Surprised by Joy

A new member of one of my writing groups recently commented that they had felt nervous before they arrived at the writing session, but joyous by the end. They had felt welcomed and included in the group but had clearly not expected to experience such intense and positive pleasure while sitting in a room full of strangers, writing.

I don’t mind taking a little credit; I pride myself on making people feel welcome and at ease. I always stress, at the start of a writing session with people who are new to the experience that they cannot do it ‘wrong’. Skill and technique can be learned and polished, of course, but the pleasure for me often lies in hearing someone express their own words – theirs, no one else’s – for the first time and to hear others around the table respond with warmth and interest. We are all in this together.

Our retreat next week will bring together 8 people with their own plans and dreams, their own writing voices and preoccupations. Kath and I are immersed this week in last minute preparations, fine tuning our plans and paying close attention to the small details which we hope will make for an excellent retreat. While my head is buried in lists and menus, I am taking a few moments to pop my head up and imagine the joy I know I will feel when our guests arrive and we all sit down around the big writing table together. I am imagining the pleasure of hearing people share (if they choose to) something of their writing, their reasons for writing and where they are on their writing journey, whether early steps or further along the road. We all have those stories to tell.

Next week we will be blogging and tweeting to give an impression of the retreat as it happens. There is no substitute for being there, though. That will be the real joy.

PS. Apologies to C S Lewis for stealing his title. Once I had thought of it I simply could not unthink it.

Settling into our settings

As November’s writing retreat draws closer we’ve been busy preparing delicious menus, daily schedules, and morning workshops. The aim of this season’s retreat is to offer our retreaters the space to write, the companionship and support of other writers, and inspirational workshops designed to nourish their works in progress, whether those WIPs be long laboured upon or newly hatching.

As I’ve been thinking through what I want our guest writers to take away from my workshop on settings, it occurs to me that I haven’t been exploring my own settings deeply enough. Don’t get me wrong, there are several key things that I have of course taken into account. I’ve been careful to invoke all five of the senses in order to ground my readers in a sense of place. I’ve considered the function of my settings in relation to my characters and their story, questioning whether the setting of a specific scene offers a reflection or a contrast to my characters or their moods. Where possible, I’ve tried to give the setting a character of its own, to enable it to evoke atmosphere and tension.

But I now realise that what I haven’t yet done in my current WIP is really get to grips with the tone and textures of my overall setting. I know from experience that doing this will benefit my writing, but it’s an easy step to miss out when there’s so much else to think about. So that’s what I’m going to ask our retreaters to do during that session. I’ll post more here after I run the workshop and we see how everyone gets on.

Happy scribbling,


Freedom to write

How do you plan to spend your time on retreat? Or rather, do you plan your retreat in advance, or just go with the flow? There are two schools of thought.

One says plan how you will spend your time in advance. Take a work in progress and plot how you intend to write, develop, revise or edit it during your time away. Have a daily target in mind. Know where you would like to be with it by the end of the retreat. If you enjoy the pressure of a deadline (self imposed or otherwise), and like to have a plan, this may work well for you.

The other school of thought says enter with an open mind. See where the days take you, what inspires you and arrests your interest as you settle into your surroundings. A day spent reading, going for walks, staring out of the window at the soft rain (well, it is November…), or curled up by the fire with your notebook, is as valid as a day of focused writing. When we go on retreat, we leave one world and find another.

I think there is a middle path. I remember going on retreat myself once, armed with laptop, draft manuscript and a reading list that filled the car boot (pre-Kindle days). I know that it seemed a good idea at the time, but as soon as I arrived and unpacked, I knew I wanted to write about something else. The result was 15,000 words of…something. Several years later it still sits on my laptop, unpolished and waiting to be continued, but it lives in my head too, quietly weaving its story in the background as I work on other things.

One day I will get back to it, like buried treasure. If I had stuck to my plan I would never have discovered it.

As you prepare to go on retreat, keep your eyes and ears open to what you may find. Pack essentials but leave space for the unexpected.

Give yourself freedom to write what needs to be written.

November’s writing retreat is full, but…

The Writing Retreat event of November 2014 is now FULLY BOOKED. Apologies to those who we were unable to accommodate this time around. We’d love to welcome you to join us at a future retreat.

Tanya 167

The next event at The Writing Retreat will take place from Monday 16th March to Saturday 21st March 2015. Maybe you’re new to writing, or perhaps you’ve written a lot but don’t feel like you know what you are doing yet? This retreat will be perfect for those who want to get to grips with the core elements of creative writing.

Book early to avoid disappointment. See The Writing Retreat website for more details.