Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Writers' Wednesday - Retreat to go Forward!



I run so many writing courses through the year – the basic Writing Romantic Fiction (either a weekend or 2 days out of the week in the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday week in July), the Advanced Writing Romance (again at Fishguard) and there’s Beginning, Middle and End – Planning your novel. 

 But the ‘course’ I think I most enjoy out of all of these is the Writing Retreat – Focus On Writing Romance. I’ve run this retreat three times now, with a fourth coming up. It’s always been booked up and it’s always a lot of fun. 

But, more importantly, I know that the students get so much out of it – they tell me and they book to come back again . . .and again. It’s not just the students - I get every bit as much from the weekend as they do. So I’m really looking forward to the next Writing Retreat I have coming up in The Hayes in October.

But I keep getting questions from interested people, would-be students. Just what happens on a retreat they ask. How does it differ from a course?

The answer is that a retreat can be anything you make it. I’ve been on retreat with fellow writers – simply because we wanted to get away from housework, cooking, visitors, the phone. (Don’t we all sometimes?) And I know people who run retreats in the same way - when everyone joins up for meals and perhaps a discussion of their work in the evenings but the rest of the time they are in their room, or some other quiet, private nook they’ve found, where they can focus on their work and write and write and write . . .

Weetwood Hall
That’s the idea sometimes. But a retreat can be run in any way the tutor, or the students, want it to go. Obviously there are the wonderful advantages of being relieve of all those household duties and having peace and privacy. You get to focus on you as a writer. And we can all do with that, whether you’re a beginner, have tried some submissions to editors and are just not getting there – or even, like me, multi-published with 64 titles to your credit. 

After that things can go anyway the tutor and the group plan. My retreats – the ones I run anyway are called ‘focus on writing romance’ for a reason. Each student is wanting to write some form of romantic fiction – the Harlequin type of series romance, a longer single title, plots with supernatural elements, thrillers... You name it, I’ve had someone come along to try it. 

The venue is always comfortable, often in lovely surroundings, with food provided for the whole weekend. Past retreats have been at Weetwood Hall in Leeds, the next one I have coming up is at The Hayes, Swanwick in Derbyshire. 

My retreats always have plenty of time for the students to go away and write – all weekend, if that’s what they want to do – but for me the other important factor is the opportunity to get together, to talk about writing, discuss problems people are having with their writing, suggest possible solutions, and try them out. 

Because of this, everyone submits about 3 chapters and a synopsis for me to read before the retreat starts – then every student has a one to one session with me to discuss where they are with their work, what’s going right with it, where there are problems. Together we decided on which part of the story – where there is a problem or something hasn’t quite worked – that they can go away and concentrate of writing a new approach to that problem following the advice I’ve given. 

I have lots of little techniques and ideas to add to the writing atmosphere of the weekend – brand new notebooks made just to scribble in to note down ideas and plans. 

Different coloured pens or pencils to make the planning fun and maybe inspire - it’s amazing what a difference that scribbling down notes with a lovely, soft HB pencil can make. Or writing the thread of a story with blue for the hero, red for the heroine – you can always introduce black for a villain as well if you want. 

Then there are many different coloured post it notes to follow themes or characters through the story. And something that has always been a great success – out of all proportion to its small size – a simple, brightly-coloured kitchen timer. Promise yourself you’ll write for – say -= just half an hour. Set the timer and- go. 

All over the venue I can hear the ping of the bells and the timers go off when that half hour has been reached . You can just about guarantee that almost everyone will set them up again for another 30 minutes – or 60...

Then there are the ‘plenary sessions’ – this is where everyone gets together again. We all talk about what we’ve been working on (yes – the tutor as well. When I’m not needed to do  one to ones or to answer any questions students have, I’m focused as well – dealing with some knot in my own story or just planning pout the way it will go. 

The first retreat I ran was when I planned out the story that has just become Destined for 
The Desert King (which is due out in December). In the plenary sessions we discuss what problems the one to ones brought up. How we looked at solving them. How well it worked. Everyone learns something from this, even if it’s not their work that’s under discussion.

And there’s the other very special element of a retreat – the talking, the sharing, the advice that everyone puts forward. And the realisation that even though writing can be a very lonely occupation at times you’re not alone in this – there are others like you. Others who are as tangled up with imaginary characters, who are listening to the voices inside their heads, who are wondering just what will happen next and puzzling out the reasons WHY something happens. 

 Sometimes it’s a formal teaching experience, at others – over the meal table or sharing a bottle of wine (or two) after the class times are over – it’s a relaxed and often laughter-filled experience as we all share our writing experiences. 

I love it – and I can’t wait till October when my next retreat is planned. 

I do try to run retreats every year – hopefully twice , in the spring and the autumn. But if you can’t get to one of my retreats you don’t have to miss out completely. 

Why not plan a Retreat at Home for yourself? 

You can plan just simple food – soup and salad is my usual ‘retreat fare’. Negotiate with family/partner/friends to leave you alone just for the Saturday and the Sunday morning – bribe them if necessary! I used to pay for my DH and my son to go off to a football match and leave me alone in the house. Then there’s the fun of treating yourself to some colourful, inspiring stationery – notebooks, pencils ( I just treated myself to some lovely coloured pencils with ‘bright ideas’ on them – I can’t wait to use them!) – and of course one of those all-important kitchen timers. 

 Shut yourself away – and write! The only thing you can’t find for yourself are those important one to ones. But perhaps if you have a friend who wants to write you can share your ‘retreat’ and act as critique partners in the evening over a bottle of wine. 

One of the most important things about a writing retreat is that it bounces you out of your writing routine, gives you new ways to have fun, to ‘play’ with your writing and see where it takes you. I know that I always go home after a retreat revitalised, refreshed and raring to write. And the lovely notes I get from my past students tell me that they feel that way too.

My  latest romance  is Olivero's Outrageous Proposal published in April in Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern Romance.    Coming in December is the writing-retreat inspired  Destined For The Desert King  which is published in December this year. 

If you're interested in any of my writing courses - or retreats - the details can be found  on the Relax and Write web site or the Writers' Holiday site. All details are also posted on the Events page  on  my web site.

My web site is  here   and the latest details of  courses/workshops/retreats can also be found on my blog   or my Facebook page.
All courses are based around  the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, the newest
edition of which is available on Kindle or a revised and updated paperback edition now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com  etc.

Have you ever been on  a writing retreat? Where would you like to see one set? And are there anything's you'd specially hope to get out of the experience?  (I'm busy planning for next year!)

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