In my writing retreat fantasies, I take long walks through sunny fields before typing into the night. I wake up and write for a few hours then go for a swim and enjoy myself before settling back down in the evening. But I spent a month secluded in the Peak District finishing my MA, and left having done plenty of research and note-taking but only an eighth of my dissertation. In truth, I found it a bit scary to be alone with my thoughts and Microsoft Word’s wordcount function.
One blogger referred to his day at Urban Writer’s Retreat as ‘tough love’, but writing requires dedication and focus. Sometimes you just need a good kick up the backside to get the work done. If it still sounds intimidating though, here are my tactics for surviving any writing retreat.
1. Be afraid. Up close, the thought of 8 hours (never mind a week) of writing is a bit less appealing.
I have nothing worth writing! And there’s no escape!
Aha, but that’s the idea. There’s no escape, only writing. Tell yourself you’ll deal with this fear later, and remind yourself of that incredible high when you finish a good writing session.
2. Book it! It’s so easy to think you’ll do it later, just as soon as… Whether it’s a day or an evening at Urban Writers Retreat, two hours with a friend in a cafe or a whole week at Arvon, just take the plunge and commit yourself to your writing. At this stage, keep ignoring the fear.
3. Prepare. The point of going on retreat is to write, and if you’re coming to UWR you have just 8 short hours to cram as much work in as possible. Without solid goals you’re giving your pesky little mind permission to wander off and, shock horror, procrastinate. We provide a goal sheet but you don’t actually have to fill it in if it’s not your style (*whispers* I’ll never know), but make sure you know what you want to achieve and bring what you need to do that. Having a plan is also an effective treatment for pre-retreat nerves.
4. Be sociable. Let’s face it, it’s going to feel a bit awkward at first, just as it takes a while to settle writing in the library. I do introductions at Urban Writers Retreat because people have asked for them, but if you’re elsewhere maybe say hi to other writers. It’s nice to know who’s working on what, and even better to go for lunch and a bit of support with fellow tortured souls.
5. Don’t panic. Some people start typing the moment they arrive and barely stop for breath, never mind biscuits. It can take a while to settle in, but it’s ok, you have your plan to follow. I promise, you won’t spend the whole day in front of a blank page – it’s just too boring.
6. Eat cake. Drink tea/coffee. Think of it as essential brain food.
7. Keep your notes out when you get home. The buzz of having a good day of solid writing can put your habits back on track if you help it just a little, so put your work somewhere prominent to encourage you to pick it up again soon.
Ok. Sorted? Good. Now, if you’ve been dithering over whether to go on a retreat or not, go and sort one out now! Book a week alone in Greece, call a friend to make a date or get a short, sharp burst at the Urban Writers Retreat.
Tough love? You owe yourself nothing less.