I recently listened to a couple of speakers talk about goal setting: focusing on what we really wanted and moving past the doubts that have stopped us going for it in the past. They urged us to allow ourselves to ignore the voice in our head that tells us 'it's not possible' or 'how on earth would I achieve that?'
Afterwards we were given a piece of card and a pen, told to clear our minds of any barriers (physical, emotional, financial or geographical) and to write down what we really wanted to achieve. In other words:
It took me a while to get going on this one: I've been focusing so much lately on little steps for my writing: working on my business branding and marketing, networking and getting more clients, that I hadn't taken any time to think about the future.
But instead of just sitting gazing blankly at an unwritten card for ten minutes I followed a valuable piece of advice and just started writing. I didn't think about the reasons behind what I wrote or whether any of the goals I'd put down were even vaguely achievable. As I kept going I found that my subconcious mind appeared to take over and I was scribbling things that I'd never even thought of before, including 'running a writing retreat'.
Where had that come from??
I've often gazed longingly at adverts in writing magazines for amazing writing retreats; never once has it crossed my mind that I'd like to run one. I've always pictured myself sat on a Tuscan hillside - breathtaking views, sunshine and big glasses of red wine (obviously imperative to the artistic mind) - taking notes from an expert writer, not giving instruction myself...
But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became.
Now, I know I can't go immediately from 'I've submitted one short story to a competition' (and I have! I submitted it, after a lot of last minute amendments, on Saturday!) to being an expert on writing fiction but for the purposes of this blog post I'm staying on the theme of 'dreaming big'. I'm imagining my ultimate writing escape; there's plenty of time for reality later. For now, I simply want to figure out:
What makes the perfect writing retreat?
1) The setting
The first, most obvious, criterion has to be location. You may have designed a literary lover's fantasy inside its four walls but it's going to be really hard to sell your retreat as an unrivalled authors' getaway if it's situated on an industrial estate in Basingstoke. (And before I start getting rude messages on social media from people who live there and think it's quite nice, I'm allowed to insult Basingstoke. It's my home town. Them's the rules.)
When I think of an ideal writing retreat location, these are the sorts of images that float into my head:
For me, personally, it's the sea. I find large bodies of water in general both intensely calming and highly motivational but to have a writing retreat on a beach, cliff top or in a harbour would be my idea of heaven.
2) A tranquil space to work
The majesty of the external scenery is key to providing some inspiration for your writing but the interior is pretty vital too. When I went on a residential writing course in Cornwall, many years ago, they'd provided two different spaces to write in. There was an airy and bright communal room, with a large table in the middle, surrounded by chairs. We could all sit round together and share our stories or get up and pace about as we threw ideas around.
We also had our own rooms: cosy and warm, with a small desk to sit at. This was ideal if we wanted to be anti-social for a bit, to get ourselves lost in whatever it was we were writing. I found it helpful to be able to move between the two, depending on my mood.
In my perfect retreat I would provide lots of different types of seating options (comfy sofas, window seats, bean bags and the odd chaise lounge) all over the place to give people a change of scene. And if my retreat was beach-side then I'd also be thinking about deckchairs and hammocks...
3) Expert guidance
There are retreats that are just that: you can step back from the world and get lost in your writing. No seminars, no group sessions, you are simply given the space and time to write on your own. But often the reason that people want to go on a retreat is to get some assistance from a professional writer. They might have a specific project they are working on that they need help with or they might just be looking for general writing tips and advice. Either way, having an expert or two on site is a definite plus for the ultimate writing retreat.
4) Food, glorious food!
If you get the three criteria above correct then you're on your way to a pretty decent writing hideaway but to take it even higher then there needs to be that little bit extra. The food and drink are (to my mind, at least) hugely important: hours of writing can take it out of you and you're going to need some decent meals to fuel all that brain exertion.
I'm thinking of maybe having a top chef on site, with sumptious menus and snacks available at all times. Hey, thinking big, remember? Working out how to finance all these wild dreams come under the heading of 'minor details to be ironed out at a later date.'
So that's what I'm working towards: running a peaceful writer's retreat on the edge of a deserted beach, with lots of nooks to hide away in, access to amazing food and help with all aspects of writing on tap. Now to have some fun figuring out how I'm going to get there!
What would make it into your fantasy writing retreat? Let me know!