22 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo Alternatives: Retreating to a Retreat 2

In Retreating to a Retreat 1 Jex Collyer and Alan Wilkinson shared their reasons for escaping their normal writing spaces. In this concluding part they explain what they get from the experience.


Yes, it really is that simple.

Writing has been Alan Wilkinson’s day job for the past 20 years, and when he’s writing fiction he schedules for 1,000 words a day five days a week. ‘That way I know how long a project will take me to draft.’

We both know novelists who can complete that in an hour, and some days he’s not far behind. Other days... ‘I may be at my desk by 7am and reach lunch with only the first sentence down, then I know it’s going to be a graft day.’ Graft days can sprawl across sixteen hours, but he’s philosophical. ‘Regardless of whether it is by 10am or midnight, those 1,000 words get written. It’s my job and my partner accepts it.’

Jex Collyer has been writing consistently since 2008 and her schedule is more akin to the normal life of most people. She has a full-time job, a partner and “a healthy social life”. She uses the walk to her day job to ponder plot points, and emails these to herself from her phone so she can work on them during evening stints at her keyboard. She also believes in having a pad handy to scribble notes while she's cooking, but accepts that the bitty aspect of fitting writing around other work is not ideal.

‘It would be easy to decide I didn’t have time to write, which is the very reason I book myself into a retreat, so I have dedicated time to concentrate on my drafts.’  Being disciplined about distractions is the key.

'Even if I'm only in a cafe for a morning or afternoon's stint, the wifi is switched off and the phone set to silent. I'll check for calls when it suits the writing, not stop the writing to take the call.' And other people's noise? 'I always write to music. At home it's on surround sound, everywhere else it's on headphones.'

It's the same routine when she stays in a retreat, be it a residential library or a small hotel, with the addition that there's no sweating the small stuff, like do I need to buy potatoes? or knowing the washing-up is waiting; meals come all-in. 'Retreats are ideal for full immersion into your fictional world. It's one of my favourite sorts of holiday.'

Alan relishes his breaks when he's on a residency in America as driving into a small mid-west town, or calling into a diner for a meal, can throw up some wonderful copy. 'I'm usually there to concentrate on a specific work, but I'm also very aware that the act of being in unusual surroundings can stimulate new ideas, or provoke responses to the place that no amount of previous book or internet research can provide.' And don't get him started on the people he meets. 'They'd only be believed in the sort of travel-writing I do; never in a fictional novel.'

What Alan and Jex completely agree on is the need to focus. 'Just do it. This is your work, your career, your calling. Demand that it be taken seriously, by others as well as yourself.' 

And if you need to separate your writing time from your home-life time, even if it's just to prove a point to yourself, what better way than to find your own writing retreat. 

I thank my guests for their input over these two posts. Do leave a comment if you've found them useful, or add in how and where you found your personal bolt-hole.

For how Alan and Jex choose a retreat to suit their different needs go to Retreating to a Retreat 1.

Alan Wilkinson has just completed Chasing Black Gold (The History Press, July 2015). His account of a six-month retreat on a western cattle ranch, The Red House on the Niobrara, is available as an extensively illustrated e-book, or paperback. Toad's Road-Kill Cafe, his sharply observed trip up the 100th meridian from Mexico to Canada, is available as an ebook.
Visit his website or catch his ruminating blog

J.S. Collyer is a Science Fiction novelist from Lancaster, England. She likes narratives that are larger than life. Her first book Zero: An Orbit Novel (Dagda Publishing) is now available internationally in paperback and for Kindle, and she's working on a sequel.  
Follow her on Twitter: @JexShinigami
'Like' her on Facebook or drop into her writing blog 


  1. This came together wonderfully! Thanks, Linda. And thanks Alan!

    1. It wouldn't have happened at all without you. Great stuff. Keep going. And thanks for your time away from the w-i-p.