Anne here, and no, I'm not talking about a very slow military retreat, but my annual writing retreat with a group of eight other writers. I'm away in Queensland, on retreat at the moment, and we're celebrating our tenth anniversary. That's ten years with the same group, spending a week together each year writing, talking writing and publishing, sharing our knowledge and socializing, and I thought I'd like to reflect on that.
It started initially as a way to support writers we knew who were relatively isolated, especially from other romance writers. We were all published, but our editors were overseas, in London and New York. We didn't all know each other at the first retreat, and we came together a little cautiously, wondering if this would work.
We came from four Australian states and one person from New Zealand. To give you an idea of the distances, the writer from Far North Queensland lived as far from the next published romance writer as the distance from London to Moscow. Ten years later, a couple of the original members of the group have dropped out, but we're still from four Australian states, and the NZer has spent the past year living in a beautiful medieval town in the south of France. And we're still going strong: for all of us, this retreat each March remains a highlight of our writing year.
A lot has changed in that time — a lot more books have been written, we're all a wee bit older and kids have grown up, a couple have become grandmothers, and the publishing world has changed dramatically. Friendships have been tested and have strengthened, and we've refined the art of the writer retreat, where we combine writing with professional development and fun.
We write in the morning — and those of us on deadline also write after lunch and sometimes in the evenings, but at lunchtime and in the evenings it's mostly discussions and professional development. We talk about the market, discuss craft-of-writing issues—for instance about revisions, or how our process has changed, interesting new things we've learned, keeping the magic alive—all sorts of things of interest only to us.
The biggest change we've seen since we started is in the publishing world. When we started, I was the only one writing longer books — all the others were writing short contemporary category romance for the same publisher — Harlequin. Now most of us have several publishers and a few of us have also dabbled in self-publishing. The future for authors is heading towards becoming hybrid authors, writing for one or more publishers and/or self-publishing. And publishing is constantly changing, so there's always a lot to learn.
Our first retreat was beside the sea, and after our second one, which was inland, we decided that the sea was an essential ingredients. We've tried a few different spots, and for the last five years settled on one particular location that ticks all the boxes — apartment accommodation, so we each have a private place to write, a sea view, lots of good little eating places close by.
But really, the sea is the biggest drawcard, with its ever-shifting moods, the constantly changing light —brilliant sunrises or misty mornings, moody nights with lightning flickering out to sea, or waking as I did this morning to wild winds and crashing waves —you never know what to expect, and even though the view from the balcony is theoretically constant, it's never the same. And it's up near the tropics, so even when it rains, it's warm, which coming from a colder climate, I find endlessly weird and entertaining.
We're all convinced the sea feeds our muse. There's something about the sea and the salt air, the interface of land and water and sky, and the endless rhythmic pounding of the waves,hypnotic and soothing and inspiring. Walking along the beach whether at crack of dawn, high noon, dusk, or later, swimming, paddling, beach-combing or simply watching it all from above —that photo on the right is the view from my bed—I know, indulgent, isn't it? — it fills the creative well. Add to that the company of like-minded creative types and inspiration is all around.
Each year it just gets better. We're better at knowing what will work, and there are always fresh challenges and new insights to keep us on out toes. We're amazed that the first ten years have flown so fast, and we're already talking about the next ten. Wish us luck.
So what about you — do you love the sea? Do you have a group of friends that meet regularly — or irregularly? Are you worried about the future of publishing or not? Let us know what you think.