What Happens on a Writing Retreat – And What It Can Teach You

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a residential women’s writing retreat run by WEA Women in the Highlands at Forse of Nature, near Latheron. Having never been to a writing retreat before, I was completely unsure of what to expect. Aside from the obvious, I was nervous about the 25-mile drive there (yes, really!) and the prospect of sharing a room with other attendees (communication of the latter prompting a rush of anxiety about an as-yet undetected snoring habit, and roommates recoiling in horror at the sight of my make up free pre-bedtime face). As a side note – I ended up with two lovely, non-recoiling roommates and my other fears proved unfounded (barring one minor motor vehicle related incident which I shall return to a little bit closer to the end).

Our retreat started at 4pm on Friday, and making my way along the three-quarter-mile wooded drive to Forse of Nature it occurred to me that few more retreat-like places could be found.  This feeling continued while we were greeted on arrival with smiles, introductions and copious amounts of tea and coffee. We were shown to our bedrooms and left with a bit of free time before dinner to get ourselves settled – or in my case just to amble about ooh-ing and aah-ing at birds in the garden and daffodils in the 24-acre grounds.

Forse of Nature Grounds 2Forse of Nature TreesForse of Nature Scenes

Dinner was a casual getting-to-know-you affair before a session in an adjacent lounge complete with huge sofas, wooden floors, and that writing retreat essential – a real open, crackling fire. We answered some round-the-room icebreaker questions before being set loose on some free writing (involving being given a one-line prompt from a book and writing continuously for 10 minutes before being given pause to share). An ardent keyboard writer myself, this exercise came as something of a revelation. The sheer amount that fell onto the page without my continual editing interjections was really quite a thrill.

Saturday started early – mainly due to Forse’s resident cockerel waking us all up at the crack of dawn. This was actually rather endearing, and padding about long corridors before 6am did hold a certain charm. After some chatting (I’d like to say networking but I’m much more of a chatting person), we had a leisurely breakfast and got started with the programme. Not before a trip to see the resident animals though, naturally. That collision of the natural world and creativity really is quite a potent mix.

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Our first workshop was an introduction to blogging and other creative outlets. It was a fantastic dipping-your-toes-in session for those completely new to the whole blogging scene. Even as a relatively experienced blogger (only by virtue of comparison), there were plenty of learning points. I even learned how to write a Japanese haiku (google it) poem!

After lunch we had a session on writing opinion pieces. It was very enlightening and highlighted (for me at least), that I tend to water down my thoughts. In a sense, that isn’t a huge issue for me as I don’t particularly like sharing strong opinions. However, on the flipside I’ve learned that if the situation calls for it, I shouldn’t be afraid of voicing my own truth.

The couple of hours before dinner were filled with a nature activity led by the wonderful Forse team, involving walking in the wooded grounds and collecting things to make a natural dreamcatcher display. Aided by the glorious sunshine this was a lovely diversion that provided a chance to flex another creative muscle. My creation was, of course, inspired by florals. Making it was actually one of the highlights of my day.

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Dinner was another yummy offering from the Forse crew (a family team considerate to every requirement and request). Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian – you name it, they catered to it. And altogether such a lovely, friendly, welcoming bunch to boot.

After dinner we did another two free writing exercises, one with another prompt and one using all our senses to describe a childhood scene. Reading our work aloud was an element of every session – everyone was so supportive and encouraging of other people. Despite any nerves I think we were all left with a sense of being championed by everyone else around the room.

Sunday morning was another early affair (because, cockerel), so I decided to take myself off to a quiet lounge to write a few more pages of my book. Thankfully, there are quiet lounges all over Forse (a former poor house, infirmary, hotel and residential home). As  a blanket of haar rolled in over the grounds outside I enjoyed a peaceful hour curled up with the story coming to life inside my head.

After breakfast we had a final round-up session and did a bit of free writing reflecting on our experience. A few things I took from the conclusions included the realisation that everyone gets nervous – we all have our own hang-ups, insecurities and inner voices that niggle away. Not letting them get in the way of doing things is what matters. Saying yes even when that little voice inside is saying no.

I also learned that despite my introvert tendencies, in a group of people with shared interests I can muddle along quite reasonably. Put me on a night out with a group of strangers and you’ll find me hiding under a chair somewhere. Put me in a room of writers and I can engage, interact – and perhaps sometimes even do something like inspire.

Another learning point was that I can go a bit free-flow sometimes, and don’t always have to edit every piece to within a few inches of its existence. I’m definitely going to be doing a lot more longhand and free-flow writing. There is always time to tidy the stable when the horses have already been released.

And so, with visions of wild horses, after all this I bade goodbye to my new and interesting companions. I felt uplifted, empowered and ready for anything – well, that was until I got to my car and realised the battery was dead. I quickly realised I couldn’t even remember how to pop the bonnet (oh, the shame of it). So I shuffled back, embarrassed, to the Forse cafe, where a team member came to my rescue with a pair of jump leads – and a suggestion to try not to stall for the first 20 or so miles.

Perhaps sometimes we all need that jump start in life – that small moment of realisation that we can’t do everything on our own. That there is so much value in collaboration, shared experience and extending a hand to others.

As for me, I’m on the open road now and I’m determined not to stall.


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