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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Writing Retreats - Are They Worth It?

Zoya, Kris and Sue, showing the flag for the SWW.
I'm prone to occasional bouts of 'Middle Class Panic'. I've worked extremely hard to break out of my middle class bubble and sometimes, when I feel I'm backsliding, I will find myself in the grip of a strong compulsion to do or say something more or less inappropriate, profane, insane or disgusting. This usually occurs when I find myself talking about property values, matching food to wine or being judgemental about people in track pants.

There were occasional breaks in the drinking for work.
Which should make it easy to understand the degree of trepidation with which I approached the idea of attending a weekend writers' retreat. It's difficult to think of anything more middle class - the only thing I can come up with is those yoga camps people go on, but I'm not really sure I can factor in the absolutely unthinkable when making comparisons.

Me possibly saying something important, but probably not.
Why did I even contemplate going, you may be asking, if I viewed the event with such profound dread? Well, the single most compelling factor was that this retreat would be in the company of the Northern Beaches Writers' Group. This sterling group of people has railroaded me into various projects and undertakings, all of which have been successful, surprising and full of positive learning experiences. Rather like a Disney film, only not so derivative, crap or twee. 

So, braced to endure conversations about child-rearing, mortgage brokers, arthouse cinema and a host of other topics in which I have absolutely no interest, I girded my loins, trained my liver and set out grimly determined to get as much drinking and writing done as possible. As it turned out, I was far from being the only person to have had this idea.

Kris and Kylie, living proof that I do not work as hard as I should.
We arrived at our resort some time in the middle of Friday afternoon. 

Sorry - that last sentence gave me Middle Class Panic and I had to throw a chair across the room. Anyway, we arrived, nosed around our living spaces and checked all the cupboards and drawers to make sure no previous guest had left a stash of booze by mistake. Well, I assume I wasn't the only one. It was after this that events took a surprising turn.

Me, feeling the effects of unremitting booze, Guy not doing so, and Kylie being unimpressed.
We had arranged to meet at one of the cabins for reasons I did not fully understand. I soon discovered, however, that we were working on a revision and clean-up of our Write a Book in a Day entry, The Time of the Jade Spider. We went straight to work. Our fearless leader, Zena the Zealous, moderated a highly productive discussion, which was nowhere near as bad as it sounds because it was also a very well catered (read 'lubricated') discussion as well.

Some idiot with a guitar.
We then proceeded to get rowdily, manically and loquaciously drunk. Well, I say 'we'. A guitar was produced and strangled, songs were sung, pacts of eternal friendship made and, in my case, balconies leapt from. The following morning, after having discovered the resort's critical error of providing me with bacon in all you can eat form, we got down to work. And work we did. Sure, there was all the usual stuff - raging out over internet problems, staring at a blank page becoming convinced that I've completely wasted my life, breaking my resolution not to be, yet again, everybody's IT support person, but these minor problems were as nothing compared to what was actually achieved.

Zena Shapter, group leader, ego wrangler and selfie taker extraordinaire.
Writing was done, knowledge was shared, enormous quantities of alcohol were consumed, sure - but all this stuff is just stuff. The main thing - the thing which made the whole thing worthwhile - was the fact that the weekend re-affirmed my belief in the idea of writing as being the sole most important thing in my life. Spending time with like-minded (and not so like-minded) writers is nice, but the main effect was far more important. More than anything else, the benefit was in regaining a sense of the possible. Seeing how other writers work and hearing about their forays into the harsh and indifferent world of publishing made the whole undertaking of writing seem significantly less nebulous and futile.

A rare picture of me actually listening to someone else.
Are writing retreats worth it? Well, this one was, and I'd highly recommend the experience to any writer, at any stage of their journey. Assuming, of course, that they're able to collect a group of people as excellent as the one I've stumbled into.

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