Here are some things my husband, who happens to be a storyteller in his own right and knows a thing or two about the creative process, has stopped asking me when I make these announcements:
~Don't you already know how to write?
~Will you actually get any writing done while off gallivanting with other writers?
~Do you really need to go on a writing retreat?
I'll confess from the start: I didn't get any writing done in the nearly two weeks I spent on the west coast of Ireland and in London.
Then again, maybe I did. It depends how you measure it.
There are no sheep in the roads where I live, and certainly no shepherds. Traffic jams are a fact of life, but rarely involve hardy, working collies and a stunning view.
There are no ruins here, either. No deserted villages like the ones my ancestors on both sides left behind them in the 1800s, to look for something better across the sea. Sometimes it's necessary to tramp through an ancient bog on a windswept island, the brooding North Atlantic a presence even all the way inland, looking at very old stones and thinking about people you never met and never knew. Necessary and important. Crucial, like breath.
And I think it's equally important to learn these things first hand. To know how the wind burns your ears when you stand at the famous Cliffs of Moher on a January morning. To feel the wet in your face and the cut of the cold on your hands no matter how deeply you bury them in your pockets.
Or to stand in a churchyard tucked between mountains and shrouded in fog, to read the words of a great poet etched into a headstone on the outskirts of Sligo and remember his work, all these years later. To think about things like time, and loss, and the aching beauty of a quiet grave.
To murmur his lines near the lake he loved, and etch them firmly in your own head: "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree--"
Because it means more, having stood there.
You can feel the words inside you, like an echo of the things you've seen.
But it changes you every time it happens. It adds more texture and color to the tapestry inside you, to the worlds you carry in your head.
The more you travel, the more you imagine.
The more you imagine, the better you write.
You reach deeper. You try harder.
I'm not sure which part resonates with me more now that I'm home, surrounded by familiar things, books to write and my life to live...
...coming up over a rise on the Atlantic Drive on Achill Island to see the craggy coast spread out before me, sparkling and gorgeous in the unexpected January sun, rugged and beautiful, making all of us gasp and wonder...
...or the simple, sweet perfection of a mocha made with pride ("we do not use whipped cream or anything else; we use chocolate and coffee; we make coffees here") and care in a happened-upon cafe halfway through a long, cold winter walk in East London.
I didn't get any writing done on my writing retreat. But I filled myself up. I changed and grew. I learned from masters of my craft, from the stories they told and the pointers they shared. I lost myself and found myself, sometimes in the course of a single drive in the lonely Irish countryside, or a walk with friends in the midst of busy London.
There's so much more to writing than words.
Megan Crane is the author of nearly thirty books, some of them written under the name Caitlin Crews. She is now back home with her long-suffering husband and neck deep in the ACTUAL WRITING part of writing as her deadline is coming in fast, like a train. She would much rather be in Ireland. You can find out more about her at www.megancrane.com or www.caitlincrews.com.