Eek! Writers! Retreat! (On Writers’ Retreats)

So last night I watched the BBC comedy/drama (not ‘dramedy’ – get out of town), Tamara Drewe. The film’s directed by all-around cool cat, Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) and was a surprisingly potent adaptation of Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel of the same name.

While the film was witty, thoughtful, and an effective deconstruction of what it means to be in a relationship, the main thing that appealed to me was its setting. Most of it takes place at this idyllic writer’s retreat in the English countryside. Local and visiting writers alike flock to the place, where they enjoy food, board, the company of other writers – including an internationally-renowned crime writer – and some good old-fashioned peace and quiet (as with all paradises, there is no obligation to socialise). Although the film is about much more than the work habits of writers, it does present an strong case for these sorts of retreats.

And here’s where I confess that I have always been curious about writer’s retreats. Impractical as a solitary writing holiday may be, I still find something very appealing about them. Maybe it’s that foolish romantic notion I harbour that writing is still the elusive and mystical pastime it was considered back in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries; surely Real Writing isn’t about sitting in front of your computer going square-eyed in your pyjamas until 3pm.

Still, as indulgent as they may be, I can’t help but think that there must be some real benefits to these writer’s retreats. I get the feeling — from watching Tamara Drewe and from allowing my fanciful mind to wander — that I could get a lot of great work done at one, though, ultimately, I know this is probably ridiculous: I mean, right now I have all the free time and solitude in the world, yet I still don’t write nearly as often as I’d like to.

I think it’s like the happiness trap: the ‘I’ll be happy when …’ trick. I tell myself, ‘maybe if x condition was fulfilled, I would write a lot more.’ This logic is erroneous. It’s something our minds tell us to rationalise all the fear and complacency we’re experiencing. All this type of thinking does is prevent us from pushing forward and working through our fears.

I know all this, yet I am still curious about writer’s retreats. I mean, what if I’m wrong? What if the secret to success lies just behind their mysterious iron gates?

What do you guys think about writers’ retreats? Are you interested? Or do you think they’re a load of hogwash? Would you ever seriously consider going to one? Have you gone to one in the past? And, if so, how did you find the experience?


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