Writing full-time vs a writing retreat

In my last post I talked about my experience of writing full-time for a week. During that week, I received an email from Charlie at Urban Writers notifying me that bookings were open for her next round of residential writing retreats.

A couple of years ago I enjoyed one of Charlie’s retreats in the beautiful Devon countryside, and I highly recommend this approach if you can eke out the time and money. Not only did I have several days in which to focus on my novel, I also met and bonded with other writers, ate copious amounts of Charlie’s delicious food, wandered up and down hills, nearly got run over by a herd of sheep, wept over Kate Atkinson’s marvellous Life After Life, and slept in a beautiful old house, in a bedroom featuring a full-length mirror so flattering it might have originated in the world of Harry Potter.

In terms of writing, I wrote/rewrote about 20,000 words, which put me a third of the way into a new draft of my YA novel. That is the most significant progress I’ve ever made on any writing project in a short time.

Of course, sometimes you can’t eke out time and money, and that’s the position I was in this summer. I had the time (summer being notoriously quiet in my line of business), but not the money (since I had very little work coming in).

I’m glad I made that time for myself. But, while I did make significant progress with my writing, I didn’t see anything like the progress I made on Charlie’s retreat.

Why? There are several reasons:

Confidence. I still struggle, every day, with that little voice: Why are you doing this? Do you really think you have something worth saying? Do you really think you can write it in a way that’s worth reading? How presumptuous can you get?

On the retreat, that voice still whispered in my ear, but it was much easier to argue with. Yes, I know all of those things, and maybe I am a terrible writer and nobody will ever want to read my stories. But I’ve paid money to be here, and I now have nothing to do except write, so I might as well get on with it. For at least those few days, I wrote with much less fear than usual.

Convenience. This one should be obvious, but I didn’t really consider it until recently. Writing from home, I still had to function in the real world – shopping, cooking, exercising, socialising, doing taxes. I guess that’s an advantage in many ways: it’s how you want and need to operate as a professional writer in the long term, isn’t it? But all of these things take time and energy – energy which, on the retreat, went into my writing.

Money. I am reluctantly realising, in various areas of life, that sometimes throwing money at a problem really does solve it. Not always, obviously. But in the case of a writing retreat, I had paid money – a significant amount of money, which I wasn’t entirely comfortable parting with – to be there and write. I could either write, and justify the expense, or I could lie around and end up hating myself. Writing from home, sure, if I sat around all week I’d still hate myself. But at least there was no money at stake.

Other writers. I’m a massive introvert, but I love talking to other writers. I’ve not made enough of an effort to get out and meet other writers in my new city, and I’m really missing that aspect of my social life. On the retreat, there was always someone available to chat with – about what we were working on, yes, but also what the goats were up to in the field, Charlie’s delicious vegan baking, our lives, our books, our world. And for the massive introverts among us (which in my experience means a large proportion of writers), there were bedrooms to take refuge in once we’d had enough interaction. Perfect!

I’m really glad I gave myself that week to write full-time from home. I learned a lot, and made plenty of progress. But when I next have both time and money, I’m going to try another retreat.

It looks as if Charlie’s autumn retreats have sold out already! But if you want to stay in the loop about future retreats, follow this link and sign up to find out when bookings open for the next sessions.