Writing Retreat - Living the Dream!

I went on my first writing retreat in 2017.

I've wanted to write children's books for as long as I can remember. Probably since I was given a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by my grandparents, when I was about 7 years old, I think. And then just when I thought books couldn't get any better, they then gave me the whole set of The Chronicles of Narnia a couple of years later, and I was lost again.

The idea of other worlds, and other beings, got me through some tough times as a child, and even as a teenager. Then, in my late teens, a friend loaned me a Terry Pratchett book, and I learned that kids books also didn't have to take themselves too seriously. I've always loved to make people laugh, but a life on stage was not for me. My creativity had me fooled for a number of years that I could sing for a living, but my nerves vehemently disagreed, so I'm guessing being a stand-up comedian was probably out too.

I eventually became an adult (mostly), and discovered that my love of words, compassion, sense of humour, and enjoyment of connection, could actually make me some money, so for a number of years, I lived in the corporate world. I used my creativity and compassion in different ways - a mix of mediating and leadership and change management, and I thoroughly enjoyed coming up with solutions to problems I came across in the companies I worked in.

After having kids, I began to find it hard to imagine going back and using my creativity in a workplace. I really struggled being a first-time Mum - suddenly having to think of someone else 24hrs a day, and never getting to recharge as an introvert in the way I had become accustomed to before children. 

I did return to work, of sorts.

 I needed to remind myself of who I was, I think. I ran my own (very small) consulting business from 2005, and after a massive life shift overseas in 2011, I revamped things, and opened a large shared workspace (coworking/flexible workspaces) in the suburb we lived in. This kept me way busier than I'd really intended, but kept my entrepreneur spirit alive. Exhausted, but alive!

Once the kids started getting a bit older, one of my favourite things to do was read books to them. Take them on journeys to other worlds, make up the characters voices, read them with expression. And I realised I missed those stories myself.

I've re-read my favourite books over the years, and started finding myself thinking - oh, I would have taken that character over here, and done this with him/her. Or I'd go off on my own adventure in my head outside of the story - what if this other thing had happened, what would have happened to those characters? Would these main characters even have met?

So around 2016 (probably earlier, but that's when I started saying it out loud to people), I started toying with the idea of writing my own kids books. By this time, my own boys were 8 and 5 years old. They were hearing me say I wanted to do this, so for my 46th birthday, they gave me a notebook, with a handwritten note inside saying "Here's a book for all your story writing ideas!"

A month later, I started writing. 

I didn't get very far, but I did start collating ideas. Big ideas. Way beyond one book, in my head. Worlds, beings, magical concepts, settings, characters. And it grew. It scared me a little, if I'm honest - to want to write, but to have such huge concepts in my head.

But life comes back and pokes you rather rudely in the side sometimes. Reminds you of "all the other things you 'should' be doing". And some of my corporate problem-solving had begun to inspire me again. I was enjoying the world of work, and the connections with others who were similar to me. 

I was exhausted, all the time. I'd only discovered the whole Introvert thing a few years earlier, and was struggling to know what to do with it - it felt like I'd made choices I couldn't change, and I was going to have to accept tired was one of those choices, for the foreseeable future. 

On one of the particularly exhausted days (I used to call it 'exhaustipated', which is actually a suggested word for inclusion in the Collins Dictionary apparently! It's been 'suggested' for 11 years , so I'm guessing it's probably not in their top tray!), I hinted to my husband (the Extrovert) that I would love to just shut myself away for a few days to write my book. To my surprise (gobsmacked, I was!), he agreed, so I booked it before he could change his mind.  

I took myself off to a little Airbnb on a remote island for two nights (Friday afternoon til Sunday). I remember as the ferry was leaving the mainland, I had that same feeling I've described before, about locking my front door when I lived alone. I felt this great sense of freedom, and was so excited about really getting into writing this book that I'd been storing up all the ideas for.

On arriving, I unpacked everything, sat for ten minutes just enjoying the silence. It was a gorgeous little downstairs apartment in a house. The owners were upstairs, but I had my own separate entrance, a little kitchen, living room and bedroom.
And the view was just stunning. It was right at the edge of the water, so you could walk out the back french doors, go down the path to the end of the garden, and on the other side of the gate was the beach, and the ocean. It was so idyllic, and the perfect start to my weekend.

After I'd adjusted to this new solitary life that was mine for the next few days, I took out my book, my laptop and my pen. I had my ideas still in the notebook, but I'd progressed to typing the actual story up into a document on my laptop, so it was easier to access. 

I wrote a few things, mostly getting the character development ideas into the separate document I have for them. The things that had been flying around in my head with no outlet to land on. 

Then finally, I opened my actual book document, and after doing a quick scan review to remind myself where the story was up to, I started to write the next section. After maybe thirty minutes, I noticed the battery on my laptop was going to need charged reasonably soon, so I decided to plug it in, as there was a socket right next to where I had decided was the best spot to focus on writing. 

I opened my laptop bag to take out the charger.

No charger.. 

I dug a little deeper ( I don't know what your laptop bag is like, but mine is a bit like the Tardis - small on the outside, but holds a phenomenal amount of stuff, and then some). Still nothing resembling my laptop charger. Five minutes later, I'd take everything out of the bag, and discovered that I really didn't have my charger in there, or indeed anywhere on the small remote island that I was going to be on for the next 2 and a half days. 

What happened over the next couple of days is a bit of a mindless blur to me to be honest. I tried to do some writing in my book once the laptop died, but I kept needing to check things from earlier in the story, and eventually got so frustrated, that I switched the TV on, started watching a reality TV series that I'd been happily avoiding for years, got completely sucked in and stayed up until 2am watching more episodes. Next day, I had a long lie in, a leisurely breakfast, then went for a lovely walk on the beach. Came back and, ok - I'm just going to cut to the chase, I carried on watching the damn reality series for the rest of my trip! I think I read the entire book I'd brought with me, and yes, I probably toyed around with some ideas for my story, rejected some of the less exciting storylines, but generally, I did not have a writing retreat - unless by that you mean I retreated from writing!

The Moral of the Story?

Well there were a few I took away from that weekend. Don't go as far away from home next time. Write a list of things you need to take, and tick them off as you put them into the bag or suitcase. 
But the main one was - maybe, at that point into time, I needed a brain break, not a writing retreat. If you are a believer in things happening for a reason (I am, but I'm more along the lines of looking for the lesson or reason afterwards), then maybe I unconsciously 'forgot my charger', as I wasn't ready to spend 3 days writing.

In the next episode, I'll tell you about the second writing retreat - which I've just come back from - a ridiculous SIX years later! It was a very different experience, but I took all my lessons with me this time! 

And my charger..


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