I wrote this essay from a tiny wooden cabin, nestled in the mountains in the north of Scotland.
I have beautiful views out over the Highlands. It is peaceful. It is hygge. It is everything I dreamed of.
But I’m tearing my hair out. The wifi works sometimes, but not all the time. And it’s at those inopportune moments, just when I’m scrolling social media, procrastinating, or equally as bad, when I’ve finally written something and I want to fact check it — that the internet drops out.
I’m not proud of this, but I’ve screamed, cried, and stormed out.
It was actually when I was mulling over an application for a residential spot on a remote writer’s retreat that the penny dropped and the insanity of my reality was driven home to me. The wifi vanished just when I was scrolling Instagram trying to show my fiancé this lush place I had found, and I wanted to know what the application process was.
I threw down my phone in despair, and walked out. I stood under the trees, and I fumed.
This world we live in is madness. It’s not taken us long to get here — I actually remember life before a phone. Which technically means I remember life before Instagram, for God’s sake. Did that really happen? It’s borderline unimaginable.
So as I stomped down the drive, the late summer sunlight dancing over the wildflower meadow right in front of me, and casting long shadows over the hills in the distance, I stopped. I turned and looked at back at where I’d come from.
This beautiful cabin in remote Scotland, the garden still in full bloom, red kites flying overhead and no one around for my miles — total and utter peace.
And there I was, honest to God raging.
I couldn’t see the trees for all the forest around me.
I was right in the middle of my perfect writer’s retreat, and I couldn’t even see it.
Because in truth, where ever you are right now, is the perfect writer’s retreat.
Conditions might be ideal, or far from ideal. But your excuses and what you’re telling yourself are what really matter.
So what if I can’t fact check my work right now? So what if I can’t get on social media and waste all my own precious time?
Between you and I, what frustrates me most of all is that when I am faced with nothing else to do but the work that I came here to do, that is when resistance strikes and I want to procrastinate but I can’t — and all hell will break loose.
But once I’d had a bit of a reality dose and managed to get over myself and my excuses, I realised that my needs and desires for a writer’s retreat are really very simple.
And I hate to break it to myself, and to you, but they don’t really require a beautiful wooden cabin in the woods.
So here are my writer retreat requirements — in no particular order:
- A selection of posh tea
I’m truly sorry if you thought that my list was going to be more profound. I’m afraid it’s not.
But seriously, a selection of posh tea is non-negotiable. I’m talking earl grey and at least two herbal teas as a minimum, and right now I’m craving some white tea. I don’t know why.
But let’s just be clear about one thing — a tea selection is mission critical.
2. Inspiring Books
I’m not looking to overwhelm myself with comparisonitis here.
To write, I like to have access to those who inspire me. Hard copies, a Kindle, I don’t care. But a bookcase filled with incredible books of all shapes and sizes and genres is food for thought and something I can dip in and out of to stimulate my creativity.
It’s why we actually have a Car Library — or to be less fancy, a bag of our favourite books that goes where we go.
3. Inner Peace
There we go, I cracked out something profound. I debated about listing silence, space, or nature, but I decided to go with inner peace. Something I can actually control.
I do like views out of wide open spaces, there’s something about that and eye accessing in NLP terms that really gets the creative brain into gear, but truthfully, I can do that just as well with my meditation cushion and yoga mat.
Before writing this piece, I did 30 minutes of yin yoga, which actually began with a handstand to shake things up a little, physically and mentally, and ended with a 5 minute savasana with a quartz crystal on my navel.
Listen, don’t judge me. I got the most incredible peace, and therefore value, from that practice, which allowed me to bust out some free flow writing. So, you do you. I will do whatever I can to access and maintain that all important inner peace.
Not. Even. Joking. I need all the hot beverages and decided to list them here separately to really emphasise their importance.
And this isn’t even about caffeine, because these days I drink decaf. I’ll even drink bulletproof decaf, whizzing up hot coffee, butter and coconut oil in a blender and making it all frothy and whatnot. That’s a hangover from my paleo days and I’m holding on to it.
So no, it isn’t about the coffee, it’s about the ritual. And if there’s one thing I know about cultivating the magical conditions to bring forth inspiration, creativity, and productivity, it’s about making it a ritual and making it a habit.
5. Something to write on
This one doesn’t really need any explanation, I think. I’m a writer, looking for a writer’s retreat.
I’m not a purist, I don’t write on a typewriter, as much as I think that would look beautiful for Instagram posts. I write in my bullet journal in a black ink pen, and I write the rest of my words on my Mac which I love. So technically I also need power — yes. But let’s not split hairs here.
And to get on and write, as it turns out, I don’t even need my devices to be connected to the outside world by the miracle that is Internet. Who knew.
Really, exercise is on my list for absolutely everything — I consider it essential, whether it’s holidays, at home, or work trips. So it’s no different from a writers retreat. If all I do is eat, sleep, read and write, there’s going to be a toxic build up of some kind of energy or emotion, and I need that out of my system.
A run, a hike, kettlebells, yoga, a HIIT workout — any or all of them.
I need the cardio, I need to raise my heartbeat, I need oxygen and blood pumping around my system to keep my brain working. It’s another form of meditation in itself. I like to blast out a workout every day if possible — as much for mental health as it is for my work output.
And that’s it.
Notice I didn’t list anything about cabins, or sea loch views, or isolation, or being a million miles from anywhere? I don’t even technically need the internet — but I will openly admit it does make my soul calmer.
Give me tea, a quiet space, and my laptop, and occasional access to books, my trail shoes (and go on then, Instagram too) — and I can make me a writers retreat anywhere.
My bet is you can too.