I am on a solo writing retreat, on the south coast of England. The photograph shows my workspace for this week and next. I’m in an unfashionable area so it’s comparatively cheap. I looked at Cornwall, initially, and found a sea view meant that even a studio flat would cost over £1,000 for a fortnight at this time of year. Here I’ve been able to rent a whole house for much less, and that means I can have friends to visit at the weekend which will be fun.
But from Sunday to Friday of this week, then Monday to Friday of next, I have 11 uninterrupted days to write. I know some people prefer communal writing retreats, but I’m such a compulsive communicator that if I went on one of those, I’d probably spend more time talking to people than typing words. Despite being a sociable person, I also enjoy my own company, so some solitude is a welcome change from my usual densely populated life.
There are 15 tasks on my to-do list ranging from guest blog posts to books. Of course I don’t expect to finish them all – indeed, five depend on input from other people which may or may not arrive during this fortnight. But I do expect to make significant progress with several, tick off at least three, and reach ‘next draft’ stage with at least two others.
Having a bunch of tasks to choose from helps my productivity. If I’m growing weary of one task, and losing interest, I can turn to a different challenge. And when I simply get tired of writing altogether, a little reading or a short walk will refresh my mental muscles.
I love to write with a sea view. Some people find it distracting, but I find it relaxes me and all the space of sky and depth of sea somehow offers more room for creativity. Though today, with gales and huge waves striking the shingle shelf opposite so hard that the spray hits the second-floor window in front of me and I can feel tremors through the house where I’m sitting, it is a tad distracting at times. But I’ve ticked off the first of the items to tick off, this morning, so I’m allowing myself a little sea-gazing now and then.
I also enjoy the way in which working on one task can shed light on another, seemingly unrelated, task. There’s a feeling I experience when I’m making meaning, as if everything is connected to everything else in a myriad of beautiful ways. I can never see or know the whole, but sometimes, through the interaction of thoughts and words and being and doing, I can comprehend a little more of the pattern than usual. It is not, and will never be, within my grasp, but now and again I can almost touch it, and maybe, if I reach a little further, think more, move more… I find that sensation addictive, and it’s a big part of what keeps me writing.
I am very, very lucky to be able to give myself this space to write. It’s not often I have both the money and the time. And I wouldn’t want to work like this always, but I find it really helpful, now and again, for making a good deal of progress in a short time. So it’s both self-indulgent and productive, which is a rare combination.
Sometimes the writing is smooth and steady, sometimes words spill onto the screen as my fingers hammer the keys. Sometimes I can see my way ahead clearly, other times my view is obscured. But, like the waves, the words keep coming.