What I Learnt from My Home Writing Retreat

Well, maybe this chalet in the woods might help...
Well, maybe this chalet in the woods might help…

For the past ten days I’ve been on my own at home, with my family enjoying their holiday in Greece. I was supposed to be travelling to Zurich for work, but the course got postponed. So I decided to reward myself with a home-based ‘writing retreat’ instead. After all, I’ve got beautiful landscapes all around me, a comfortable (and now blessedly quiet) home, and a self-imposed deadline: what more do you need to write?

And do you know what I discovered?

No, this is not going to be one of those posts lamenting how the saboteur of my writing efforts is no one other than myself. How I spend far too much time online or procrastinate mercilessly. How I fear failure and talk more about writing instead of doing it.


P1030270I discovered I love it very much. It gushes out of me like a river that has been contained by a dam for far too long. I am perfectly content to write all day. I bury myself in my house, live like a hermit, don’t feel lonely at all (having an understanding cat helps), and my dull little routine is utter bliss.

I wake up at 7:30 or 8 (no early mornings to get children ready for school with last-minute surprises). I do my Twitter, blogging and reading of other people’s blogs with a coffee cup (or two) in hand. And then, usually at 9:30 or 10 at the latest, I start writing.

Images from a walk last week.
Images from a walk last week.

I spend the morning typing up (and editing as I go along) the chapter I wrote the previous afternoon. I have lunch when I feel like it, usually something simple like a salad or yoghurt or bread and cheese. Then I might have another quick check on the internet or read a couple of chapters and go for a walk. This past week we’ve been fortunate enough not to have a heatwave anymore, although another one is heading our way.

Then at about 3 p.m. I change my position, go upstairs or on the sofa and start handwriting the next chapter. I stop to watch the quiz show Pointless on the BBC (I like complaining that no one seems to know the answers to the literary questions – yes, I’m a priggish snob like that!). Then I write some more. And in the evening I read.

Claudia Cruttwell describes it perfectly in a recent blog post describing her escape to an isolated cottage in the Cairngorms:

I soon discovered how expansive time becomes when there is nothing – nothing – to interrupt your day. And it’s not just the not being interrupted: it’s the not anticipating any interruption. It made me realise how much this anticipation lurks in the back of my mind at home all the time. I’m always half expecting something to break into my concentration, be it the children, the telephone, the dishwasher cycle, some outside disturbance, or whatever. I realised how distracting this sense of anticipation is.

But when you don’t have to try and keep all of those diverse strands of unproductive worries in your head, when you can neglect everything but your characters and your story, the results may cause euphoria.

The more you write, the more you want to write. The fewer people to interrupt you, the simpler your life gets. The simpler your life is, the easier it is to have that wonderful ‘laser-focus’ all those self-help gurus talk about. Open yourself up to ‘blue-sky thinking’. Be in the ‘flow’. And all of those other expressions I use for my bread-and-butter but hopefully not in my creative writing.

The path ahead?
The path ahead?

It’s been a great boost to my confidence to discover that the true cause for the lack of writing does not lie within myself, but in external circumstances.

Now, how I can keep the momentum going when the ‘external circumstances’ return – that is a far more delicate matter…

For lovers of numbers, I am about a third of the way in: 10 chapters out of an estimated 30 (some much longer than others), 35 000 words committed to paper out of an estimated 90 000. I was hoping to be about halfway through at this point, but this is still quite good going, considering that I had only about 8000 words until 10 days ago.

24 thoughts on “What I Learnt from My Home Writing Retreat”

  1. That’s an amazing achievement in just 10 days! I also like shouting at Pointless when no-one knows the literature answers – I feel totally smug until there’s a sports round 😉

  2. Sounds like a perfect 10 days, and I envy you that peace that comes from *knowing* you won’t be interrupted. Interestingly, this chimes in perfect with a short story I read yesterday, “The Woman Novelist” by Diana Gardner. The protagonist supports her family with her writing yet has to fight for the time to work. Very thought provoking – but I’m glad you had such a productive time! 🙂

  3. Love this! I know what you mean about a quiet home. I also write more when it’s quiet here.

  4. Delighted to hear that you had a such a good experience, Marina Sofia! Isn’t it wonderful to just take time away for a writing retreat?! I’ve not done that for a few years, and really should. I’m very happy for you that it went so well. Sometimes you don’t have to travel at all to find peace and quiet and ‘writing mojo.’

  5. Great post — made me grin all over.

    It’s wonderful that things are going so well on the book, and that you’re enjoying yourself so much.

  6. You definitely need to get one of these luxury sheds at the bottom of the garden – with a keypad entry that only you and the cat have the code for…

  7. There comes a day when all that hard work pays off….and that is today!
    Can I get an ‘amen’ brothas & sisthas !
    Congratulations and well done….. you are and #inspiration for all aspiring working moms who love to write ..if they just get some time to themselves!

  8. What an inspiring post! Just you and the cat – and Pointless too (I’m a Pointless watcher who is also saddened by how little people read, but then ask me about modern music and I’m lost).

    Glad your book is going well.

  9. Proof you don’t have to go away to a special retreat! Sounds like a wonderful 10 days. I hope you are able to keep the momentum going!

  10. What a wonderful writing “vacation” in beautiful surroundings, with only the cat to deal with.
    I write sometimes and look out a big city living room window to see one tree and other buildings when I need a break.
    I do take “reading” vacations where I sit and read, drink tea, eat snacks and do not deal with the phone or the Internet. And it’s wonderful, if there are good books handy.

  11. Beautiful! Yes, that insecurity about writing lies not within us at all, but in all the external stimuli we allow (or have no choice in) to drown our creative spaces. Glad you made the time. Write On! Thank you so much for visiting my blog home. Glad you enjoyed “Why We Must Write”. Write, you must! I’m now longing for a similar retreat, but in the meantime, I will make the most of the snatches of time that I am afforded. Namasté.

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