Sunday, January 1, 2017

Retreat(ing)

The turning of another year is a good moment to reflect back on how far we have come. It's also a good place from which to view how far we still have to go.

Four years ago, I stole one day a week away from my day job and started writing. I began, because I didn't know any better, with a novel, which I threw myself into drafting over a deliriously happy seven-month writing binge.

Then I spent the next three years in redraft hell.

2016 was the year I swore I'd crack it. To this end, I created two DIY writing retreats for myself, featuring all the things I believed most crucial for a solid writing endeavour:
space
good food
fresh air
solitude
liberal quantities of chocolate.

The first was in a cottage on the West of Ireland in May. I learned a lot from that retreat, which I unwisely but happily filled with visiting family members, and which was marred by an unfortunate bout of bronchitis. I benefited immensely from the live-in services of my very talented brother (yes, that brother), who kept me fed and motivated, and who, over long adventures to rescue lost lambs and investigate strange lights in the island dark, provided an excellent sounding board for my editing dilemmas.

This second retreat was a different animal. South Africa closes down for two weeks' summer holidays over December, so I packed my partner off to a friend's house in the bush, and bunkered down to work.

(with occasional piña colada breaks)


I was at home, at my own desk. I spent the mornings out jogging around our local dam, or in the nearby park. I slept when I felt like it, and wrote until hunger stopped me. And I was - crucially - kinder on myself. 

Whatever happens with the manuscript, I am glad to have spent this time with it. Away from the busy-work of daily life, decisions that I couldn't get my head around have become clearer and less insurmountable. Having no demands but writing felt marvelously freeing. I have loved the experience so much that I am planning a major shift/ leap of faith in the coming months (more on that anon). 

It also helped me slow down, and question the unreasonable pressure I have been putting myself under. This writing lark takes the time it takes. As long as you're putting in the hours, the work is getting done.

It might take years, but it's getting done. And this is the thought I want to take with me into 2017, from an outstanding post by literary agent Lizzie Kremer:

"That should be just about long enough."

[I'd love to hear from writers about their own retreat experiences - DIY or structured. Which have you tried? What is the best part of it for you? And are you planning any in 2017?]

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