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  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.

Head above Water: A mother’s writing retreat

It’s been busy here lately hasn’t it? All Housewife with a Half-Life and liveliness but it will become a little quiet here for a while. I’ve been awarded a writing retreat in Cill Rialaig, a writer’s and artists retreat of six cottages at the edge of the world, overlooking the sea in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Ballinskelligs in County Kerry. Ballinskelligs looks over the Skellig Islands, the site of an early Christian monastic settlement. It is a similar monastic tradition that permeates the Cill Rialaig site. The individual cottages are stone, have no TV or internet and the setting is isolated and tranquil. My retreat runs for 8 days. 8 days! As a mother of four children aged almost 12, just 10, 7 and 4, my thoughts have not been my own for many years and my ideas are seams hewn out of the rock of the everyday prosaic, sandwiches, homework, housework. This unprecedented quiet might in itself be overwhelming who knows?

I aim to work on my second literary novelThe Exhibit of Held Breaths. At the heart of this story is an exhibit – then another – which changes the ordinary life of the reluctant creator and the people of the town. I will look at how the drive of the artistic, or the passion (I can’t think of another word) takes its hold over the individual and how belief in an artifact can take over groups of people (my psychology degree & fascination with social psychology stepping in here).

But who knows? Focusing on that is what I aim to do but I can imagine that the silence and the freedom of thought will take me by surprise. Who knows what might come of it this retreating?

Note: I will post a photo when I get back, for now, I’ll let you imagine, the stone cottages, the cliff, the sea relentless and the gulls hanging above the brine.

My Amazing Week of Treats and Tricks

This has been quite a week in the world of Wells the writer. Since due to family life sometimes quite extraordinary things seem to whizz by in the periphery, not receiving the full attention they deserve, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on the upward momentum that has happened all at once. I take this relatively quiet moment, even as I grapple with polishing the first three chapters of my first literary novel with the intention of beginning to send them out into the world and even as I pretend that I haven’t signed up to write 50,000 words between next Tuesday and the end of November.

It began on Tuesday, often a day that goes under the radar, don’t you agree. Tuesdays are the middle child of the week I feel, even Wednesday has more of a profile… Anyhow. On Tuesday it was the launch of the Eighty Nine anthology from Literary Mix Tapes in which I have a story inspired by Cher’s If I could turn back time. I aslo made an apple sponge that day which the children agreed was DELICIOUS.

On Wednesday I was delighted to see a wonderful piece on Flash fiction by Declan Burke published in the Irish Times. I had been able to contribute my thoughts on flash fiction to the piece and one of the projects I am working on Flashes of Sadness and Light  was mentioned. I gave the bathroom a quick wipe over that day and bleached the sink. I took my second son swimming and dealt with a minor family crisis.

On Thursday,  once California woke up my story “Breaking News” was the story of the day on Metazen. It’s one of my favourite stories, written quite a while ago. I was glad it found a home. My daughter was off school that day and we went for a nice morning out. We also rescued a friend who’s car had broken down. Once I had picked up the older boys, things were busy. I did not notice until late that I had received a mail from Cill Rialaig Writers and Artists Retreat in Kerry telling me that I had been offered a weeks residency! This residency will enable me to work on my next novel The Exhibit of Held Breaths which I will begin during Nanowrimo. After this good news I helped my son with an essay on the Vikings.

On Friday  I got up very early as I was determined to finish a couple of flash fiction pieces for an interesting competition at the Irish Writers Centre where your inspiration was to be taken from paintings in the Frank X. Buckley collection. I had been struggling a bit with finishing them but in the early morning quiet I succeeded them and submitted them. My daughter’s teacher rang to say that my daughter wasn’t feeling the best. The 3yo and I went to pick her up early and later we picked up the boys and the Halloween mid term began.

I include the day to day details to show how this writing progression is meshed into the fabric of everyday domestic reality. Now it’s back to business, more writing and submitting, minding the kids and tidying the house, many more adventures!