I returned a few days ago from my first ever self-organised writing retreat. I say first ever because there will definitely be repeats… it was, hands-down, the most successful few days of writing I’ve ever had.
I’ve just begun a new novel and I wanted to get a good start on it while I was still in the early stages, and it’s often difficult to really immerse myself in something with work, home and family commitments. I’m good at forcing productivity into half-hour stints on the bus and in my lunch break, or getting up early once or twice a week, but I rarely have the opportunity to commit a big chunk of time to deep-dive into a new book.
So I started thinking about booking myself into a writing retreat… but they are all either heinously expensive or you have to apply for them, or they’re a week long. Enter my long-time friend and fellow author Rebekah Turner.
We’ve known each other since we were 12 years old (which, I’ve just realised, was 29 years ago – gawd) and we’ve always been writers. We used to spend our lunch breaks at school in the computer room typing out terribly bad stories and talking about how amazing it was going to be when we were finally authors.
But when high school ended, Bek moved to Brisbane and we rarely saw each other. We wrote letters to each other for years, then sent emails when that became a thing, combined with the occasional visit for weddings and other life stuff.
But there was always the writing. By amazing coincidence, we both won places on the 2010 Hachette/Queensland Writers’ Centre Manuscript Development Program and spent five days together learning more about the publishing world and feeling like we were getting closer, ever closer, to realising our dreams.
And we got there. Though when dreams become real, they often don’t look like they did when they lived only in your head. By then we both had kids and other challenges, and when you reach the peak of the mountain, you realise there are just more peaks. And more peaks.
So we decided to do our own writing retreat. We booked an apartment in Sydney: three nights and two days, away from our usual commitments, to just write. And talk about writing. And to drink beer and wine and eat nice food. To do something that was just for us.
I set a goal to write 10,000 words in the time I was away. I’d never written that much before, so I assumed it wouldn’t be possible, but I wanted to stretch myself.
On Friday morning I managed 2000 words and a run before going out for a lovely lunch with my publisher and editor. With a belly full of delicious food and half a bottle of wine, my hopes weren’t high to maintain the morning’s momentum, but amazingly, I got to 5000 words for the day. Cue celebration, Thai takeaway, and more wine (and ironically watching The Karate Kid and Walker, Texas Ranger – the perils of not having Netflix).
I didn’t think I could back it up on Saturday, but Bek and I holed ourselves up in the beautiful Green Square Library, which we discovered only five minutes’ walk from our apartment, for a few hours, and the words kept flowing. After a break for lunch, we returned to the library for another few hours until we got kicked out, then wrote more in the apartment, and to my astonishment, I managed another 5000 words for the day. My entire weekend goal, achieved in two days. (There was more wine, and more takeaway, and more bad television to follow.)
We left for home on Sunday, and after a little more writing in the airport, my tally for the three days came to 12,000 words – more than I’d thought possible. My previous personal best was 9,000 words over five days, so to say I’m stoked with my progress on this story so far is an understatement.
Of course, now I’m home again, things have slowed down a bit. I’m not kidding myself that the trip heralded the beginning of a new, more productive me. I’m heading towards the sagging middle section of the book now, and I know soon enough I’ll be banging my head against the wall and despairing about what a terrible writer I am (again).
But I also know I’ll get past it, because I’ve done it before. And I know I’m going to do another writing retreat in the future, both for the valuable space and time to just write and the opportunity to catch up with my friend and talk all things writing for a few days.
Bring on the next one.