Do writing retreats work???

I have to admit that when other writers have told me that they’ve been to a retreat I’ve been sceptical about the amount of work they’d accomplish. I could believe a retreat to be enjoyable – getting away from the shopping and cooking, spending time with writers, wine, food, lovely environment etc etc.

But work?

When the lovely hosts at Chez Castillon, Janie and Mickey, asked me if I could be writer-in-residence at short notice from 27 April to 2 May I saw it as an opportunity to see for myself. I spent the week beforehand getting students/columns/edits up to date, as I planned to spend the retreat working on my new book. I had a rough outline and about half the cast – about 18 pages of handwriting. I packed my iPad and keyboard, a pad, my faithful babies’ names book (for character names) and some post-it notes. Sorted. (For future reference – take paper clips, also!)

The back of the house, Chez Castillon. My room was up on the top floor.

The back of the house, Chez Castillon. My room was up on the top floor.


The view from my window.

The view from my window.

My lovely room contained table and chairs (along with necessities such as the bed) and I set myself up to work.

OK, that’s a fib. I went across to Monique’s bar and had a couple of glasses of cold vin blanc, then came back for a fab and convivial evening with the other writers on the retreat, talking about our work. Also eating a lovely dinner and drinking a leetle more wine.

In the morning, after blissful breakfast of local cheeses, meats and fruits, I began writing by hand – something I often do in the planning stage – working on character bios, seeing where further characters were needed, working on conflicts and the threads they’d create, deciding how one conflict would impact upon another, making lists of things to research.

The piles of paper grew.

photo(53) copy 3I took some outside into the fantastic garden to enjoy a bit of sun.

photo(53) copy 2

At the end of my six days at Chez Castillon 18 pages of handwriting had grown to 109 plus post-its. I had:

Completed all the character bios I need so far

Worked on my conflicts and the threads they’d produce

Done some research

Emailed friends for their views on a specific conflict I thought they’d have views on

Expanded the outline enormously

Drafted the first two chapters

Written up on my iPad most of the first chapter (2,895 words)

Borrowed a stapler so I could bring my work home again in some semblance of order. The three piles I ended up with are: characters; research; story.

photo(51)I can’t say when I’ve had a more productive week. It has been amazing. I would do it again – and again and again! Everything and everyone on the retreat was fantastic.


Garden and pool.

Garden and pool.

A sprig of 'muguet' given and received on May 1 to bring me luck all year (hope so)/

A sprig of ‘muguet’ given and received on May 1 to bring me luck all year (hope so)/


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15 responses to “Do writing retreats work???

  1. Sounds wonderfully productive amid such beautiful surroundings. Also gives us a glimpse into how you work. Thanks for posting.


  2. newromantics4

    It all sounds perfect Sue. I think I’d have to be extra disciplined and unplug from the internet until evening. So glad that you got so much done.


    • My discipline came from doing v little social networking, Lizzie. All those little jobs like accepting new Twitter followers I omitted. The cumulative backlog has taken me all of today to clear, which shows how much it takes out of each day. I did do important emails, though, and use the internet for research. X


  3. siobhandaiko

    Looks amazing!


  4. Sounds great, Sue. Well done for being so disciplined!


  5. I’ve always fancied doing a retreat, I think you need to know exactly what you want to write and achieve beforehand though, otherwise you could be quite aimless in such fabulous surroundings.

    Were there no other writers? No networking at all?


    • Yes, there were other writers, Maria. I believe the hosts have the facility for up to 14, though there weren’t that many this time. Networking …? I would have called it more peer feedback on whatever you wanted to bring up re your work. As I was beginning a book I asked for views on certain things. For eg, ‘If you were x and you discovered y, how would you feel about z?’ But there were no editors or agents to schmooze 🙂 x


  6. What a wonderful few days you’ve had. And I’m so impressed at how productive you were.


  7. Judy Astley

    It’s a very inspiring place and with such fabulous hosts. I’m off there for a third visit very soon. As Sue says, part of it is not just the peace to work and the freedom from domestic clutter, it’s also about being able to bounce ideas around with other retreaters.


  8. I was at Chez Castillon a couple of weeks before you and had one of the most productive weeks of my writing life. Also fabulous food, company and surroundings. Bliss.


  9. I’ve been to Anam Cara in Ireland which I can thoroughly recommend – I found being there very productive and immensely relaxing which is a glorious combination Chez Castillion sounds idyllic (+ sun + swimming pool)


  10. juleswake

    Some friends and I organised a writing retreat weekend and all four of us got loads done. Surprised ourselves … and best of all we talked writing and share our plots, conflicts, problems. It was great fun as well as being really productive … although I have to ask, did you get any sleep. That sounds amazingly productive!


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