I walk through the door, greeted by half a dozen cheerful voices. Heads turn and acknowledge me with a smile, some with warm greetings. I hug those I know and beam at those I haven’t met. Gratefully, I accept the offer of a cup of tea and ease myself into a comfortable-looking chair. One by one, the others, seeing the time, take their places in a circle around the room, and a hush descends. We look expectantly at the leader.
We are ready to write.
After a brief devotion and discussion of the ground rules (no talking, no interrupting), I fix myself a plate of snacks. They must sustain me for the next few hours. I settle into my comfy armchair and open my iPad. I experience the familiar buzz in my veins, the momentary panic of not being able to do this, not being worthy, not being a good enough writer.
I experience the momentary panic of not being able to do this.
Then my fingers brush over the familiar keys and it begins.
Three hours later I come up for air. I have no idea how many words I have written, but it feels good. I feel good. I stretch and stand, shakily at first, as my muscles recall the processes of movement. I make my way to the kitchen, where a writer friend asks how I went.
‘Difficult’, I admit. ‘I mean, the writing part is easy. But the piece I wrote this morning was highly emotive. I feel a bit wrung out, if I’m honest.’ She nods empathically. ‘People often think writing is cathartic for us,’ she reflects, ‘but it’s brutal, isn’t it?’ I laugh softly. ‘Yeah, sometimes writing makes me feel worse rather than better!’
And yet, I feel compelled to continue.
I feel compelled to continue.
After a tasty lunch, we make our way back into the circle. We set up our compulsory snack platters, and away we go again, back into the zone. Once again, I lose complete track of time. Another three hours and we resurface, smiling happily, sighing contentedly. I remember how much I love this.
As the chatter dies down, we ready ourselves for the next phase. The critique. A nervous lull sets in as we wait for the first brave soul to volunteer to share their work, hot off the press. A throat clears and a wonderful, wonderful person puts their hand up. They share. It is very good. I want to buy their book when it is published.
I experience a momentary imposter-syndrome freakout—What am I doing here with these *real* writers?—then I am back in the moment.
One by one, those worthy writers take the plunge and share their fresh writing with us. We smile, we applaud, we give encouraging feedback and suggestions for improving their work. They are lovely people and their praise is genuine. I read my work, my face flushing. I needn’t’ve worried. They love my work too.
I needn’t’ve worried. They love my work too.
As the night chill sets in, we head out to dinner, our nerves shot and our hearts full. We can relax now. The laughter flows freely and as we say our farewells at the end of the night, my heart bursts at the seams.
I can’t wait for the next one.
Have you ever been to a writing retreat? How was that experience for you? Would you do it again? Would you recommend it to other writers? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.