Second Draft


Writing Retreat

Posted in Collaboration,Writing by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, April 12, 2010

Twice a year, the Cecil Street Writers’ Group organizes a writing retreat. We take off on Friday morning for a cottage-camp on a lake in the Kawarthas, and we stay until Sunday afternoon. This past weekend was one such retreat, and it’s spurred me on to recommend this kind of thing to anyone who writes.

Let me describe what we do; maybe it can work for you and your fellow writers as well.

We rent a cottage, or cottages, for the weekend, depending on how many of us are going up. This April there were only four of us, but I’ve been on retreat with as many as eight writers together. Splitting the cost makes it affordable for everyone. Michael loves to cook (and do we ever love to eat his food!), so he does most of the cooking and provisioning for meals and we all chip in accordingly with the cost. Helen always makes the excellent Saturday breakfast crepes, we take turns doing dishes, and drinks and snacks are brought up individually and shared collectively.

We wake up between 7 and 7:30 a.m. on average, eat breakfast together in the same cabin, and then go back to whichever cabins we’ve slept in to write. Some people like to repair to their rooms and write alone. Others gather in the living-room area of their cabin and write together. I am one of those latter, because I find it easier to concentrate on writing fiction in a room where other people are doing the same thing. The enthusiasm, or you might say the energy, in a room full of writers writing is a powerful force. I find it impossible not to be carried along by it, and contribute my own energy to the stream.

We don’t talk much; we’re there to write. Now and then one of us might get up and walk down to the lake, to stretch our legs, or to brood (Dave is a great brooder-by-the-lake on these weekends, and he says it helps him a lot). Sara and Helen have a traditional walk they do, to the weir and back, to watch the rushing water and have it clear their minds. But mostly, we write.

A full writing day up there is eight to ten hours long. After the workday is over we have dinner together, and spend the evening talking, drinking wine, and relaxing until we’re ready for bed. Then we do all it again.

When you go on retreat, your household stays behind. There are no pending chores to distract you, no family needs to attend to, and unless you turn your mobile phone on, no phone calls. You’re in a room full of writers who have the same goals as you do, and the only distraction, the lake, requires that you get up and go outside and walk to it. You can’t help but accomplish a lot, under those circumstances.

This weekend I wrote 8000 words, and rearranged and edited a great deal more in addition. I’ve revised two shorts stories, which are now almost ready to submit (pending one more glance-over by a helpful critique friend), and reached the point of being 85% finished my novel — I mean, the Frankenbook. The rest of us all had similar successes.

I don’t think any of us have gone on a single retreat and come away thinking, “This was a waste of time”. If you write, I recommend you try retreating. You won’t regret it either.

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