Do writing retreats make a difference?

I’ve just come back from my writing retreat of 9 days in Ballinskelligs, at the side of a cliff in a remote part and beautiful part of Kerry. This was a place where you could choose complete isolation if you wanted. There was a meeting house but it was discretionary as to whether you and the other artists wanted to meet. During the course of my stay, there were three such convivial gathering, good conversation by candle and firelight about art and writing related things, funny stories in general, sheep, fish, dolphins, scuba diving.

There was a beautiful walk climbing higher and higher above the panorama of sea. Clover, grass, sheep and sea smells. Then back to the cottage and the novel, structuring, adding words, then food, reading, silence, radio, a look at the sea from the bedroom window, solid sleeps.

All the time in the world to write, all the silence necessary. But I’ve written here on my writing.ie  post more fully about what I achieved, what I learned about my writing process, about how many of the things I was able to do on retreat are things that I can do in daily life. There is, for me, only so much writing I can churn out in a day, others might differ. Writing needs focus, something that often requires my own self-discipline more than anything else. If I need silence I can get up early. What a retreat allowed me to do was to mull and recuperate, to slow down.

What I think having done a retreat is that yes, we might as busy people yearn for a complete break, for that elusive silence and freedom from responsibility but we can build in many of the benefits of retreat into our own lives. We can switch off, step back, walk, watch interesting programmes. We can pick an hour or two within the day when there are no demands or clamour to write and build up our work over time. We can maybe, do more by doing less, or at least be less frantic, don’t say yes to everything, but say yes to more of the things we really love doing and thinking about and let that feed into our writing.

Having gone on retreat and having returned to having the children at home until the school holidays end, there is a perfect opportunity to discover how to pace things and still be able to move ahead with the novel as well as liviing and enjoying the summer. The writing retreat has refocused my mind and I’m hoping I can hang on to the new perspective.

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11 comments

  1. I agree that a lot of the discipline and writing-focused stuff should/can happen in normal life. I went on an organised writing retreat last November to the middle of nowhere to try and ‘discover’ how important I wanted writing to be in my life. Even the decision to go on the retreat gave me the answer. But at the moment I am longing for some time out to just focus on writing – even to see if I can handle it (the thought does scare me a little)!

  2. Cill Rialiag is so beautiful and other-worldly. Sometimes I think about doing a retreat there. Even though it’s just across the ring from me, it’s just distant enough to have a different atmosphere. Plus, I like the idea of turning off everything and being totally cut off from domestic responsibilities for a few days.

  3. Sounds wonderful. But I wonder if I, like you, have a cap on how much/how long I can write write in one day.

    1. Hello Kiya. Yes, I thought that I would be able to produce and produce words. Perhaps if it was a new work I would have done so but I was working a lot on structure rather than creation. I know that some people can keep going and going. The retreat happened just after a very busy period so perhaps my stamina wasn’t as it might otherwise have been.

  4. Time out, sounds like an interesting and wonderful experience, discovering what you really needed and how that prepares you for the return. I like the idea of a short stint away from it all, where one can achieve some time to reflect, a little writing time, an inspiring surrounding and the feeling of being recharged before returning to the norm, which doesn’t always allow all those things. Makes me want to rent an apartment in the coastal hills of Italy. 🙂

  5. Very interesting to hear about your experiences. There’s something very re-energising about getting away for a bit. I think it does vary hugely depending on what you’re doing, as well – writing new stuff versus revising existing work, writing short pieces versus writing more of something ongoing. It’s a nice extra boost to have in a writing life. 🙂

  6. “We can maybe, do more by doing less, or at least be less frantic, don’t say yes to everything, but say yes to more of the things we really love doing and thinking about and let that feed into our writing.”

    This resonates, especially to be less frantic, not just in the ‘busy’ sense, but also in the ‘wanting’ sense too.

    Amen, Alison.

  7. Wise words, Alison – I do agree. ‘Powering down’ let’s the subconscious have some peace to work away in the background – let’s the soul replenish – but writing requires alertness and focus. The Retreat sounds wonderful. All the best with your writing.

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