Kirsten Twardoski’s recent post about writing retreats inspired me to write a little more about my experiences. I’ve stayed at 2 writers’/artists’ retreats, a week long experience at Varuna in the Blue Mountains (near Sydney, Australia) and 3 fantastic weeks at La Muse in south-west France. Both were fantastic experiences. Here’s why:
1. Conversation with other writers
The conversations I had with other writers were absolutely the best things about both my retreat experiences. Naturally, there was a lot of talk about writing. But we also talked about family, love, marriage and divorce, religious cults, gender politics, culture, mental health, colonialism, medicine, science, art, travel and much, much more. The conversations were entertaining, enriching, enlightening, deeply moving and sometimes hilarious. It was fascinating to talk with people from completely different backgrounds, with incredible life experiences.
2. Beautiful surroundings
Both Varuna and La Muse are located in very beautiful parts of the world. Varuna House is in Katoomba, one of the small villages dotted through the Blue Mountains, and is only a short walk from the stunning Three Sisters at Echo Point. Some of Australia’s most spectacular bushwalks are only minutes away to provide writers with plenty of inspiration. La Muse is tucked away in Labastide Espabairanque, a tiny village about 40 minutes drive from the medieval town of Carcassonne. As well as being only a short drive from the magnificent ruins at Lastours, La Muse is set in an unspoilt mountain area where you can roam for hours through the countryside, or walk down to neighbouring villages. For an Australian like me, walking up and down lanes and past buildings that date back centuries was a revelation that gave me the ability to look at my writing from new perspectives.
Both retreats I attended had a strict policy of quiet time for designated working hours during the day. This time devoted to writing practice was such a gift, and I was incredibly productive during both retreats. Being away from the rush and trivialities of day-to-day life gives you freedom in your writing practice that is impossible to replicate at home. There are no distractions save for the ones you choose to have.
4. Different perspectives
There is nothing like travelling across hemispheres to give you new perspectives for your writing or any creative practice. Everything is different: the air, the colours in nature, the animals, birds, sounds and smells. Travelling to a retreat closer to home also can have the same effect because even though some of the elements may be familiar – the accents, the food, the light – you’re seeing new people, new neighbourhoods and new landscapes that take you out of your everyday experiences. It’s a jolt to the heart, and the imagination.
Retreats are a great opportunity to discuss your work with your peers. Many fruitful ideas come from simply talking about your work with others who understand the processes, frustrations and difficulties of creative practice. In some retreats you’re encouraged to read your work to others, giving you the opportunity to give your work to an audience for perhaps the first time. Even more importantly, the others at the retreat take their work seriously and expect you to do the same. Whether you’re a multi-award winning writer or working on your first novel, you are treated as a professional, and this is a great incentive for you to do your best work.
So that’s my top five reasons for going on a writing retreat. What are yours?
Top image is of Roquefere, the village next to Labastide Esparbairenque, taken by me during my visit to La Muse.