I remember when I went to my first writers retreat. The teacher gave us exercises on description, creating conflict and character. At the time the idea for my second book was just a seed, a fledgling idea. It was just a feeling for a story rather than some defined and focused tale with a beginning, middle and an end. I’ll never forget how, surrounded by bowed heads, thoughtful faces and dreamy expressions, precise prose flowed through me onto the page. After that, I couldn’t get enough of going away with groups of like-minded people to live and breathe writing because those exercises and that environment produced so many of the scenes that are in The Promise.
I found writers retreats the most productive way to stir my imagination and nurture my creativity. For one week I was surrounded by so much encouragement that my writing thrived. When I read my words out loud to my fellow writers, there was only reassurance and validation. By the end of the week we had formed a team of supporters for each other’s literary problems. We listened, advised and guided – all of us, while our teacher opened our minds and expanded our techniques. I went home from that retreat with the strongest sense of having something decent in my notebook. I felt as though I had the beginnings of a good book in my hands. I felt like a writer.
It’s been since then a dream to organise some kind of retreat for writers in my adopted home, Tuscany. I imagined a special kind of withdrawal into a creative space, something with lots of lectures from published writers and fabulous teachers who are particularly good at evaluating what you’ve written. A retreat that offered time to learn, time to create and exceptional private time to chat with authors who’ve made their mistakes and felt enthusiastic to share how to avoid the common and not-so-common problems of working with the written word. When James (Jim) FrieI agreed to come from England to Tuscany and take students in hand, I knew I had the perfect programme. Jim is a wonderfully gifted appraiser. His commitment made my dream a reality.
During the week I’ll talk about something close to my heart; writing from a sense of place. It’s all about atmosphere, that’s how readers gain their sense of location. Your job is not only to articulate description but to show place through sound, touch, smell and taste. In my opinion, this is one of the most important lessons for all writers. Your readers are where you want them to be because they can sense it. If the scene is a swim in a river, the craft is about goose-bumps, shivers, blue lips, runny noses, quivering voices and gasps. The word ‘cold’ need never appear because your readers have ice in their veins from how you’ve made them feel. Get in touch with the emotions of your character and place and transmit the five senses felt at any location.
This retreat is for all writers, no matter what kind of a writer you perceive yourself to be – first time or established. All genres are welcome. Crime, romance, historical, memoir, biography, travel, food. We will focus or touch on it all. In fact, tell us what you are writing before you come so we are prepared for you. Bring with you something already printed to give to Jim upon your arrival. Set a goal in preparation for your time with us. Perhaps five-hundred quality words per day. Even three-hundred. Know your characters, describe your characters, plot out some of your scenes and start to write them. A friend once said to me ‘if you wait for the muse you might write for about three days in your entire life.’ Start now and keep going. Some writers find the seed is sown for their books through a great idea that morphs into a plot, others through a character and others through just one amazing scene.
Are you keeping lots of notebooks everywhere? I keep one in my kitchen, car, handbag and living room. When you have the perfect line or thought it won’t come back. Unless you write it down then and there it’s often gone forever. Have the courage and self-belief to write down your insights as they occur. It’s a big part of being a writer.
And another thing! Publishers now require writers to blog, tweet and Facebook about their work. There’s also Myspace, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Social media promotion is a prerequisite for any writer looking for a publishing deal. You must try to have a strong platform on the net. When I filed my most recent book (due out in 2014 with Penguin) the first question my publisher asked was ‘so, how is your blog going?’ What blog? I thought desperately. I barely have time to write let alone learn how to blog and write. We will discuss Social Media and writers too. It’s enormously important for writers nowadays to have a website and understand their online services.
Finally, staying confident as a writer is hard. It takes very little to quash self-assurance. Foster belief in your abilities. Learn whatever you can about today’s world of writing so that you are confident. I look forward to helping you understand all of this and so much more when we meet at the Art of Writing retreat in the Casentino mountains of Tuscany in the second week of June, 2013.