How to Write 5000 Words a Day — RETREAT!

by henandinkblots

Seeya, Fam

Mum’s off on a retreat

By Jacqui Hazell

It was my friend’s idea for me to escape for a few days on a writing retreat. I had been complaining about the slow progress of my latest novel and she suggested I go away somewhere and get away from it all. That’s it, I thought. I’ll go on a writing retreat. It was the perfect time. My novel had passed the halfway mark. I knew where it was going and could only benefit from the chance to focus wholly on my script. A quick Internet search and I was booked on a three-day retreat in Devon with Urban Writers’ Retreats.

Of course there’s never a good time to leave your family. The dog was depressed. He’d just been neutered and had a plastic cone round his head to stop him licking his wound. My youngest had exams all week and my eldest was having her braces fitted, while my other half had his usual work commitments. Oh well, they will all have to cope, I thought. There’s not much you can do when you’re nearly 200 miles away in a grade II listed Georgian farmhouse enjoying beautiful surroundings and home cooked food.

Sheep Inspirations in Devon at the Urban Writers' Retreat spring 2013

Sheep Inspirations in Devon at the Urban Writers’ Retreat spring 2013

I got off to a good start, writing 2000 words on the train down and that was in spite of the stunning views as the track hugs the Devonshire coast towards Newton Abbot. I arrived in rain. It rains a lot in Devon, but that’s OK. Sunshine can be a distraction, as can a backyard full of donkeys, sheep, goats and hens. In fact, anything can be a distraction if you allow it to be. I set myself a goal: 5000 words a day. It was doable, I was sure, even if the view from my bedroom was of rolling hills and aforementioned farm animals.

And so the three days went something like this:

  • Woken by the sound of cockerels or donkeys.
  • Breakfast at 8ish – I opted for homemade granola (Urban Writers’ Retreats’ founder Charlie Haynes cooks everything from scratch and all the food was delicious).
  • Write all morning.
  • Lunch.
  • Write some more.
  • Afternoon tea with homemade cake at 4.30pm.
  • Write a bit more.
  • Chill in room and call home to check no disasters.
  • Dinner at 8pm with the other writers and a few glasses of wine.

It was bliss. Over the three days I wrote over 18,000 words longhand and even managed to nip out for a few short walks across the farmland and into the local village. The days were productive and the evenings sociable as we dined together, and got to know the other writers who had travelled from as far afield as Dubai and New York.

Meanwhile, back home, the dog (head cone removed) had overcome his depression, youngest had completed her exams and eldest had braces fitted. Other half (a perfectly able cook) had opted for restaurants or takeaways — understandable after a full day’s work, although not advisable long-term.

On my desk there now sits a pile of A4 covered in my scrawled handwriting. Those three days away have certainly increased my word count, but is it any good and would I go again?

There’s a whole industry out there keen to make a profit out of writers and over the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on writing courses (including an MA), conferences and literary events, and I’m reluctant to spend any more. However, I found the whole retreat experience hugely beneficial. It has moved my novel on far quicker than I could have managed at home and as a result I am close to completing the first draft. Writing fast (or faster than normal) can add extra energy to the work, hopefully adding some extra zing and a few unexpected turns. Although in all likelihood more editing may be needed later on.

If I had gone in the early stages of my novel I may well have spent three days staring at the farm’s cats and cockerels out of the window, but at this later stage it has proved immensely useful and I would certainly go again. In fact, I’ve already warned Other Half that all future novels may well require a few days away. He’s stockpiling takeaway menus as I write. It’s good to be missed.

The Coop’s Jacqui Hazell was born and brought up in Hampshire, England, where there was a foxhole at the end of her garden. It led to a wild, overgrown orchard and Jacqui thinks this early joy in trespassing contributed to her ongoing love of entering other unknown worlds. Art was her first chosen escape from the mundanity of suburbia. She studied at Winchester College of Art and Nottingham before moving to London where she spent a miserable month working as a secretary at Buckingham Palace.  There then followed work as a greetings cards designer, journalist and magazine editor. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies and shortlisted for the Jane Austen Award. She has an MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She writes novels, short stories and children’s fiction. She lives in London with her family and Basil the dog-that-looks-like-a-fox.