Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go on a ‘Writing Retreat’ – perfect bliss for those who, like me, have caught that highly infectious ‘writing bug’. It was run by Helen Hunt and already being a big fan (see my post below), I had a pretty high expectation of the day – I wasn’t disappointed. For various reasons, I really was in need of some time out to concentrate on my writing, and the retreat really couldn’t have come at a better time.
It was held at the very atmospheric Delapre Abbey, which dates back to 1145. Finding inspiration certainly wasn’t going to be a problem as the building just oozes character. Having said that Helen had heaps of tips for finding and developing our ideas for stories which proved extrememly useful and helped me to think about the way I currently work. Most writers will tell you that ideas can come from absolutely anywhere – eavesdropping on conversations, anecdotes, characters and phrases that pop into our minds…they’re everywhere! For me, the bigger issue is how to move a great idea into a publishable story. Helen showed us a technique called ‘treasure mapping’ where you pick out text and images relevant to your idea from magazines and stick them onto a large piece of paper. This can help you think about how that initial idea can be moved into a fictional world of your creation. For example, if your idea was a woolen jumper that no-one wanted to wear, treasure mapping would help you think about who might have knitted it, and why. Who it was given to and why they didn’t like it. What will happen to the jumper and what will your chracters learn as a result? Finding images can also help you bring your characters to life and add those touches which make them human and unique. The writing industry has so much talent and anything we can do as writers to help our characters stand out from the crowd has to be worth a shot.
We spent the rest of the retreat writing freely, discussing markets, reading aloud for feedback and setting ourselves writing goals. Whilst reading your work in progress out to a group you don’t know too well can be quite scary, I find that it is also incredibly useful in gaining feedback. Somehow other people can always spot that adjective you used three times, structural issues that don’t quite work etc…. And, as long as they critique thoughtfully and sensitively, such feedback can also be very uplifiting. We had an excellent group who all gave sincere, honest thoughts and I was very grateful for that.
If anyone’s thinking of going on a writing day or course, I’ve found that taking some time whilst I’m travelling to the event really enables me to gain the most from the experience. As I sat on the train there, I sketched out the outline of a possible new story which meant I had something to work on when I got to the retreat. The story was already taking flight before I arrived which made a big difference to me. Of course, if you’re driving, you can’t do any scribbling on route, but as a driver myself, I’ve found that my car is a good place to let ideas flow. You just need to have your notebook ready once you park to capture all those precious thoughts!