Are Writing Retreats Really Worth It?

By on September 10, 2016

Ahh, the writing retreat! Whenever I think of them, I imagine myself in a sunshine-dappled courtyard, probably somewhere in Tuscany, where gentle breezes ripple through the windows, and each day I sit at a beautiful oak desk with a view of rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. At night I gather with like-minded people, all dressed in tunics, loafers and flowing bohemian dresses, we drink good wine and talk about our creative projects, swap ideas and inspire one another. By the end of the week, I have written more than I have done in the last six months, and I believe in myself - it’s good, it’s all very very good.

Now I am sure that there are some writing retreats out there, ones that really do create this kind of experience, where a beautiful, relaxing environment is all you need to suddenly free your mind and write more beautifully and more vigorously than ever before.

But are writing retreats really like this? And why do we need them to be able to write? They are notoriously expensive, and while the accommodation food and wine may be so delightful it makes your eyes water, why is sitting around somewhere luxurious going to inspire you to write any more than sitting in your own home?

If you do decide to go on a writing retreat, how do you know which one to choose? Each writer is different and will have different expectations and hopes of what they want to achieve.

The first thing to note is that a writing retreat is not the same as a writing conference. A conference is more likely to be a one or two-day event where you can attend talks and lectures, classes and workshops, and even have the opportunity to pitch your idea to potential agents and publishers. A writing retreat simply provides you with the space and the tools to write, free from distractions, but there is usually little structure, and you will still be required to motivate yourself to do the writing rather than laze in the sunshine and drink gallons of wine come nightfall.

There are a huge number of writing retreats one can choose from. Doing you research will ensure you pick the best one for you. Some require you to stay for a minimum length of time; some will help you to structure your day, insist that you socialise with the other members and help guide you in the writing process, others will leave you almost entirely to your own devices. The settings vary greatly too, from stately homes to sunny villas or more basic accommodation with simple rooms and communal bathrooms and kitchens.

Writing with other writers can be very beneficial. You can discuss your work with likeminded people, share it, and provide encouragement and support for one another. This is all possible (and likely) at a writing retreat. However, it is important to bear in mind that there are no guarantees! Writers are very individually minded and often it can be difficult to get on the same wavelength. Writing in different genres and different types of writing can all be appreciated, but it is important to remember everyone attending a writing retreat is essentially there for themselves.

You still need willpower and determination. No one can force you to write - even at a writing retreat, and you won’t get your money back if you don’t achieve as much as you had hoped! So if you do decide to go on one you need to make the most of it. If you can’t embrace it fully and use it as an opportunity to kickstart or really get some headway on your writing, then it is probably going to be a waste of time and money!

Remember you can always make your own writing retreat. Let’s face it; many writers are struggling to make ends meet as it is, so while the breezy Tuscan dream might sound fabulous, the reality is that you pay a pretty penny for the privilege. If you know other writers who might like to try a writing retreat, why not get together and see if you can find somewhere for a mini-break and try it together? There are plenty of beautiful places where you can rent out amazing houses, cottages and so on, and usually for a fraction of the price of writing retreat.

So are writing retreats worth it? I certainly think the idea of them is wonderful, and providing you did your research and found one to suit your needs then it could be a fantastic and very helpful experience. However, if you find it difficult to write you may want to address that before you go, otherwise you could end up paying out hundreds of dollars for very little in return.

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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