The benefits of a writers’ retreat

We’d all like a bit more time with peace and quiet to get our teeth into our latest writing project. Most writers I imagine work at home, desperately trying to find a space where they can rest their laptop or notebook and getting peace and quiet is rarely that simple.

When you’re at home, you’re easy prey for the Procrastination Fairy. She’s a cheeky little madam, and has many, many ways to distract you. You spot some washing up sitting by the sink and you convince yourself that you can’t start until it’s done or until the floor has been swept and mopped. 45 minutes later the house is tidier, yes, but haven’t put any words on the page.

My retreat writing desk
My writing retreat desk

Going to a writers retreat is one way to remove the distractions. I’ve been on a week-long retreat in Devon and it was bliss. With no cooking or cleaning to do, not even tidying my own room, I was in heaven and have never been so productive in my life. However, retreats like that are not cheap and not easy to get to. Whether you’re travelling to the middle of nowhere in the UK countryside or really going for it by heading off to Greece or France, the price soon adds up. You need to work out whether the financial cost is outweighed by what you might achieve while you’re there.

Since then I’ve never been able to afford to go on something like that, but there are other options:

  • One-day retreats – in and around London there are a number of one day retreats and having done several of these I can highly recommend them. Again the premise is easy. A completely quiet room, even though it’s a big room with about 20 people in it, with tea and coffee near to hand and someone to bring your lunch. Not too expensive and mostly easy to get to, it’s a day of sheer bliss and you’ll be stunned by how much you can get done in an 8-hour shift when there’s nothing else to do – no WiFi or mobile phones allowed.
  • Booking office space – there are places where you can book office space by the hour or day. It’s basically like hot-desking where you roll up and use the desk space for as long as you’ve paid for it. It’s a similar idea to the one-day retreat except you’re responsible for organising everything and bringing your own lunch!
  • A DIY retreat at home – this one minimises costs, but requires a lot of planning. For example, it involves making a deal with the family to get out of your hair for the whole day, filling the fridge with easy-to-prepare food (so you don’t have to stop working for ages to make lunch) and making sure there’s enough tea, coffee and cake to keep you going. That last one is very important – I always make sure there’s some baked goodies in the house to keep me going! Minimise your distractions by making sure the house is clean and tidy the day before you’re going to have your retreat. No scrubbing floors when you’re supposed to be working.

It goes without saying that the final stage of preparation for any retreat is to make sure you take all the kit you need with you. By that I mean computer, note books, as many pens as you can find, any reference books (although that’s not practical for retreats), a charger if you’re using a laptop, a jumper in case the room is cold, and anything else you think will make you comfortable.

In addition, it’s a good idea to plan out your day, work out what you need to achieve and then you have something to aim for. You can even break down the day into slots, whether that’s by hour or making a morning and afternoon session. Whatever way you do it, make sure you include breaks. You need to stand up and move around at least every hour to rest your body, eyes and hands.

Make sure that you’re ready and you can sit down and just start writing.

Have you ever been on a retreat? How did it work out for you? Please add any advice you have below.

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