One of the most important aspects of running a successful retreat is to ensure you take good care of all your guests for the duration of their stay with you. This includes considering all their requirements from eating to sleeping, together with managing their expectations, holding the space, bonding the group and dealing with the dynamics.
The venue must be clean, warm and in some way inspiring. The food scrumptious and filling. And enough else of interest on offer for when the writing gets tough.
Also what would you do if someone really doesn’t like their room? Or perhaps their room mate’s snoring is keeping them awake, so they’ve moved their bedding into the hall to sleep on the floor…
And then there’s you, as host or co-host, holding the space for everyone’s stories. Hosting people you don’t know that well – if at all – for a sustained period of time can be intense and tiring (even for people you do know well – think Christmas with the extended family!). And this besides any writing or workshop activities.
These are some of the things Mary Burns and I hold a space to chat about in our Running a Writing Retreat sessions – to help with your preparations so you and all your guests have a great time.
At the start of a writing for wellbeing group I sometimes ask group members to write down how they’re feeling today
As a facilitator this exercise makes me aware of the range of emotions that can be present in a group at any moment.
Group members write on pieces of paper which are collected in a container, shaken up and then shared in the group. There’s no link made between the words and any individual person.
Doing this allows time for people to settle into the group, reflect on how they’re feeling, find words for feelings and write them, reflect, and share with others without having to explain.
This is good for both the individual and the group. Writing down your feelings gets them out of your head. And you don’t have to sit there desperately trying to stop them bursting out either! The page is a wonderful container for feelings too and it doesn’t judge you. It is simply there.
In terms of the group the exercise reduces anxiety for participants around sharing how they’re feeling. It may also increase openness. It gets feelings out there; encourages connection and understanding; increases empathy.
You may find you’ve used the same word or feeling as someone else. There’s something validating about that, and the space given by others for your feelings to be heard.
I was introduced to this exercise at the Nibblers Writing Group in Brighton. I took it to Pimlico Writers where it was enjoyed as a starter exercise with a surprise element, a bit like Consequences but different.
Each person has a blank sheet of paper. On this you write a line of words describing a landscape with a figure in it – animal or human.
Underneath this you write one word with some connection to what you’ve just written.
Then you fold it over – backwards works well – leaving only the single word showing, and pass it to the person on your left.
On the paper you’ve received you write a line that connects to the word you see in front of you. Then you again write one word that links to what you’ve just written and fold the paper over leaving only that word visible.
And so on until you come full circle. Then open up the paper in front of you and read. At this stage you can choose to make a couple of small edits if you wish, to improve the reading aloud.
Here are some of the ones we did. It’s interesting to see how feelings and experiences come in to the writing as well as playful ideas and descriptions.
Recommended for its fun quality which also allows serious thoughts to be expressed and connections made between group members.