Since beginning to write seriously again last year, I’ve found the greatest challenge – other than generating ideas and plucking up the courage to share my work – to be making the time to write. It’s a common problem. But I’m a much less prolific writer than many of the other Monday Writers. They bring a new poem or short story every week – much of the writing of a high quality – and I wonder how they can possibly find the time to write between going to work and cooking the dinner and doing the laundry and just managing to live their lives.
I signed up to WritingSpaceStroud’s latest one day retreat because, quite simply, I wanted to give myself some time to write. Another member of the group I met on the day described it as an indulgence. It certainly felt that way when I left Chris at home to finish off our current DIY project on his own. But, as I sat at my desk at the retreat, I wondered whether, if I’m to take my writing seriously, I should stop thinking of it in that way and start thinking of it as an essential part of my day.
It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone in to planning the retreat, right down to the little touches like a bowl of fruit to keep us going through the afternoon and extension leads to make sure writers could charge their laptops (I’d worried about that and took extra paper just in case). The layout was ideal: desks were arranged around the edge of the room, with writers facing away from one another. So, although you could hear the gentle tapping of keyboards and turning of pages, it was relatively easy to forget everyone else and focus on your own project. I was lucky enough to have a desk facing a window overlooking the misty water around Ruskin Mill – our venue for the day – and I just about managed to stop myself from gazing out at the rain for a full seven hours.
One of my fears for the retreat was that I would struggle to write anything. In August, Chris and I unexpectedly had the run of a fairly sizeable townhouse in the Lake District. I packed my laptop and notebooks and looked forward to a week of writing. I read of lot of books, watched a lot of Paralympic events and drank a lot of wine. But I didn’t write a single word all week. Faced with unlimited writing time, I lost all motivation to use it.
With that in mind, I took a few things to the retreat to keep me occupied: the very early stages of my novel, a piece of flash fiction and a poem that need editing and a copy of Scarlett Thomas’s Monkeys With Typewriters. I needn’t have worried though, as the ideas and words came easily. And even if they hadn’t, the well-stocked table of writers’ resources provided by Juliette from WritingSpace – books on every kind of writing, literary journals, exercises to prompt ideas – would have kept me busy.
But the proof of a retreat’s success must be in the progress that a writer makes. Before the retreat, Juliette emailed a template for a plan for the day. Filling it in wasn’t a requirement and there was no expectation that we would share it with the other writers, but I found it helpful in guiding my thoughts about what I wanted to achieve while I was there (and afterwards, too).
And, by 5pm, I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do. I spent most of the day planning my novel – working on plotting and a couple of the major characters – which I’ve been playing with for a while but have never dedicated time to really focus on. It highlighted quite a few issues but knowing I had the time and space to do so, I was able to think those through, resolve a few, park the others for another day. I also got about 1,000 words written. Not as many as others did, perhaps, but sometimes I don’t manage many more in a whole week.
My first experience of a retreat was an extremely positive one. Not only did I feel I made progress but I really enjoyed the tranquillity of the setting; the absence of my mobile phone, internet and other distractions; chatting with other writers from the local area; and the feeling of renewed confidence that I might just finish this project if I give myself the time and space. Much of that was down to the organisation and setting. I’m already looking forward to joining a future WritingSpaceStroud retreat.