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Writing Retreats, Fact of Fiction?
I’m on a writing retreat - that is, I’m in a wonderful old house in South West France with 8 other writers and we’re calling it a retreat. I’m not sure the word ‘retreat’ is quite the right description but that’s what we’re calling it.
When I tell people I’m going on a retreat they show interest but when I mention I won’t be alone they show scepticism. ‘Oh yes,’ they say, ‘and do you actually do any writing?’
You can see their point. As they probe further and discover the ‘other writers’ include some of my best friends, and realise that Castllion is in the middle of wine country, you can see why they scoff a bit at the word ‘retreat.’
And with every question they scoff a bit more. ‘Is the food good?’ ‘Amazing!’ I tell them. They say. ‘Is there a pool?’ ‘Oh yes, a proper long one.’ When I mention that we have a favourite jewellery shop, there is a lovely little ‘Chardonierre’ who sells enchanting little handbags (we all have this in one colour or another’ and we are on ‘tu’ terms with the little bar across the road, people say, ‘it’s just a jolly, isn’t it?’
It is certainly jolly. Wine is consumed (although sadly, no longer by me) and we know each other very well. There are stories which come out every time, with embellishments and addition. (we are writers, after all.)
But yes, words get written. Sometimes a lot of words. For while everyone here is a writer and we’re supposed to be laid back and imaginative, some of us are very driven. Some of us have deadlines and almost all of us have home lives that intrude into our writing time.
Here, things are different. All we do (apart from the other stuff, listed above) is write. We don’t put the washing on, go grocery shopping (except when it’s an outing, a trip to the Intermarche is always fun). We don’t cook - our hostess, Janie (Janie Millman, writer, look her up!) is brilliant. There is a lovely dog to cuddle, but we only take him for walks if we fancy a trip along the river. And the nearest thing to gardening that we do is move a cushion from one chair to another - if we want to. So all we do is write, except when we’re socialising and that is optional.
We all come here with targets. In the cab from Bordeaux someone said, ‘I can write three thousand words a day.’ I definitely can’t, but while at home, if I write a thousand, I think that’s my day’s work done. Here, I might write a thousand before breakfast (breakfast is later and there’s a time difference) so if I do that, after breakfast, I have to go back and write another thousand because everyone else is writing away, there is no one around to play with.
Another great joy of being with other writers like this, is that you have people to bounce ideas off. If you have a plot problem you can bring it to the others and they will all have their thoughts. I always listen carefully and then say, ‘oh no, that’s not what happens! This is what happens!’ and rush off to my room to get it all down.
I like having my laptop in my bedroom too. At home if I wanted to get up and write in the night (just to note a new idea or something) I risk disturbing my husband and my dogs. I have to put lights on, I may need to go to the loo. It is a bit of a big deal and I usually swear to myself that I will remember my great thought in the morning. (I never do!)
Here, it’s easy. You can put on the light if you like, no one but you will notice, and there is your laptop, all ready for your book-changing thought.
I think my writing muscle works well here too. I’ve been coming regularly for nearly ten years. I like writing away from home because it’s inspiring but if your imagination switches on the moment you arrive, that helps.
So yes, writing retreats are a fact whether or not the word ‘retreat’ is the right one, is another question.’Love Katie x