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What's your experience of Writing Retreats?

Hi everyone, I'm fairly new here but you all seem a like a friendly bunch! While I'm enjoying my dark chocolate brownie and latte (especially welcome as I've run out of milk at home), can I ask for your thoughts on / experiences of writing retreats?

Did you go on tutored retreat with like-minded people, or did you lock yourself away? Was there a bit of Yoga or another activity thrown in? 

I'm currently a third of the way through the first draft of my first ever novel and craving some headspace! So please help to fuel my wishful thinking!

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Replies (27)
  • I've been to one writing retreat - which I will refrain from naming.

    As is standard with any retreat, event, whatever, they advertise themselves as a great escape, a way to spend time eith like-minded people, to learn, etc. They even go so far as to say "if you're an introvert and don't feel comfortable around crowds, we understand - we're like that too." They claimed that all past attendees raved about how wonderful it was, how they had made life-long friends (despite it only being the fourth installment).

    The truth is… how well you will get on at a retreat, how like-minded you will find others, depends on you. It isn't a function of the retreat. The attracted crowd will cover the sprectrum of personality types. If it's an environment you would choose to go to of your own accord, you'll probably enjoy it. If it's an environment that grates, then you likely won't find it so worthwhile.

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    • You finished me with “despite it only being in the fourth installment” 🤣🤣

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      • Hmm, to be honest for me I think it would be more about getting away from people! 

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      • A friend of my wife's husband (an IT engineer) takes two weeks out every summer and disappears to a writing retreat in Wales, he's been doing this for four years and has yet to complete his novel. I suspect he uses this as a way of escaping from his wife and kids for a fortnight and I'm not sure much writing ever get's done at this particular writer's retreat!

        Not something I've ever craved, probably because for me, writing is the escape rather than where it's done, if that makes sense. My day job is full on, I've got young kids and also I'm a hobby musician so lots going on without disappearing somewhere with a bunch of strangers for a week or more.

        I suppose if you're looking for collaboration or inspiration it might work, but my experience of various writers groups I've joined over the years is that they can be quite destructive, but it depends on the company I suppose. What I've always thought would be a good idea is to perhaps join a collaborative group purely in your genre. As I mainly write RomCom's my wife might not like the idea of me disappearing to a remote cottage somewhere with a group of women.

        If it helps you finish the novel then go for it.


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        • Writing is my escape too, but life does get pretty full on, doesn't it? My kids are older so I don't get that quiet time in the evenings anymore, so I just try and fit it in where I can, which can mean burning the midnight oil and being useless at work the next day, or getting up at the crack of dawn when my brain is just a big, foggy mess! So the idea of being able to just write and do nothing else is appealing, although I bet it doesn't work like that!

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        • Hey, Alyson how are you? Personally, I've never been on a writing retreat but...


          I live with my mum and she's always outside on the farm, so I don't have anything to retreat from haha. However, I notice when my dad comes to visit, I struggle to write whether it's coz of the TV or a business call in the distance. So maybe locking yourself away will help you! 

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          • Yes, and possibly throwing away the key too! It's like I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith where the narrator's family put their writer father in the middle of the ruins of the old castle next door to make him write!

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            • One of my all time favourite novels ... it's my Mum's favourite, and was my Nan's favourite too. And I'm always thinking about that bit where he's locked away.

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            • I know people who've loved them as a way to meet like minded people, but they can be quite expensive, can't they? I suspect of you really just want a quiet place to write in, you should just book a few night in a hotel for yourself and stay in the room writing! 😂

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              • I'm with you on that one 😂

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                • 😊

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                  • Oh Lynn that sounds like absolute bliss! There would have to be a fluffy bathrobe involved, obviously!

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                  • As lonely as writing can get, I'd never want to try a retreat with _other_ writers, I'd probably spend more time talking about writing than actually doing it, as Cormac McCarthy once said (though he was talking about interviews about writing, the point still stands)

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                    • Funny you should say that... I once went on a retreat with a writing group and we had a lovely weekend talking about writing, but not really writing...

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                      • It is a great thought, but I 'm sure you're right about the talking. When I write, I need to have no distractions.

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                      • I went on one some years ago but I "knew" everybody there because they were all from the old Word Cloud. It was great fun and I got a lot out of it (and ate way too much cake and drank way too much booze). Not sure I would go on one otherwise. Depends on who was tutoring, I guess. It helped a lot with my WIP from a structural/character building point of view but it certainly wasn't an environment to get heaps of words on the page, nor was it billed as such.

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                        • That sounds like fun! And good that you know what you can expect to get out of it.

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                        • Several members of a writing group I used to belong to went for a weekend to an old lodge in upstate Connecticut or Massachusetts. Couldn't find it if you asked. We all knew each other and actually had some good sessions talking about the works we had in progress. Maybe it was less formal so more truth in critique came about? Iremember it as being positive.

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                          • Connie, that sounds great! From these replies it seems like you stand to gain the most from a retreat with other writers if everyone's on the same page (sorry not sorry for the pun!).

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                            • My problem with retreats is that I can either socialise or write but I seem unable to do both on the same day. Meeting new people and being in a new place takes a lot of noticing and processing. I went on a week's tutored retreat and the other people were lovely. We had a good time but it didn't improve my writing. The tutored classes weren't structured enough for me - they were too wishy-washy. I like to study some aspect of writing in detail and extrapolate from that. The self-edit course was great in that way, and all done from home! And the people there were lovely too and a small group of us are still in regular frequent contact as beta readers and for general writing support.

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                              • Can’t recommend it enough. Stunning course. I could write an MS worth of words about it and still be under-selling it!

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                                • I agree with Kate. The best money and time I ever spent, writing-wise. One word of advice - you don't *need* to have oodles of time to devote to it, but the more you can clear your diary for the period the more you will get out of it. Plus it is very addictive...

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                                  • Good luck Zoe, hope it goes well!

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                                  • I went on a retreat a few years ago with members of my small writing group to a remote island. It was wonderful. Members who needed a break could go walking and relish solitude, others put heads down and got on with pushing out a few words. I think if going away have some options. Perhaps if going away with a group you know, discuss what members’ expectations are. Some like to socialise and discuss works in progress. Others like me need the time to get on with it. We met up at night, drank too much wine and solved the world’s problems (as you do!)

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