And it was utterly wonderful.
Yes, I know that the image here is someone hugging a tree. We did that too, but the real joy was hugs with each other. Wine bottles may also have been hugged. Usually while still partly full.
Why Zoom can’t compete with hugs
Our retreat group has been Zooming regularly, usually once a week while we waited for the time we could get together in the flesh. Our physical retreat was postponed twice, with much gnashing of teeth.
In our Zooms, we chat—of course we do—but we also fess up to how much we’ve done, or not done, in the last week.
The Strugglers were meeting 6 days a week on Zoom during lockdown. There’s nothing like an impending daily deadline to make a writer set fingers to keyboard.
Good excuses (eg “My leg fell off”) are acceptable in Strugglers; but “I didn’t feel like writing so I stayed in bed” tends to result in the Zoom equivalent of a collective raspberry.
But it’s still not the same as meeting in person and putting the writerly world to rights.
Here, on the edge of the Lake District, we had hugs, we drank gallons of tea, and just the odd siplet of alcohol. In our week there, we ate out (twice) at the Strickland Arms which served great food and local beer that the connoisseurs in the group pronounced excellent. (Not all those beer-lovers were blokes, please note.)
We cooked and ate together, lingered over the table for hours, sent partners out for food and scrumptious local ice cream, told silly stories and even sillier jokes, and generally had a wonderful time.
Silly jokes and stories can be told over Zoom, but they don’t work all that well. In person, in the hugs arena, they work a treat. Don’t ask about the crocodiles, but I can assure you, they figured very largely on the last night, once we were all demob-happy. We started with Roger Moore as James Bond, supposedly nipping across water on the backs of crocodiles. That was silly enough (apparently, it was done in the film with real crocs though the feet weren’t Roger Moore’s) but it got sillier as the evening wore on. Utterly fabulous to be able to be together and do that.
Retreat with hugs can be SO productive
But—fanfare of trumpets—we have written words. Oodles and oodles of words. One member finished editing her MS and sent it off to her publisher
I managed to get past 10,000 words of book 2 of my vampire series. Don’t know where it’s going yet, but at least I do have a start 😉 My target was 1000 words a day and I managed more than 1500. I call that a win, don’t you?
Others did even better. The most productive among the retreaters wrote over 16,000 words. In Six Days. The rest of us bowed down before said lady in speechless admiration.
As you do. (Plus the odd rude word of the “You can go off people” type, so we weren’t all that speechless.)
And we drank her health. Because… well, there was wine, wasn’t there?
Retreats, even with hugs, need to be in the right place
It really helps the productivity if the setting is right. Luckily for us, ours was great.
We stayed at Strickland Manor, an eight-bedroomed house on the outskirts of the Lake District (and near a very friendly pub). The house is beautifully appointed and the owners were great. The heating failed on the first night—the temperature had dropped down to +3ºC so we needed it—and the owners pulled out all the stops to sort it for us. On Saturday, we were depending on the log fire in the sitting room and big thick duvets in the bedrooms (though it didn’t stop us writing, natch).
By Sunday, though, it was all fixed and we and the owners were all smiling. Thank you, Neil and Lyndsey. And sorry about the broken wine glass. At least it was only the one.
So here’s to the joys of real, physical retreats. Many many words were written.