Whether in (mostly) rain-soaked Wales or (mostly) sun-drenched Greece, the aim of a writing retreat is to enable writers to take a break from everyday concerns and have a focused space for writing. Most retreats offer a structure, whether that’s just a post-dinner discussion on works-in-progress or a schedule of more detailed teaching workshops, and some will specify whether they are aimed at beginners or those with some publication experience.
Looking at the wealth of retreats available, how do you decide whether one is suitable for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you viewing a retreat as another means of procrastination (e.g. I can put this project on hold until I get to the retreat)?
- Do you have a project you can take to a retreat or are you looking for a retreat to kick-start or get you back in the habit of writing?
- Do you want to write or are you more interested in the social side of a retreat?
- Are there specific skills you want to work on or do you want to be left alone to write?
- Are you looking at the location and thinking of places to visit/see nearby or are you looking for a location that offers no distractions?
- How confident are you in your cooking skills?
- What’s your budget?
- How important is wi-fi?
- Will a retreat offer you something different from what’s already available in your locality?
If you’re looking to procrastinate and/or thinking of places to visit, then a holiday without pressure to write might be a better option. A holiday isn’t a waste of time if it also offers chance to dream, think, research and explore ideas in a different environment. Sometimes a break from the notepad or keyboard can bring you back recharged and refreshed.
If you’re looking to work on a specific project or want to be left alone to write, than a retreat without a heavy structure of workshops would be better. If you’d like a retreat to revive inspiration, look for one where the workshops are geared to getting participants to write rather than edit or revise existing work.
Some retreats will ask participants to help with cooking the evening meal. Some retreats may not have internet access. Also check if you are expected to share a room and whether that suits you.
If budget’s a problem, seeking out local or online writing communities or courses might be a more realistic option. Some universities and colleges offer online courses (MOOCs) taught via video and reading materials with online forums to discuss what participants are learning. Some retreats may offer bursaries or local arts funding might be available and these might be worth exploring if you can prove that you have a measurable aim and can show whether you will achieve those aims in attending the retreat.
Signs a Writing Retreat may not be right for you
- The brochure isn’t clear about the aims of the retreat or there aren’t enough details for you to be clear about what’s on offer
- The pricing structure isn’t clear about what’s included and what are additional extras
- The retreat offers workshops but doesn’t say who the tutors are or doesn’t let you know who the tutors are in advance of booking
- There are no testimonials from previous participants or, if it’s a new retreat, no indication of what experience the organisers have in administering retreats
- You don’t have a clear idea of what you need to bring to the retreat – “turn up and write” isn’t a plan, but “improve this skill” or “work on a body of poems towards a coherent pamphlet/collection/performance” are.
- You don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve – are you looking to improve technique, work on a specific project or just get together with some writers to revive inspiration and try a new direction in writing?
Like creative writing courses, retreats either fill you with enthusiasm or leave you cold. Neither matters, because it’s about whether it is right for you, but, like most things, research and preparation will enable you to pick the right retreat for you and ensure you get the most out of the experience. A retreat isn’t necessarily about getting published and poems written during a retreat may not be the ones you seek to get published, but those poems do offer practice, experience and will help you develop as a writer.