I’ve long been a fan of writing retreats and have been on several run by the Arvon Foundation. These usually take place in a rambling old house, nestling in the heart of glorious countryside. They run from Monday evening until Saturday morning, so there are four clear days in which to write, and five evenings in which you can write if you wish, but which are often spent chatting with other writers over a glass of wine or three. It’s an incredibly supportive and encouraging environment, and the total immersion in what you’re doing, together with the creative energy created by a group of writers living and working together, is extremely productive.
But how would it work, I wondered, with an urban retreat, which usually lasts for just one day and takes place in a busy town or city? When I heard that there was to be an urban retreat here in Sheffield, I signed up pretty quickly. I’m finishing the first draft of my second novel and I thought some focused time away from the distractions of home – the Internet, the dog, the laundry – could be just what I needed. But there would be no beautiful countryside in which to walk when I got stuck, no evening round the fire with a big glass of wine. Could it possibly be as conducive to work as the residential retreats have been?
Reader, it could. It was; it is! The day started at ten, and the first fifteen minutes or so were spent talking with the other writers. The words of a sceptical friend rang in my ear, “I don’t think you’ll get much done,” he said. “I think you’ll all just chat.” But then the organiser led a brief introductory session so that we all knew who was who and what we all hoped to achieve, and then we settled down to work at our laptops, and for the next few hours, nothing was heard but the soothing tap of fingers on keyboards.
Throughout the morning, cups of tea and coffee with an accompanying tin of biscuits magically appeared at my side. At lunchtime, there was a general clicking of necks and stretching of legs. We ate the light lunch provided, talked about how we were all getting on, and quickly got back to work. The afternoon progressed much the same as the morning, only perhaps with a renewed intensity as everyone seemed aware of the time running out.
The retreat was due to finish at five, and as the time approached the clattering of the keys got louder and faster as we all tried desperately to get just that little bit further before we had to leave.
By the end of the day, I had got more work done than on any other single day that I can remember. I finished a scene I’d been struggling with, wrote a new short scene, and did a significant amount of rewriting and editing.
I staggered home stiff and aching, jittery from the coffee, half-blind from staring at the keyboard, and slightly dazed from the sheer intensity of it all. But the overwhelming feeling was a sense of exhilaration at the amount of work I’d achieved.
This particular urban retreat cost £30, including all refreshments. I couldn’t afford to do it very often, but in my opinion, it was £30 well-spent, and I’ll be booking another one in the very near future. For details of this one (Sheffield Writers) and others around the country, see links below:
In the North: Sheffield Writers’ Retreats
In the West Country: Retreat West
In London: Urban Writers Retreats
To find out more about me and my work, including my debut novel which is being published in a few weeks by Simon & Schuster, have a look at my website