A writing retreat

Writers who work from home, especially if they live with a family or flatmates, often find it hard to focus due to a continual stream of demands and distractions. As advised in my short e-book Wellbeing for Writers, interruptions can be minimised by strict time management, setting of boundaries, and self discipline. I know this in theory but still often find myself breaking off to unload the washing machine or dishwasher, check on the cooking, feed a hungry cat or remove it from the computer, or make another cup of coffee. Although standing up and walking about at frequent intervals is better for the health than sitting down for long periods, it does interfere with concentration.

It can be easiest to complete a writing project in a new environment, and thanks to the generosity of a kind friend I recently spent two days in her holiday house on Waiheke Island, revising the draft of my latest novel. All my regular engagements for those days – choir practice, Zumba class, and walking my dogshare Labrador – had been cancelled. Maybe the universe arranged all these synchronicities to support my desire for an undisturbed retreat. But if so, it went too far by causing my precious iPhone to fail beyond repair on the first day. The enforced digital detox threw me into a panic, and I remembered the maxim “Be careful what you wish for”.

Waiheke, with its sandy beaches and vineyards, is just a 40-minute boat ride from downtown Auckland but seems like a world apart. In the summer there are hordes of visitors but now in the middle of the New Zealand winter it is almost deserted, with few sounds except the chirping of birds and the waves breaking on the shore. Here is the view from the deck of my friend’s house.

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It felt strange at first, being on my own in this peaceful place, unable to communicate with the outside world, and having nothing to do except check through the final draft of my novel for errors and inconsistencies. Working on a printed manuscript with a red pencil, after years of only using a computer, also felt unfamiliar. But I soon came to appreciate the quiet solitude, adapted to the absence of my iPhone, and worked both days on my book with just short breaks for lunches at the beachside cafe and walks on the sand. It was the perfect setting for a writing retreat.

It is easy to miss your own typos, so for the the next step I will take another piece of my own advice from Wellbeing for Writers and obtain an independent check from a copy-editor before publishing the novel.

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Heartsong

Waiheke, though only a short ferry ride away from Auckland city, is like a different world. We spent twenty-four hours there, visiting the Heartsong Retreat at Rocky Bay on the south side of the island.

Planned as a special occasion, being our first trip away from home since Brian’s cardiac collapse three months ago, it turned out even better than we hoped it would be. Following violent thunderstorms on the previous night, the skies cleared on the voyage out, and the weather stayed sunny throughout our stay. We had lunch at Vino Vino in the main village of Oneroa, on the deck looking over the sea, before catching one of the ancient buses for a bumpy but scenic ride up and down hills covered in vineyards and native bush. Every aspect of Heartsong was lovely: our comfortable private cottage with its flower gardens and ocean views, the spa pool surrounded by palm trees, the walks down to the beach, the hot stone massage, the friendly cat and dog, the delicious meals brought up to us by the welcoming and caring staff.

Spiritual teachers and self-help experts say that our well-being does not depend on circumstances and surroundings, because true happiness comes from within. I am obviously not highly evolved enough to appreciate this, having felt so much more energetic and relaxed while on Waiheke. Hopefully the benefits of our “mini-break” will be sustained through the next round of hospital appointments and period of domestic routine.

Here we are at Heartsong, with the beach huts at Rocky Bay in the background.

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