It’s getting to that time of year. The sun is out, schools are breaking up, and the beach is calling. You may have already enjoyed a holiday, or you are preparing to join friends, your significant other and/or family for a week or fortnight chilling out.
I love annual holidays, believe me. These days, though, my system won’t handle hot weather anymore, and money is thin on the ground, so we don’t do the foreign holidays like we used to. A week in the Inner Hebrides, surrounded by fantastic scenery (and enough whisky to entertain the husband) is the most we occasionally manage.
Holidays are great, especially if they include sun (we don’t have unreasonable expectations when we go to Scotland, put it that way!). You can spend a week by the pool reading and relaxing, visit a few local sites, enjoy slow evening meals in a tavern while you watch the sun sunk into the azure sea. Bliss.
But have you ever thought of taking a holiday with your creative passion?
And no, I am not talking about one of those great holidays where you go painting with a tutor in the South of France, or take tutorials with a famous poet at Arvon, although I have no doubt they are fantastic!.
I’m talking about just you and your muse. One on one. Taking time out for what may be the most important romance of your life. Your relationship with yourself.
Once a year, our writers group gathers at a local conference centre in the South Norfolk countryside. We arrive on Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday afternoon. Three hot, delicious meals a day are provided, together with morning coffee and afternoon tea. We each have an en suite study bedroom with bed and desk, and views across the fields. The welcome is friendly, and you can practically hear the collective sigh of relief as we all turn inward, away from our busy lives, to concentrate on our writing.
Imagine that. An entire weekend, just you, and your stories.
No having to food shop, cook meals, prize your angry children from each other’s throats or soothe your spouse’s ego when their team lost at whatever sport they are obsessed with. A whole weekend where you can sleep, soak in the bath, so some yoga, walk through the countryside, listen to the birds, and pick up your pen when the muse strikes you. There are familiar friends from the writers group to discuss your work with, to talk about writing and reading and the ideas that fill your head. But there are no everyday worries to distract you from your work.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. Our retreat costs around £140, which I think is pretty impressive for full board for two and a half days. We don’t have luxury, but we don’t need it. The luxury is being able to spend time with our stories.
Each evening, we gather together after supper. On the Friday night, we are still settling down, orienting ourselves within the space we have set aside to be with our work. We bring bottles of wine and soft drinks, and snacks to share. We also bring pieces of writing by other writers from books and poetry collections that we have recently enjoyed, and take turns to read to one another. This provides a cross-fertilisation, and a chance to reconnect. During the weekend, we meet for meals and coffee breaks, but mostly we spend time alone, working or moodling, feeding our souls, communing with our creativity. On Saturday evenings, we gather again, to read and workshop what we have written through the day. And we always gather for afternoon tea on Sunday, about 4pm, to finish off and say goodbye.
Sometimes, when someone is going through a difficult time in their lives, this retreat is simply time spent with themselves, refilling the creative well. It doesn’t have to produce anything in particular apart from a chance to ground in one’s own needs and interests, to find a bit of peace. At other times, we come with a sense of what we specifically want to achieve, meaning to address some particular aspect of a current work, or a precise task, such as preparing a synopsis for an agent. Having a plan is good, but its better to go with your creative season. If you just need to down tools from a busy life and immerse yourself in creativity, that’s the thing to do. Each of us seems to find her own need for every retreat, and we look forward to each new one from the moment we leave the last!
Even if you can’t find a group to go with, you might have a friend who could join you. This weekend, I had the pleasure of greeting two of my fanfiction writing friends who came up to Norwich for a weekend, shared a cheap hotel room, and enjoyed a break for writing, creativity and fun. We got together, had a meal, and shared our interests. It was so refreshing! Making time to go somewhere different allows you to depart from your everyday cares, and concentrate on the art form that you love. This more informal approach might be a good way of managing a retreat for you.
I heartily encourage you to find a way to take time out for a writing or creativity retreat. It is a practise that I think every creative person should incorporate into their process and their life. It revives and stimulates. It also reminds me that I am part of a tribe, however hidden we are. It stimulates new ideas and new interests, and above all, it gives peace of mind.
So if you are planning a hectic family break right now, why not take the time to dream up a way of escaping on your own, however you do it, just you and your muse, as part of a group, or alone, to feed your soul.