Sunday, 16 April 2017

Retreating - Heather Dyer

Another writer recently told me that he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go to a writer’s retreat if they already had access to local parks and countryside. But a writer’s retreat is not about getting away from the city. Writing retreats are about getting away from your life.

There are a couple of websites that advertise artists’ retreats ( and Some retreats are funded (but very competitive) and some are rather expensive and luxurious. As a jobbing writer I can’t afford these paid retreats. But I’ve been awarded one funded retreat and one subsidized retreat – both in Scotland, which seems particularly supportive of writers.

Image result for hawthornden castle
The funded retreat was at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. What a gift it was to be able to spend a whole month doing nothing but work my hardest! I spent about ten hours a day at my laptop. Breakfast for the five or six writers was communal, lunch was left outside each writer’s door, and at six o’clock the writers gathered in the drawing room for a sherry and a chat. The castle is surrounded by woodland walks on which I occasionally encountered another writer wandering pensively between bouts of writing.

There is something about being shut in a room, knowing that other writers or artists are busy working on the other side of the walls, that's conducive to creativity. And at home, there are so many other distractions: the laundry, cooking, emails, the post. Other people tend to think that because you work at home you’re always available, but at a writing retreat it feels there's an obligation to work - or at least to restore your creative juices.

The other retreat I attended recently was at Cove Park. This is a modern, purpose-built complex with a beautiful arts centre perched above a loch. Small ‘cubes’ or studios house a single writer or artist.
Not only was there no wifi or phone signal in my cube, there were no communal meals, so I hardly saw a soul. I holed myself up in my cube, eating whenever I liked, sleeping in the afternoons, and staying up late with the lights out, watching the twinkling lights on the far side of the loch.

I spent ten days in my cube, slowing right down. It reminded me how restorative nature is, and I sat on the deck with my morning coffee, watching rain falling on the pond, wondering why on earth I don’t do this sort of thing more often at home. I was also productive, and spent a lot of time pondering a project that had been suspended just out of reach for a long time. By the time I left Cove Park I had a plot arc, could visualize my characters, and had written a dozen rough scenes.
My resolution for this new year? To carve out some ‘retreat time’ every day. To meditate mindfully every morning. To have my coffee watching the sun come up. To walk more. To do less. To be more.

Heather Dyer

Heather Dyer, Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow


Rowena House said...

What a fabulously restorative piece. A real morale booster for Easter Sunday. Will bookmark this & get onto those sites you mention. A month cloistered in a Scottish castle sounds PERFECT.

Penny Dolan said...

Magical - especially those boxes at the edge of the lake! As you suggest, such retreats can be a great way of re-balancing your writing self, especially when the everyday demands seem to be overwhelming.

Heather Dyer said...

Yes, it's amazing how things fall away once you get away. Good luck Rowena.

Sue Purkiss said...

Both the retreats sound lovely. I'm very glad you're carving out the time you need!