Why would you book a creative retreat anyway?

People often ask, what is the point of a writing retreat? Isn’t it just a ‘wanky bollox’ kind of ego-centred load of nonsense? That was a quote by the way! I suppose it all depends on your point of view. Yes, to an outsider it may well just look like that kind of thing, a self-indulgent nonsense and that if you are a real writer then you can write anywhere.

I go along with that, I don’t need to go to the hairdresser as I am quite capable of handling a hairbrush, but is that the point? Personally, I think the significance of creativity is over looked. Some imagine writing is simply a matter of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard or even voice to Dictaphone. What is sometimes neglected is the need for nurture. Teaching for example, is an amazing profession but it is a draining one; every creative person who expends creativity needs to have their fund replaced – the well cannot continue to be drawn upon if it is never replenished.

A writing retreat is a shorthand for an opportunity to experience space, away from all the demands of the everyday; it isn’t necessarily the place where an opus will be created, although who knows? Each retreat has something to offer, it might be conversation with like-minded people, an opportunity to swap the urban for the rural or even vice versa. It may even be an opportunity to experience a different culture which often has a profound effect on one’s own narrative arch and approach to creativity.

Some find the thought of devoting time to writing/painting/composition a frightening experience, we are all full of promises to ourselves: if only I had the time, I would. Now, what happens when you are actually faced with clear water and there is no obstacle to negotiate, yes, I understand that can be a very daunting thought. So, how do you deal with a writing retreat and why might you consider booking one?

Having worked with a number of writers and discussed just this subject it is possible to share a few ideas. It is worth devoting some time to your writing before you arrive, expectation can be the death of creativity and sometimes it’s worth fooling your head this is just another place; after all a blank sheet can be a frightening terrain to negotiate.

  • Begin keeping a daily writing journal a few weeks before you arrive, get into the habit of listening to yourself, of showing up to write every day. What’s that saying? 1% inspiration 99% perspiration. We can only create one word at a time and it’s a matter of just keeping going.
  • Become used to treating your creative self as having worth, that your concerns are as important, or hopefully, more important than anything else going on in your life.
  • Start collecting things that appeal: music, pictures, poetry, lines, epithets, designs, tickets, magazine cuttings, postcards, objects, anything really that can be a kick start to creative processes.
  • You want to be limbering up before booking the place on the retreat, after all, you wouldn’t attempt a marathon without some training.
  • Start doing, reading, eating or listening to things you wouldn’t normally attempt, just to glean a different perspective.
  • Stop reading, start looking, start creating. The important thing is not to think of a writing retreat as a test, if you go and need to sleep, then do it, if you just feel like scribbling without plans, then do it, if you need to sit in the sun, walk, then do it. Walking is well known as a cure for writer’s block and we can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places – never dismiss the need for thinking time.
  • I will say it again, keeping a daily journal cannot be under estimated and it’s best not to read it back, simply write, take your creative temperature every day, if it achieves nothing else, you can always say, I am a creative even if journal keeping is the one thing you do manage.

The writing retreat in Portugal offers a number of different places to create in a quiet, rural village; the atmosphere is one of diligent practice, no pressure, no expectation, just space, support and the freedom to explore. Come and join us soon.

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