It difficult to know what to expect from a writing retreat if you’ve never been on one before, and doubly nerve-wracking if you’re thinking of going on your own, but don’t be scared! I’ve been retreating for six years now, and have loved it so much that I’ve volunteered as coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) retreat for four of those.
Retreats come in many shapes and sizes. The one that I organise is fairly compact. It runs for a long weekend (Friday to Monday) and is fully catered in a country house with exclusive use. We invite a maximum of thirty residential guests including industry speakers – most of whom are society members (we occasionally admit non-members if the event doesn’t sell out – which it normally does!).
A well-run retreat will give it’s guests a chance to meet virtually via social media before the event. We create Facebook groups to encourage lift-sharing, and arrange a pub venue for lunch beforehand. Children’s writers are a friendly bunch and having a shared interest gives us lots to bond over. The social aspect isn’t mandatory, especially as authors tend to be introverts, but most guests say that being able to talk to other people who are going through the same process really adds to the experience.
The majority of formal writing retreats are likely to have a schedule of events. In our case, we include workshops, talks and one-to-ones with an author, agent and editor – again, they’re not compulsory, but they offer a rare chance to speak with professionals. This year, we hosted award-winning author, Sophia Bennett, Amber Caraveo, literary agent at the Skylark Literary Agency and Carmen McCullough, commissioning editor at Penguin Random House Children’s Books. All were hugely inspirational and shared generous advice with both published and unpublished delegates.
Then of course, there’s the writing. I didn’t manage to do as much this time because I was looking after everyone (that’s my excuse!) but there’s plenty of space to dream. We choose accommodation that allows for single-occupancy so that guests can write in their rooms. We also source properties with communal areas such as libraries and studies, which our last venue, Dunford House had in abundance (sadly it’s closing at the end of March 2018). If you’re thinking about booking a retreat, make sure you think about the facilities and levels of seclusion that you’ll need as not all events offer the same mix.
As for what to expect, well a bit of everything! Revelations, friendships, recommendations – a few more words on a page. Go with an open mind, take a walk, chat to someone you’ve never met before. Retreating is much more than word count – it’s a way to find creative freedom in a busy world; a time to find the you that’s buried beneath the layers of daily life.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions here, but feel free to post any other queries in the comments. I’d also love to find out more about your experiences and recommendations for retreats.