five things you’ll discover on a writing retreat

five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

I know what you’re thinking. The idea of a writing retreat seems ludicrously self-indulgent. (Why would you need to escape when you’ve got a perfectly good study at home? I know this, because I thought it too.)

 

Then I started noticing that writing friends were sneaking off and posting little comments on Twitter saying how many gloriously un-interrupted words they were getting done, and I began to  wonder if I was missing a trick.

writing retreat pen and paper

The thing is, there’s the school run, and the trips to the post office, and the neighbours having their roof re-tiled, and – before you know it the day is over and all you’ve done is rearrange your desk.  So what exactly can a writing retreat do for you?

1. Discipline

The first writing retreat I took was a bit of a shock to the system. I arrived in a daze with a heap of post-it notes, a pack of brand new Sharpies, scissors and sellotape (I don’t know what I was planning to do either – origami, perhaps?)

I pootled around and went for a walk, and was shocked to discover that everyone else had written thousands of words by lunch. So I downloaded the Self Control app and remembered that the secret to a first draft is much like running a marathon.  One word in front of another until you hit The End.

It’s not always easy. It’s not often easy, in fact. One of the first lessons I learned about writing books was that the moments when your fingers are flying on the keyboard are the unusual ones. Some days getting the words out is so painful that you’re completely exhausted by the time you give up. But when you’re on a retreat – and you know you’re paying for the privilege – it focuses the mind and that discipline can really help you get going on a new book, or get you over the tricky middle bit. (You know, the bit you forgot to plan where all your characters start misbehaving. That’s not just me, is it?)

writing retreat

2. Competition (and camaraderie)

I wrote the first chunk of Wildflower Bay in a sprawling manor house in the Somerset Hills, cheered on by a group of writing friends (Cesca Major, Kat Black, Katy Colins, Holly Martin, Helen Redfern and Emily Kerr) without whom I’d probably still be stuck on chapter one. Bolstered by delicious cooking, and inspired by the daily word races we had, between us we wrote tens of thousands of words in just five days.

My love of writing retreats was cemented. I also laughed until I ached – which is definitely the advantage of a group retreat. But when the bell rang to signal the beginning of our hour long word race, the house fell into silence and we all typed like the wind, desperate to be the winner. Word races are a brilliant way to chase off the self-doubt and get your subconscious working. If you don’t know what to write, just leave it and move on to the next scene. The whole point of a first draft is to tell yourself the story, and you can’t work on it until those words are actually on the page…

You don’t need to be on a group retreat to do a word race, of course. You can do it when you’re alone – just set a timer and give yourself a daily target, or shout out on social media. You’ll find word racers willing to join in with you at any time of day or night – have a look at #wordrace on Twitter for inspiration.

3. Location

writing retreat rachael lucas

You’d think following a gorgeous five days in Somerset I’d have been at my desk feeling inspired and writing like a fiend, but one child off school sick followed another, and then there was school sports day, and then the cavity wall insulation (think: sound of a dentist drill but making the walls of the house vibrate) and the first draft deadline was looming.

So off I went, alone, to the Island of Bute for a few days. It’s inspiration for the fictional island of Auchenmor where both Sealed with a Kiss and Wildflower Bay are set so it was just what I needed. I didn’t just write in the time I was there – I took photographs and scribbled notes, listened to the people who would be living in the background of my story, soaked up the island atmosphere, and imagined how it would feel for Isla, the main character of Wildflower Bay, to be trapped there. She’s sent to help out her aunt for a couple of months and island life is not her thing at all. She loves the anonymity of the city, so I wandered around thinking about, putting myself in Isla’s shoes.

wildflower bay

4. Pacing

(Yourself, that is, not your prose.)

Writing daily without interruption gives you an idea of exactly how many words a day you can write before your brain gives up. I have writing friends who are pleased if they manage 1000 a day, and others who prefer to work in furious bursts and aren’t happy unless they get over 8000 done. Most of us lie somewhere in between, and having the time to focus on your writing and nothing else gives you a good baseline which – theoretically – you can then take back home with you.

I say theoretically because I’m still struggling to get into a consistent daily writing routine and I have a very bad binge writing habit…

writing retreats gladstones library

Luckily I live just an hour from Gladstone’s Library which means I can sneak off for day-long writing retreats. I get there at 9am, work until lunch, and write, surrounded by books, long into the evening before driving home in the dark. Often the driving time helps me sort out plot tangles for the next day, which is a plus.

5. Education (or inspiration – or writerly gossip)

Having decided I was definitely more productive when writing alone, I didn’t expect to get much done when I headed to Gladstone’s Library with fellow Prime Writers. But in between coffee and long chats over dinner, delicious chocolate and the occasional glass of red, I managed to write over 30,000 words in five days. (It’s amazing what a tight deadline can do for inspiration.)

Writing with friends, talking about the things we all have in common (we all have habits – my characters are always ‘laying a hand on an arm’ in a comforting manner, and it turns out we ALL pull faces our characters are making when we’re typing) is a real help. And an evening talking about books and writing with other people who are just as obsessed is the best fuel for a long writing day.

Good luck, and happy writing!

This little island has some big secrets…

My new book Wildflower Bay is released in three parts as an eBook serial, before being published by Pan Macmillan as a paperback on August 11th.

You can download Part One FREE here.

Sign up below for my occasional email notes and you’ll have the chance to win a super early signed copy of Wildflower Bay later this month. You’ll also be first to hear about courses I’m offering, and Write for Joy retreats which will be coming soon. I promise not to fill your inbox with rubbish or share your details, and you can escape any time.

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five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

Author Interview – Paula Daly

As part of her blog tour I have an interview today with the brilliant Paula Daly. I was given a copy of her new book Keep Your Friends Close just before release and I devoured it in one day (you can read more about that here).

keep your friends close

Over to Paula’s answers…

Me: What’s your favourite comfort reading? Do you have old favourites you return to again and again?

I return to Kate Atkinson’s books over and over – not particularly comfort reading but I love the jaunty tone and rhythm of her language. I can read a paragraph and feel totally inspired. My one real comfort read is Anne of Green Gables. I will never tire of the story and my sixteen year old daughter and I re-watch the DVD together every Christmas. I think I am still trying to be Anne on some level.

Me: Do you read when you’re writing? (I know a lot of writers don’t tend to, and I’m always fascinated by this question. I’ve found I have to stick to different genres or I end up accidentally picking up writing characteristics by some kind of osmosis)

I am always reading. I read each morning in bed with a coffee (I treated myself to an espresso maker next to the bed when I got my book deal). I read when I’m cooking, in the bath each evening, in the car outside school. I’m not sure what I’d do with the chunks of time available when I’m writing if I wasn’t reading. I’d have to talk to people, I suppose…

Me: Where do you write? Do you have a routine?

I get the children off to school, put the washing machine on, walk the dog, and then start writing. I aim to write 800 – 1000 words before lunch and I generally don’t switch the Wi-Fi back on until I’m done. I have to be really strict about this as I know after one-thirty p.m. I’m pretty much brain dead. So I don’t answer the phone unless it’s one of the kids calling in distress or some other emergency.

I write in my bedroom overlooking Lake Windermere (although I have to pull the curtain across a little to shade the laptop screen). When I’m stuck I stare out the window and when I’m tired I have a sneaky nap. It is the BEST job.

Me: Your teenagers in Keep Your Friends Close were incredibly well written – do you think you’d ever consider writing a book in a different genre?

I can’t see myself writing in a different genre – thriller is my thing. And I’m not really turned on by YA. But never say never.

Me: When you’re not writing, do you keep a journal or do you have a break from writing altogether?

I have a break from writing altogether. That is, from the composition side of things. I find getting the words down the hardest part of the process, so I’m eager for a rest. What I don’t do is have a break from being a writer – if that makes sense. As soon as one book is done, I’m dreaming, planning and researching the next. I love doing this. There is nothing as exciting for me and I don’t think I could stop myself doing it if I wanted to.

Thanks to Paula for a fab interview – I’m feeling a bit of a slacker now, and I’m going to switch off the internet and get some writing done… more on that later this week.

30 Things I Do Instead of Writing

1. Wash the breakfast dishes and realise the kitchen windows are dirty
2. Clean kitchen windows
3. Check Twitter. Tweet about plans to spend all day writing furiously
4. Take photograph of desk which looks lovely and writerly
5. Write blog post about said desk for author blog because author blog is very important
6. Check Facebook
7. Read other writers’ blogs about not writing
8. Open Scrivener and reward self with check of Twitter
9. Notice plants are dying. Water plants
10. Realise it’s lunchtime. Make lunch and declare it’s lunchtime and feel justified in doing nothing
11. Just quickly listen to the Archers, because it’s only fifteen minutes long
12. Pick up long-abandoned crochet blanket project and realise NOW is the time
13. Start clearing out email inbox of doom which has been ignored for months
14. Just make another cup of coffee first
15. Check Twitter. Discuss not writing with other writers
16. Read newspaper online (that’s research, you know)
17. Check Amazon chart placing of current book
18. Check Amazon stats to see how many copies have been sold
19. Download The Best Ever Secret Guide To Being a Really Productive Writer
20. Realise you don’t have the software to read it
21. Sign up and install new software
22. Make more coffee
23. Quickly check Facebook, just because it’s important to have your author platform vibrant and active
24. And er Twitter, just in case something has happened. It’s RESEARCH
25. Turn off notifications on laptop to avoid being distracted by Facebook and Twitter
26. Go onto Facebook to announce I’ve discovered how to do the above
27. Talk several other procrastinating writer friends through same
28. Realise it’s 45 minutes until school run time
29. Start writing, get hit with GIANT FLASH OF INSPIRATION
30. Leave, muttering darkly about not having time to write, for school run