Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On writer's retreats.

This blog post is coming to you from the beautiful town of Kerikeri, in the far north of New Zealand. I’m at a writing retreat with some of my best writing friends, something that we do for one or two weeks every January.

I love the writing retreats. For starters, it’s wonderful to have two weeks to focus on writing. Chores around the house are minimised because we take turns and otherwise we don’t need to worry about children or partners who obviously have demands on our time.

Then there’s the conversations with other writers. We can discuss issues we’re having, ask for advice, there and then on the spot.

During the time leading up to the retreat, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to work on. This, along with the time and the often minimal internet access, means that the retreats are very productive.

I did 50,000 words at one retreat, and 60,000 at another. The record is held by Donna Maree Hanson, who wrote an entire draft of a novel – 80,000 words – in the two weeks.
So if you want to do your own writing retreat, what are some of the things to consider to have a successful one?

A) Decide what sort of retreat you want to run. We focus on time for writing and do very little focussing on sharing and critiquing work. Some retreats are all about the critiquing and the participants read each others work before they go. This will then decide what type of place you need to find (will people need somewhere to write?). And make sure everyone is clear up-front on what the expectations are.

B) Consider the personalities of the people who are coming. As with any long term endeavour where people are staying in close quarters, even the best of friends can eventually grate on each other. It’s possible a retreat may not be a good idea for you – be honest about it. Otherwise it could be a bad experience for you and the other attendees.

C) Get a place out in the country, but not too far from amenities. It’s good to have a certain isolation – it helps in terms of keeping you focussed on the work and the beauty is inspiring. But you want to be able to get to food and so on easily.

D) Plan a few trips out and about. Particularly if you’re going to a part of the world you’ve never been before. After all, you’re writers – new environments and experiences will be important for the freshness of your work.

E) Organise the chores. Share cooking and cleaning up duties fairly. Unless you have someone who is desperate to do a particular job e.g. cooking. In that case, thank the heavens for them and do what you can to make their work easy.

F) Allow for different work habits and needs. Some people work at night, some during the day. Some can work communally, some need their own space. Sometimes, these needs change during the course of the retreat. It’s important that people feel free to work in the manner that suits them.

G) Have fun! Spending time away from your normal life and solely in the company of fellow writers is an inspiring and invigorating thing to do, so go for it!

Nicole Murphy is the author of the Dream of Asarlai trilogy and dozens of published short stories. You can find her online at or follow her on Twitter @nicole_r_murphy You can read more about the retreat at

1 comment:

Joan Leacott said...

Two weeks--how marvelous. I've hosted a four-day brainstorming retreat at my cottage in Northern Ontario, Canada. It's the highlight of the year.