‘WRITING RETREAT SPACES NOW LIMITED’ read a recent high priority email in my university inbox. I began this journey wondering how limited this ‘ere "limited" was, and secondly by enquiring as to the extent of "retreat" available.
"Retreat is subjective," I reasoned, justifying the cause. And justified I was when, the next day, came the email: "WRITING RETREAT NOW WITH FIVE PLACES LEFT".
Deciding to follow up with the faculty on the subject, I skipped up to the English department’s front of house, a poor soul if ever I saw one, and asked the necessary questions. How much does it cost? "Nothing". What do I need to qualify? "Nothing, except your dissertation title". Got that, obviously.
"Anything else," he asked, now looking a little like I’d drawn the soul from his body and stamped on it. Yeah, where is this retreat? "Well, they’re in the English department".
So not a lot of "retreating" is going on, then?
He tried to convince me that the fifth floor of a building with no lift qualified as equal to a Peruvian hut, or a log cabin surrounded by "beware of the bear" signs in Newfoundland, probably with a cosy fire, some sinking sofas and an emphasis on the prohibition of electrical items.
Not, as he continued to imply, a 100-seater classroom overlooking the canal, where, as it goes, they’re doing some drilling work at the moment. He couldn’t offer an explanation for this, so I made some up for him, largely surrounding the notion that the university doesn’t happen to own a log cabin in Canada, or in fact anywhere else in the Commonwealth.
But what I did come away with was the idea that college is actively encouraging us to write things this year. These "retreats" are designed to make you write, solidly, for all the time you are in the room. Which, to me, seems like a jolly good idea. Let’s hope they’ve turned the wifi off.
The concept is neat, a concentrated space devoted to the progressive doing of work. Having since read the press release, uni authorities claim it’s more helpful to study in an atmosphere where others are writing. A guilt trip, some might say. And that’s great, if you’re not a really keen people-watcher and thus find it easy to concentrate around 100 other, similarly distracted, baying to escape, people.
Alas, since finishing school I’ve found that the small blessing I had in the department of mass concentration has withered like my basil plant. I now find its far more fun to make up ridiculous scenarios about people instead. Let’s call it creative writing.
So you should ignore all my advice and, if your university is offering the unadulterated pleasure of writing freedom in a motivational place (hopefully without associated speakers) then you really ought to take it. And if they’re not, ask why.
Otherwise, and this is what I’ll be doing, lock yourself in the flat and write, for a whole day. Who knows what you’ll come up with? But don’t, and this advice you should take, admire your reflection in the mirror and make up ridiculous scenarios alone. That’s what a writing retreat is for.