Before I plunged without a map into the world of writers and writing, for some reason I was convinced that given the option, writers would choose to veer shy of contact with other humans. But the current boom in writing retreats would seem to imply I was wrong. Writers gathering together to write and talk about writing? What’s that all about?
For those of my students who enter the realm of writing as tentative, virginal explorers, one of the biggest surprises awaiting them is quite how much of a community spirit exists between writers at all stages of their journey. It’s true that much writing takes place in solitude. The popular image of the lonely writer holed up in their den living a fantastical existence while the real world plods on by without them, is valid enough – some of the time. But most writers will also work intensively with others of the same species, be they colleagues, beta readers, editors or agents. Being a writer is both a solitary and a social activity.
Writing is part art and part craft. It requires a combination of practice and study in order to become a master craftsman. You can study at home alone, or you can join a class or group and work with others. My adult education creative writing class for this term is over subscribed, so clearly many choose to learn and grow as a writer in the company of others who are on the same journey.
If you are dreaming of publication (go on, you can admit it, you’re amongst friends here) having somebody else cast a critical eye over your work is a crucial part of the writing process. The truth is, few of us can produce our best work without the help of others. Even those who have persisted through the drafting, re-drafting and polishing process while wrapped firmly in a solitary bubble will, should they be lucky enough to snare an agent or publisher, find themselves confronted with the need to work collaboratively on their writing. There’s simply no escaping it.
I believe that the writer who spurns the company of other writers is missing out. The support, learning opportunities and sheer camaraderie that come from getting together with other writers are not only fantastic for one’s development as a writer, but are also a huge part of the fun. For me, being able to drop out of the world of ‘normal’ people and surround myself with writers and writing for a sustained length of time, is a joy I would not wish to live without. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this November’s writing retreat in Cornwall.
It’s only August, but already you can sense this exceptionally kind summer we’ve been enjoying retreating to the hills as Autumn gets ready to do her thing. For the past few years, the closing in of night filled me with sadness. I wasn’t ready. Where did the summer go? Did I Blink? But this year, I feel happily sated, and I’m putting that down to two things.
Firstly, we’ve had a fantastic summer season at last – blue skies, brilliant sunshine, warm evening air – and this year I really have made the most of everything that lovely Cornwall has to offer. I’ve spent a lot of time lounging on beaches, swimming in the sea, kayaking up rivers, camping in the wilds, and enjoying barbecues with friends. The dogs have walked their little socks off, and though I will be quietly wishing for an Indian summer and a fabulous September and October, it would be ungracious of me indeed to resent the Autumn her turn. So I won’t.
Secondly, I am so looking forward to starting a new year of teaching – more lovely creative writing students to meet, established students and writing colleagues to catch up with, new writing workshops to design. But best of all, the first of our new writers retreats will take place in November, and I can’t wait. When Jane Moss and I were planning the launch date for The Writing Retreat, we thought maybe November was a bit soon. Perhaps we should wait until February? But I am so glad we didn’t. It’s given us something to look forward to, something delicious to break up the often gloomy period between summer departing and Christmas arriving.
What are you going to do this year to cheer yourself as winter approaches?
Preparations for the November 2014 writing retreat are well under way now.
Advertising starts in a few weeks, menus are coming together, and the venue looks fabulous.
As Autumn closes in all around us, I find myself looking forward to crisp evenings in front of the fire, to stimulating company, to the shared joy of learning, and to the quiet tap tap tap of keyboards all over the house. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!
What are you waiting for? Go ahead and book yourself a well-deserved writing holiday.
When I first decided to get serious about writing, I had this lovely vision of me sitting on the beach, or in front of a log fire, or huddled into the corner of a country pub, scribbling into a well-worn but totally classy leather-bound notepad. And that would be my life as a writer.
Or so I thought.
The reality is somewhat different. Less peaceful. Nowhere near so self-indulgent.
But for all that, this real writing life is in its own way just as stimulating and exciting as the one I once fantasised about. Just different. Definitely different.
How have you found your writing journey so far? Did it live up to the early dream, or even surpass it?