by Suhel Ahmed
Transforming the desire to write to the actual act of writing has become something of a struggle lately. Every time I open up my notepad, it’s as if I’m standing at the bottom of a rock-face, staring up at the glorious summit, yet at that moment a vertiginous feeling courses through me and what I used to find natural becomes scarily alien.
So presented with the opportunity to spend a day at the Urban Writers Retreat, I instantly put my name forward, hoping that a change of scenery would be the very thing to haul me out of this psychological infirmity. Just days before my arrival, the organiser, Charlie Haynes, sent me a “goal setting sheet” requesting that I write down my aims for the day. Rather draconian, I thought, but I was willing to give anything a go to kick-start my creativity.
On a bright and beautiful Sunday morning, (a little encumbered by the fact that it was a bright and beautiful Sunday morning), I set off to enter this writer’s bootcamp, with my goals jotted down, laptop in bag, and the bit between my teeth. On arrival, our host Charlie showed me around the venue. A Boho craft workshop during normal business hours, the place exuded a homey feel; a place where you felt you could kick off your shoes, make yourself a hot cuppa, and gossip away with your best chums. The rooms began on the main ground floor and then descended to a subterranean level, (as if to emphasise that a writer needs to be quarantined in order to create). Each room was furnished with a large table surrounded by chairs, as well as power points for laptop users.
After a five-minute introduction, during which I had the feeling that my fellow retreaters wanted to forego this part and get down to some serious writing (after all, it was a writer’s retreat and not a social club), we all chose our seats and sat down to begin a day of uninterrupted work. We were asked to turn our mobile phones off. Before I’d even reached into my bag, an exam-room type hush descended, punctuated by the patter of fingertips eagerly working away on portable laptops. Slightly intimidated by the level of conscientiousness, I felt the need to share a quip, a joke, some kind of badinage to lighten the mood, but the three writers at my table didn’t seem to be in a playful mood. The politesse of the place clearly demanded a churchly silence. So I took a deep breath and turned on my laptop, ready to do battle with my creative demons. Currently I’m trying to write a collection of short stories, but admit to suffering the aches and stiffness from having completed a novel manuscript, not to mention the simmering anxiety that I might be falling prey to the second book syndrome.
However, without any distraction, soon I found my creative muscles limbering up; the aches from the previous project ebbed away. In fact, within the first two hours I’d made more progress than I’ve managed in the previous two months. In the company of so many focused writers, I was reminded of the diligence required to craft a story. I was reminded too that a story doesn’t just materialise in a flash but feeds on a writer’s sustained obsession, and anything of lesser conviction translates to mediocrity on the page.
By the end of the day, I’d barely exchanged more than salutations with my fellow retreaters, but that was of little consequence, since I’d become closely acquainted with the characters in my story, and basked in that Ready Brek glow a writer feels when he comes up for air after being immersed in the world of his imagination. Most of all, I was relieved to find that there was still fuel left in the creative tank.
On reflection, the day gave me a much-needed boost by denying me the opportunity to make excuses or search for distractions. A case of tough love, perhaps, but it made me realise that I wasn’t really searching for a kick-start, but a hefty kick up the backside. On the train home, I felt I’d come out of the ailing writer’s equivalent of a monastery, my focus returned, and my faith renewed.
Urban Writers Retreat runs one-day weekend writing retreats with a supportive atmosphere in London. Retreats run from 10am-6pm at The Make Lounge in London and cost from £35. To find out more visit http://tinyurl.com/urbanretreat