What’s the deal with writers’ retreats?

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know that two or three times a year I head off for a few days of solitary writing. Perhaps it’s not every writer’s jam, but for me, it’s become crucial to progressing the fiction arm of my writing forays.

I’m on a retreat right now. Nestled in cosy accommodation beneath Mother Cummings Peak in Tasmania’s heartland. Aside from the reprieve from school lunches, loads of washing and ushering children out the door ten minutes later than they should be (“Put your shoes on!”), a writer’s retreat slows the clock so I can focus.

If you’re a writer or a creative, here are some points to convince you that retreats are important:

1. Withdraw and Expand

In military terms, to retreat is to remove oneself from enemy forces, usually because they’re stronger. This works in the creative context too. It’s tough putting your work out there and hoping it grabs someone’s attention, or that readers connect. The confidence gets a thorough battering in the literary world, and I know it’s the same for other creative mediums too. Often, of course, the ‘enemy force’ is our own critical voice. So, we retreat. We remove ourselves from noise and choose better sounds. Birdsong. Mountain breeze. Waves lapping sand.

But retreat is also rejuvenation. Expansion. My retreat times enable me to open myself to the craft I so love. It acknowledges that the skills I have were put within me for a reason and, as a good steward, I must hone them. It also enables me to expand in secondary ways: to read immersively, and to soak in the beautiful world around me.

2. Focus

When I write for work, I can deal with distractions. Working from home, I’ll often flit between my desk and baking bread, putting a load of washing on the line, going for a quick walk because the sun is enticingly bright, picking up the kids from school. It’s a merry juggle of tasks. I find that writing creatively demands so much more of me. Much of my first book was written early in the morning, before the family were out of bed. I did learn to push distractions aside and just leave the washing for another day! But there’s nothing quite like the focus of being alone, outside of your normal surrounds.

When I have a retreat coming up, I usually set myself a few goals. For example, to edit a particular chapter or work on a character’s backstory. On this retreat I have — and I’m nervous to write it so publicly, but here it is — I have sketched out the plot of a new novel. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made, and I credit that to the power of retreat, and also aligning my spirit. Which brings me to the next point.

3. Synchronicity

We are innately creative beings. Whenever I write, I ask the One who created me, to imbue my work with that same energy. The Author of the earth, the One who wrote stars and crustaceans and silk worms and rainforests into being, that all-knowing presence, put a piece of the same creativity within me. So when I write, when I create, I want to be in-step with that zinging force, to have synchronicity with The Creator. And when I do, when I begin each day drinking The Word and surrendering my own words, it is good. There is joy and purpose in the process.

Do you need a retreat? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe it’s a day retreat, occupying a table at the back of a cafe somewhere. It’s not always easy to get away. But I encourage you to try it, every so often. This time, I was with a few like-minded writerly friends. We came together for meals and listened to each other’s progress before returning to our rooms and tapping away at our laptops. If you’re not the sort who enjoys to much alone time, this is a good option.

What to take on your writer’s retreat

I can only speak for myself, but these are the things I ensure are packed for each retreat:
– My laptop. That’s kind of obvious.
– My journal. This is to scribble ideas down, plot the day, write down my prayers and also for writing when I don’t want a screen in front of me.
– Texts/research. As applicable to the writing I have committed to doing.
– A good book. Because when I’m sick of writing, I read.
– Nourishing, easy meals.
– A few treats. You need rewards!
– My Bible.
– Walking shoes. To encourage me to get outside and clear the head.
– Comfy clothes. Pyjamas are acceptable!

Happy writing.

2 thoughts on “What’s the deal with writers’ retreats?

  1. I’ve never tried writing retreats, but now you’ve got me interested. And yes, doing it at home is just different, with all the possible distractions and chores around. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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