Saturday, July 24, 2010

Addicted to Absence

Hawthornden Castle - International Writers' Retreat

Le Chateau de Lavigny - International Writers' Residence

For years I used to drool gently over the websites of writing retreats/residencies/colonies - "How wonderful," I thought, "to be able to escape from the world like that and do nothing all day but write. How wonderful to be taken so seriously as a writer that you get given a chunk of time like that, in places like that, with other writers - REAL writers - to do nothing but get utterly stuck in ..." But it was not for the likes of me, with more children than sense and a teaching job and all that other stuff that makes escape completely impracticable.

But, if you live long enough, things change. Gradually, eventually, COULDN'T POSSIBLY became WHY NOT? So I started applying ...

And has the experience been as fabulous as the expectation? Yes it has. Both times. (Both times so far, because I'm going to apply for more.) I sank up to my eyeballs in my work. I got reams done. I found the solution to problems of plot by the simple expedient of staying at it until I did. Maybe I couldn't keep up that kind of pace longer than the 3 or 4 weeks on offer, but I loved the feeling of going all out. Going for broke. Is it difficult living so closely with 5 or 6 strangers? Well, yes. A bit. But is it rewarding living so closely with 5 or 6 other writers? Completely. Each time, each group, I learned so much, got stretched, reminded that there's a whole world of words out there. You can get too enclosed, too inward-looking just writing what you write in the way that you write it. It's exhilarating to get that shaken up.

But couldn't I achieve the same thing by just kidnapping a passing poet and holing up in the garage for a month? Sorry, but no. The beauty of the setting is important too. Vital, really. I'm not sure how to describe why or how, but take my word for it. It matters.

Writing retreats/residencies/colonies aren't for everybody, but they are definitely for me. They might be for you, too. If you're at a point in your life when escape is even remotely possible, give them a thought.

Who knows, I might see you there!

Cheers, Joan.


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