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.