Drastic times call for drastic measures and yesterday, for the first time, we took The Writing Retreat online. And it was fabulous!
The theme for the day was Flash Fiction: what it is, what it isn’t, and how on earth to do it. This is a blossoming genre, with exciting potential for writers to not only experiment with form, but also practice skills that will benefit them in other genres. The novelist, for example, can learn a great deal from practicing the specific skills required for flash fiction; skills of precision and concision, otherwise known as ‘less is more’.
In another reality (remember that?) this retreat would have been held at The Yacht Club in Mylor Harbour in Cornwall, a beautiful place, which we thoroughly enjoy occupying for a few days each year. The session would have lasted the whole day, interspersed with tasty treats and an indulgent lunch. The move online meant we recast it as a three-hour morning session to which guests brought their own drinks and snacks. We missed the pleasure of meeting face to face but there was one very welcome bonus to meeting online.
Many of our guests, the ones who live in Cornwall, would probably have been at the Mylor venue sharing the day with us anyway. They came along on Zoom instead, which was fantastic, but the extra benefit of making the move to a Zoom room was that writers from further afield, even internationally, could join us at the click of a link. We spent the morning with writing friends from Cornwall, Bristol, London, Chichester, the Isles of Scilly, Denmark and South Africa. It was a real treat to see everyone together, sharing in the session regardless of where they dwell. Thank you to everyone who attended, you were great!
Our next session is on Sunday 7 June and will focus on poetry; do join us if you can. Don’t worry if you ‘don’t do’ poetry – Jane is on a gentle mission to change that. We’d love to welcome you to one of our Stay Home Retreats soon. In the meantime, stay safe and well.
Kath and Jane
Before I plunged without a map into the world of writers and writing, for some reason I was convinced that given the option, writers would choose to veer shy of contact with other humans. But the current boom in writing retreats would seem to imply I was wrong. Writers gathering together to write and talk about writing? What’s that all about?
For those of my students who enter the realm of writing as tentative, virginal explorers, one of the biggest surprises awaiting them is quite how much of a community spirit exists between writers at all stages of their journey. It’s true that much writing takes place in solitude. The popular image of the lonely writer holed up in their den living a fantastical existence while the real world plods on by without them, is valid enough – some of the time. But most writers will also work intensively with others of the same species, be they colleagues, beta readers, editors or agents. Being a writer is both a solitary and a social activity.
Writing is part art and part craft. It requires a combination of practice and study in order to become a master craftsman. You can study at home alone, or you can join a class or group and work with others. Many choose to learn and grow as a writer in the company of others who are on the same journey.
If you are dreaming of publication (go on, you can admit it, you’re amongst friends here) having somebody else cast a critical eye over your work is a crucial part of the writing process. The truth is, few of us can produce our best work without the help of others. Even those who have persisted through the drafting, re-drafting and polishing process while wrapped firmly in a solitary bubble will, should they be lucky enough to snare an agent or publisher, find themselves confronted with the need to work collaboratively on their writing. There’s simply no escaping it.
I believe that the writer who spurns the company of other writers is missing out. The support, learning opportunities and sheer camaraderie that come from getting together with other writers are not only fantastic for one’s development as a writer, but are also a huge part of the fun. For me, being able to drop out of the world of ‘normal’ people and surround myself with writers and writing for a sustained length of time, is a joy I would not wish to live without. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this November’s writing retreat in Cornwall.
It’s only August, but already you can sense this exceptionally kind summer we’ve been enjoying retreating to the hills as Autumn gets ready to do her thing. For the past few years, the closing in of night filled me with sadness. I wasn’t ready. Where did the summer go? Did I Blink? But this year, I feel happily sated, and I’m putting that down to two things.
Firstly, we’ve had a fantastic summer season at last – blue skies, brilliant sunshine, warm evening air – and this year I really have made the most of everything that lovely Cornwall has to offer. I’ve spend a lot of time lounging on the beaches, swimming in the sea, kayaking up the rivers, camping in the wilds, and enjoying barbecues with friends. The dogs have walked their little socks off, and though I will be quietly wishing for an Indian summer and a fabulous September and October, it would be ungracious of me indeed to resent the Autumn her turn. So I won’t.
Secondly, I am so looking forward to starting a new year of teaching – more lovely creative writing students to meet, established students and writing colleagues to catch up with, new writing workshops to design. But best of all, the first of our new writers retreats will take place in November, and I can’t wait. When Jane Moss and I were planning the launch date for The Writing Retreat, we thought maybe November was a bit soon. Perhaps we should wait until February? But I am so glad we didn’t. It’s given us something to look forward to, something delicious to break up the sometimes gloomy period between summer departing and Christmas arriving.
What are you going to do this year to cheer yourself as winter approaches?