Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Getting Away From It All: Why Writers Need Retreats

Five writer friends and I have just returned from a self-organised 'mini retreat' in North Yorkshire. The weekend was something that all of us needed, for different reasons. Mine was to finish the first draft of my teen novel, The Difference Engineer. Also, the frantic Christmas and New Year period had made me desperate to get away and write. I hadn't stopped writing over the Christmas period, but I wanted a chance to really get my head down and write and think, and write some more, away from all the daily distractions.
I'm a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and I meet up every other month with the North East branch for critiques and workshops. We also have a Facebook page where we share information, pick each other's brains, give moral support etc. When I first suggested the idea of a 'mini retreat' on our group Facebook page I didn't expect much of a response, but lo! there were others like me, desperate to get away and write as soon as a booking could be made!
Within a couple of days I had found somewhere suitable, booked and paid for it - a four-bed cottage in Hutton le Hole on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.

Before going, I had a few doubts about what I was doing - shouldn't I be at home taking care of my parental duties? Did I really need to go all the way to the North Yorkshire Moors to work on my story? Although I did miss my children, one of the toughest things proved to be driving to and finding the place in pitch darkness with a satnav that had stopped working. It seems that my night vision has deteriorated to nil, something which I was unaware of before the journey and which made for a scary trip! But I managed not to drive into a ditch on the winding country roads, found the place despite having no mobile reception and arrived to a cheery welcome from my fellow writers.
Relaxing by a roaring log fire with a glass of red wine, everything seemed to fall into place.

The next morning we were all hard at work - spread out over the lounge, dining room and bedrooms. All of us had very different goals - some were just in the initial stages of a piece, others, like me, were trying to finish their WIP. Each of us were writing for different ages from picture book to YA. And when we wanted a break there was a lovely village to wander round surrounded by the beautiful windswept Moors (yes I'm a Yorkshirewoman and a Bronte-lover!)
I found it quite a challenge to focus on my writing for such long periods of time, being accustomed to rising early and writing 45 minutes to an hour before anyone else is awake. But I achieved a lot in a very short space of time, finishing my novel, writing some key scenes I was going to add later (I had decided to make a few changes to the plot when it came to the second draft) and writing out the key character profiles and a list of fantastic gadgets belonging to my protagonist.
My lovely writer friends and I went to town with our provisions, bringing all manner of goodies to eat and drink. Tasty chilli, lasagne, lots and lots of cake, and, for the evening, plenty of wine :) But one of the best things was being able to talk freely about our writing without anyone's eyes glazing over or getting "that look" you often get when you tell a non-writer what you're doing.
All of us took something away from the weekend - ideas and research for stories, whopping word counts and a renewed enthusiasm for agent submissions. And, importantly, we were not alone for part of our writing journey.


  1. Great post Dawn, summed up the weekend nicely. Looking forward to the next one.