near the window and look out, but I could do that from other areas around the house. The weather wasn’t too bad and some people opted to write outside. There was also a swimming pool and a hot tub, but I didn’t go into those as it was a bit too cold for me.
It felt like the house was in the middle of nowhere – there were lovely walks around the grounds which helped to break up my writing and eating sessions! It absolutely poured down with rain on the last day when we were leaving and I think if the weather had been that bad during the entire trip I might have felt a bit caged up – but I suppose I was meant to be writing, so maybe I would have got more work done.
The other people on the retreat were lovely, I don’t think I could have asked for a better group of people to have spent 3 days with. There was a real diversity in age and background and everyone was writing something so different. It was really good to speak to other people and learn about what they were doing.
During my time at the retreat, I wrote about 1,500 words of my thesis, an abstract for a possible publication, a 100-word story and a found poem. I don’t think I got as much writing done as I originally intended, but I did come away feeling relaxed and inspired.
The last evening was “reading evening” where people could read out what they had been working on. I decided to read my found poem and my 100-word story. I would never in a million years have thought I’d read something I’d written out loud to anyone. Especially as the poem I wrote was the first poem I’d ever written as an adult and I’d only just written it at the retreat. It was quite empowering. I don’t know what the others thought, but I liked my poem and even though I was really nervous reading it out, I’m glad I stretched myself and did it. I really enjoyed hearing readings from other people too and it was great to see what others had achieved during the retreat.
I’d definitely like to go on another retreat in the future,