Tuesday 27 October 2020

Going Away on Retreat at Home by Claire Fayers

 It started when my friend told me she was owed a week's holiday from work and asked if I wanted to join her on a socially distanced, online writing retreat.

Her idea of a writing retreat being my normal working week, I saw no reason to refuse. In fact, if we were having a retreat, why not include our SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) critique group? In fact, why not include all the Welsh SCBWI group? In fact, since we're not constrained by geography, why not invite the whole world?

We started with the most important things, of course. A logo and a hashtag.

We decided the retreat should have two purposes. First, a week of inspiration and mutual support for our regular crit group members. Second, a chance for everyone to join us in some fun challenges and writing sprints.

For the crit group, we set up a WhatApp group and scheduled a pair of zoom meetings. The group quickly grew to 15 members, some of us wanting to write intensively for the week, others hoping to drop in now and then and shout encouragement to the rest of us.

The twitter hashtag was to be our athletics stadium, with writing sprints running from Monday to Friday. Each day had a new challenge. (Wednesday was everyone's favourite.)


The plan was that I'd set the challenges and my friend would run the twitter sprints. Problem: something is wrong with her twitter account and her tweets don't show under the hashtag. (Note to self, next time check these things in advance). I take over the sprints. The WhatsApp group is busy, everyone is happy, the world is bright and full of inspiration.


Up early, raring to go with the sprints. I google a random word generator and set random words as inspiration for the sprints. The evening sees the first of our zoom meetings and it is fantastic to see people I haven't spoken to properly in months along with a new SCBWI member I've never met before.


Feeling the strain a little. I use photos as inspiration for the twitter sprints. I'm editing, not writing, and the sprints feel too short. I cheat, scheduling two hours' worth of tweets so I don't have to keep stopping (Note to self - scheduling makes the job so much easier. I'll be doing this a lot more in future.)


Crash. An early morning doctor's appointment turns into 40 minutes sitting in the waiting room, wondering why these things always take so long. Late starting the sprints. Using what3words.com for random word inspiration and it's taking far too long. I want to go back to bed but I have the second zoom meeting this evening.

I enter the meeting. 'How's it going?' a friend asks. 

'Terrible,' I say. 'I'm exhausted, I'm stressed, my book makes no sense. I don't know why I ever started writing the thing.'

He thinks for a moment then says, 'In other words, you're almost at the end.'

I realise he's right and give silent thanks for friends who understand.


I have my inspiration back. I forget about being clever with writing sprint inspiration and spend the morning revising my latest chapters. A walk around the park in the afternoon clears my head (Note to self - next time you do a retreat, schedule in some exercise time.)


Many of the group are writing across the weekend so I join in for a few hours and get some useful extra words done. Tired, but happy.

The Verdict

We had 15 people in the WhatsApp group, but many more took part via twitter during the week. Seven people sent me their wordcounts, and we had a total of around 30,000 words between us, but I know much more was written.

Comments from the group were overwhelmingly positive:

"I didn’t get to join in as much as I hoped but I do feel more energised and have made a good start on the chapter breakdown. It’s been lovely hearing everyone’s progress."

"Adding my thanks to the thanks bouquet! I’ve only done 1200 words, but have got back into my story after a break, which is great. It has been really motivational and positive reading the posts and I’ve loved the prompts."

"I did about 1000 - which is 1000 more than I would’ve done without all the encouragement and support."

The best comment of all, however came from our SCBWI network organiser, who said:

"Not to take away from anyone’s achievement the word is only part of it. Like most people here have already said it has brought us together, made us look again at our WIP’s and been so wonderfully encouraging all week. Fantastic, well done everyone, those who have taken part and those who have cheered them on, it has be quite a privilege to be with you all."

This summed up the week wonderfully. Sitting in our separate homes, working on our vastly different WIPs, we felt closer together as a group. Even Terrible Thursday was made better.

Would I do it again? I'm already thinking about something for next year. In the meantime, if anyone else wants to organise an online retreat, count me in.

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