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The Writerly Life

Writing retreats and residencies offer a custom-made environment with all the ingredients to help you write your next bestseller

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Let us dive straight into the world of writing paradises. For any aspiring writer or an established author, writing residencies offer time and space to write, along with various levels of support — such as studio space and food along with accommodation. Some of them charge a nominal fee, while some are free. So, how does this work? Typically, a writing residency would be for a fixed duration and for a specific project, which will be pre-decided during an application process. For the application, send in your CV, a few samples of your work, along with a plan of what you want to do during the residency.

In spring 2015, for instance, I had applied to Joya, an inter-disciplinary residency programme in Spain. I was attracted to this programme precisely because it invited people from various disciplines, including but not limited to art, photography, science, and environment. I sent a portfolio of my work, along with a plan of what I would like to do if selected. I was at Joya for a week and spent my time writing and taking long walks in the Velez Rubio area, where the residency is located. The other artist present was a woman photographer who was trying her hand at painting for the first time. Watching her paint along with the residency host inspired me to pick up painting and I worked on some mixed-media pieces as well.

Acceptance at that residency gave a much-needed boost to my confidence in my writing, as well as providing inspiration for more writing and poetry. The residency is two hours away from Granada, which meant that I visited Granada, along with Madrid and Seville. The fact that all this travelling and writing happened while I had one hand in a plaster cast (due to a freak accident a week before my travel date) made for a ‘real life is stranger than fiction’ tale, and I am still writing stories and poems based on that trip and residency!

Bolstered by my positive experience, I applied again this year. In June, I was selected as a writer-in-residence at a residency in Italy called La Macina Di San Cresci. Again, I sent a portfolio of my work, along with my proposal of work, and they accepted and sent an invitation letter after their board approved my application. This time, I stayed for two weeks, and wrote several short stories, along with half-a-dozen poems, a couple of which I presented at an Open Mic event of local writers in Florence, about an hour away from this residency.

The stay also gave me an opportunity to participate in the weekly presentations organised by the residency hosts. The other residents included two women photographers, a painter, and a writer-cum-artist-cum-medical student. We shared and discussed our work, and also cooked and enjoyed weekend social get-togethers. One pleasant result of this residency is that I am currently collaborating with one of the residents on a poetry-and artwork project.

If applying and waiting to get selected is something you don’t want to get into, you have the option to try for writing retreats.

Writing Retreats

Writing retreats are organisations that cater to writers who want to be away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and write, as well as, relax. Typically, they offer accommodation and food, but charge a fee. Many of them may offer mentoring and writing workshops as well. These retreats are located all over the world and founded by organisations or individuals, based on their backgrounds and experiences.

For example, in India, Chetan Mahajan, a published author, left his corporate job and city life and started Himalayan Writing Retreat. Mahajan says, “I realised there was a major unmet need after my book came out. I spoke at many places and everywhere I heard people say they wanted to write. And when I moved to the mountains, I realised that there was no better muse than the Himalayas for a writer.”

The inspiration provided by Himalayas and her experiences at various residencies have prompted artist and sculptor Gogi Saroj Pal to plan a retreat called Atelier Bir Billing. As she explains, “I observed that the space and solitude at such places encourages thinking along unconventional lines, and the possibility of dialogue between people from different mediums increases awareness and the self-confidence of the artists and fosters their creative spirit as well.”

Focusing on the mentorship aspect, Eliza Reid, author and editor, founded the annual retreat, The Iceland Writers Retreat. As she describes it, “The faculty in 2018 will include Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als, travel writer Rory MacLean, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize nominee Priya Basil, and Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction nominee Gwendoline Riley.” Learning the craft of writing along with a space to relax for women is what prompted Leigh Shulman, author, producer, professor, and retreat leader to plan the Creative Revolution Writing Retreats. As she explains, “In my 20 years’ experience working with writers, I noticed women too often put their writing aside to attend to the needs of others. I wanted to create a space where women can fully focus on themselves and their writing. The newness of being in an unfamiliar place creates a strong, supportive writing community so each writer can write and create like never before.”

Other retreats combine wellness as well as writing in the retreats. As Shabnam Thakar, founder of Panchgani Writers’ Retreat, and a writer, coach, and social media trainer based in the US, reminisces, “Over the years, I began to be aware of the concept of writers’ retreats. I wanted to create an affordable space for people from all over the world to come to, where they could find the time, the quiet and the richness to feed their minds and their souls.”

Depending on your budget and interest, you can thus get a chance to visit diverse places like Iceland or the Himalayas.

The Iceland Writers Retreat Reykjavík

The location and calibre of the workshop leaders has created a name for this retreat. Besides enjoying the workshops and lectures by eminent authors, as part of the retreat, you can participate in cultural tours designed to introduce people to Iceland’s rich literary heritage. You will also get to know the city of Reykjavík (a Unesco City of Literature) through a literary walking tour, enjoy a pub night featuring readings by local authors, and visit the Icelandic countryside on an all-day literary themed tour led by a writer.

Dates: 11-15 April 2018

Why this retreat: You get to interact and learn from award-winning, published authors in relatively small groups of 15. And, of course, “escape” to Iceland and explore.

Himalayan Writing Retreat Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh

Created for budding as well as experienced writers, this actually comprises two retreats:  the Weekend+ and the Writers’ Retreat. The Weekend+ is for novice writers and is 3-4 days long; while the Writers’ Retreat is for intermediate to advanced writers and is of a week’s duration, with an “external” published author as the co-host. Besides the time to write and mentoring sessions, you can enjoy chats by bonfires, gaze at the stars in the skies, and go for long walks on the hills.

Dates: Weekend +: 25-28 January 2018; Writers’ Retreat: March 2018

Why you should attend: You get time to work on your book, learn from published authors if you are a novice, and all this in the peace of the Himalayas.

Panchgani Writers’ Retreat Maharashtra

An annual retreat on the campus of a more than 90-year-old residential school, Sanjeewan Vidyalaya, this retreat offers wellness along with a chance to enhance your creativity. You can combine writing workshops with meditation and yoga workshops, and enjoy the home-cooked, vegetarian food that incorporates Ayurvedic principles, along with going on long walks and nature trails.

Dates: 25-31 October

Why you should attend: Get rid of your stress, practice your yoga, and receive feedback on your writing

Atelier Bir Billing Himachal Pradesh

Another upcoming retreat is also based in the Himalayas, but with the difference that it will offer opportunities to writers as well as film-makers, photographers, and artists. Besides enjoying the peace and quiet of the mountains, you can also participate in the bi-annual unconventional documentary and film festivals as well be a part of the workshops that will include interaction with the local school children and villagers.

Dates: November 2018

Why you should attend: Get inspired by the creativity of people from other fields, and also do your bit for the locals in that area.

Creative Revolution Writing Retreat: Pen. Paper. Paradise. Hotel Mango Rosa, Nicaragua

Offering time to “escape” and focusing on women who have never had the luxury of time for their own writing, the Creative Revolution team offers writing retreats at Nicaragua. You will get to participate in a series of workshops as well as one-on-one sessions on character development, plotting, and editing of your first draft. You will also learn how to pitch your stories, and get mentorship even after you leave the retreat. And there will be plenty of time to relax at the private beach resort, and indulge yourself with tropical massages offered at the retreat!

Dates: 8-15 July 2018

Why you should attend: Enjoy the luxury of time to yourself at a beach resort, learn writing techniques, and get mentored beyond the retreat

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Jonaki Ray

The writer is a poet and editor based in Delhi

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