Thursday 13 September 2018

Retreating -- DIY style Sheena Wilkinson

One of our walks
I’m a serial retreater, and I’ve written on here several times about the importance of getting away to work somewhere free from the demands of daily life. 

But what about a retreat in my own house? A week when all I focus on is my writing? Isn’t that just normal life – or meant to be? Well, no, as anyone trying to juggle writing with events, workshops, school visits, etc. knows, it can be very hard to make yourself prioritise your writing with everything else knocking on the door –- sometimes literally. 

I was chatting to a writer friend, the lovely E. R. (Elizabeth) Murray about this. Elizabeth is an expert on retreats and we decided to have a DIY retreat at my house in County Down. We would keep strict working hours, but also prioritise good food and long walks – something we both love. Well, we did it last month, it was a great success, and I want to encourage other writers to consider doing the same thing. 

I don’t live in a grand house in an exotic location, but I was able to provide a quiet room, a designated working space and beautiful countryside nearby. We agreed about what we wanted to achieve and respected each other’s need for quiet and privacy to work. But it was lovely to have someone to say, How’s it going?and to share the joy/despair. Someone to make a cup of tea for. Someone to understand that another cup of tea is indeed necessary. 

This little room became Elizabeth's for the week
Elizabeth says she hates routine, but she’s very structured in how she works, which exactly fitted with me. I couldn’t have coped with someone wandering around seeking inspiration at three in the morning or leaving towels on the floor.  We both like order and tidiness, so we were able to tread lightly around each other. For me, knowing she was downstairs editing away helped me focus. I wanted to be able to report good progress. 

Lest this all sound a bit monastic, wine, and occasionally chips, were also involved. And words. A lot of words. On the page and on the lips – we fitted in a month’s work of chatting as well as a month’s worth of editing.

But don’t just take my word for it: this is what Elizabeth has to say about the experience:

I'm no stranger to writing retreats but spending five days with another writer, in their home, on a self-directed retreat was something I’d never done before. I had worked with Sheena on a week-long residential and we’d got on really well, so I thought it would be great. My only concern was that it might prove awkward being in someone else’s space when they’re used to having it to themselves to work in. But it turned out better than I could ever have imagined. 

Working to an agreed schedule with someone else (I usually hate routine) made the whole writing experience feel more sociable and less pressured; even though we were in separate areas working away, we could share our progress and thoughts over meals, and I felt much more relaxed than I often do while working alone. We had a lovely balance between solid working hours, long walks in beautiful countryside, and visits around the local area – it felt like a combination of holiday and retreat, and it was nice to feel you were working towards a reward.

We honestly got a lot of work done too!
What I took from our days together was a heap of work, but also the realisation that I often work too intensely and although I love writing, I often don’t leave enough space for breaks which are actually reviving. I am allergic to routine usually but I discovered that perhaps a few days of routine now and again wouldn’t hurt to shake things up a bit. And I learned that working on a retreat with a friend can be a truly joyous experience that brings an extra element of joy to your day and your writing. 

A DIY writing retreat is a great way to replicate something of what a more expensive retreat offers. So, find yourself a writing chum who won’t drive you crazy, agree on some house rules, and get retreating! 

See also --

1 comment:

Pippa Goodhart said...

What a very good idea! Thank you.