Occasionally when I should be writing – maybe I am drifting off slightly in the sunny writing retreat courtyard, I catch myself daydreaming. Quite often I imagine myself being a famous guitarist or an athlete (these are my favourites ) and I have a picture of me succeeding dramatically in one of these fantasies. I like these dreams, they cheer me up and I enjoy savouring these imagined moments of glory. Of course at these times I completely disregard all the things I have achieved in life but we’ll talk about that kind of behaviour a little later in another blog.

Having won a gold medal or bowed to thunderous applause at the Carnegie Hall I come back to earth and think, ‘Well, to achieve that I would need to have trained very hard or practised endlessly and when would I find time for my writing or running writing retreats?’ This is my logical head giving me a good talking to. If I was to become an Olympic athlete my life would have been wholly devoted to my discipline with little time for anything else; my focus would have been about my body and how it could be honed to become a perfect machine fit for purpose. Quite funny really, considering its current state of dishabille!

So, what’s my point? Well I actually do spend every day training and working out with the written word. I surprise myself by showing significant resolve and I would never describe myself as being that type. Sometimes, what we actually believe about ourselves can be quite debilitating and it’s this which can prevent us from reaching our goals. We develop habits of thinking which dismiss our abilities, especially if they are difficult to quantify. If you are a 100 metre sprinter for example it is easy to judge your progress by looking at the second hand at the clock; the goals seem obvious and with a talented coach it is straightforward enough to set these and work towards them.

As a writer, what should you do? As a writer, how do you measure progress? Should you bother at all? That has to be personal choice of course but I guess we all need to keep an eye on what we are doing. The question is, do we continue without censure or pick over our performances in minute detail to improve? Should we find ourselves a personal trainer as it were, who can target our efforts in a very specific manner and keep us going when we want to give up? Is a mentor or an editor worth having? I would be interested to know what other people think about this.

we are all full of potential

Amaryllis about to break out in the writing retreat courtyard Portugal

I guess, that should you find someone to work with they would  have to be supportive and I might suggest someone with whom you can have a positive relationship, although that depends entirely on your point of view. Sometimes coming up against someone who seems like an immovable object can be just the spur you need to keep working on something and prevents the ‘oh that’ll do’ philosophy from leading to sloppiness. I have one like that at the moment, he drives me crazy and I hate him but there’s no room for complacency in his boot camp – thank you Mark!

A mentor or editor can really sharpen one’s practice and offer a different perspective on what you do. A critical eye, or should that be ‘critique –al’ eye can do much to develop a writer as sometimes it is hard to remain objective. It’s strange, I am much more objective about my painting skills but that’s because I am a raw beginner and my errors are obvious. The weird thing is they don’t stop me and I enjoy trying so much I just keep going. That’s one of the joys of working with something new and we should all try and do something different for balance and in my case, literally maintain perspective (the pink chair on the right is a disaster looking like it’s had one too many, but it makes me laugh and that’s all to the good.)

Wonky chair, although the chairs on the writing retreat terrace are aquamarine and can stand up by themselves!

I write every single day and am always discussing writing with guests at the writing retreat which is very relaxed but also has a definite unspoken ethos: we are here to work!

 It’s one of the joys of running such a retreat that an evening meal can range over all kinds of writing-related subjects and it’s wonderful getting to know so many people from across the world who have the same passion for the written word and are so committed to what they are doing whether translator, published writer, beginner, poet or all points between. I really feel it is a privilege and cannot believe I have finally achieved my aim of setting up such a retreat after all those years daydreaming of such a thing.

The Passiflora bloomed for the first time this week in the courtyard garden of the retreat

Well, it’s 5.46 in the morning and I have been up since 4.00. Light is just beginning to show through the blinds and I have already written my blog. You see? I wasn’t lying when I made reference to discipline; we find the time for the things which are important.

Enjoy your day – see you tomorrow, it looks like it’s going to be very hot and sunny at the retreat today.

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