Retreating to the Seaside

Francesca reflects on the advantages and fun of writing retreats.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Do you ever go on writing retreats? I’ve been going on at least one a year since 2010 and I thoroughly recommend them. They’re an enjoyable way to achieve a good number of words, with no household or family day to day incidents to distract you.

That’s not to say that it’s all work, work, work. There’s got to be a balance. It helps to have an agreed format with those you’re on retreat with. In my experience it goes something along these lines:

  • Morning: work till coffee time. Go out for coffee
  • After coffee: work
  • Lunch: Snack lunch provided and shared by attendees
  • Afternoon: Write till around 3.30. Have a cup of tea and a natter.
  • Work till dinner time.
  • After dinner: Watch TV, a film, natter, feedback.
  • Work if you’re a night owl

A lovely old boat in Whitstable which could spark new story ideas

The breaks seem plentiful but are an encouragement. Plenty of mini goals can be set which I always find spurs me on. Having breaks is also an opportunity for feedback.

The proportion of work the participants get done during each period depends on whether they’re a morning, afternoon or evening person. During my retreat in Hastings, my writing buddy, Angela Johnson, achieved more in the mornings, whereas I did more in the afternoons. She also managed to get an early morning walk in most days before even starting! Another writing buddy, Elaine Roberts, is also a morning person, whereas Elaine Everest likes to work later in the day.

A feature of  some retreats I’ve been on is each person cooking an evening meal, which has provided at least four dinners during the week. The other days, particularly the first and last, we’ve eaten out. How much you do that depends on what people want to spend, so retreats can be tailored to a budget. Sharing a house obviously divides renting costs. If you’re prepared to share bedrooms (I’m afraid we never are), it brings the cost down again.

Littlehampton in the winter sun

All but one of the retreats I’ve been on have taken place by the sea –Whitstable, Littlehampton and Hastings – so there is much to inspire a thalassophiliac* like me. Perhaps mountains or woods are more your thing and you prefer to hide yourself away completely. Personally I feel it helps to have shops nearby. The one retreat we did where we were in the middle of nowhere (if you can call being seven miles from Hastings that!), we couldn’t even pop out for milk.

The final feature of all the retreats I’ve attended has been a day out in the middle to somewhere interesting. It’s another chance to recharge those batteries and could even be a chance for a little research.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative and you have close family living at a distance, you could always ask to spend a week at theirs. It’s particularly useful if they’re at work during the day and you can get on, while enjoying their company in the evening. It’s not something I’ve done yet but I have thought about it.

To all those on a retreat soon, happy writing – and don’t get snowed in like we nearly did our first year in Whitstable!

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

* A thalassophiliac is someone who loves the sea!






6 thoughts on “Retreating to the Seaside

  1. As you know, I’m a great advocate of writing retreats. I’m always surprised by how much I get done, although it’s minimal in comparison with your epic word count, Francesca
    I’m certain that close proximity to the sea has some benign and stimulating psychological impact, although the novel I’m now writing is set well inland. That rush of salt wind kick starts the brain cells.
    The important thing to remember on retreat is to respect others’ need for silence. It’s always tempting when you have reached a hiatus to want to talk, but if everyone is typing furiously: not a good idea.
    Coffee stops are not an indulgent luxury, but absolutely essential. There’s something quite exhilarating about leaving the fictitious world and re- entering the real one with all its sounds and sensations.
    In Hastings we discovered the very pinnacle of coffee shop excellence: Hanushkah, book lined and brilliant in every possible way, and individual freshly laundered hand towels in the loo. Now, there’s posh!!!!
    If it’s difficult to find time and place to write, then a retreat is highly recommended.

    • Indeed Angela, Hanushka was wonderful. My favourite coffee shop in Hastings so far. Nice coffee and cakes and a ‘writerly’ atmosphere. And those breaks get you geared up for the next period of writing.

      And I agree about respecting others’ need for silence. That’s why having agreed prescribed writing and break times is such a good idea.


  2. A lovely piece and so full of memories. Snowy Whitstable is the best ever memory!
    I’ve organised writing retreats for a number of years now and know that for most it is the lure of the sea that aids our writing. Anytime of the year it is good to be by the sea. Ramsgate for us in 2016 and I hope a return to Whitstable later the same year.

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