Writers Retreat in Spain

Spain Series: I

Up until 2019, I’d been to a spiritual retreat in England long, long ago, a meditation retreat in the hinterland of the Gold Coast in Queensland a few years back and a yoga retreat in Bali in 2015.

Considering writing has been an important part of my life for much of it, it’s surprising that the writers retreat in Spain was my first. It may also seem surprising that I had to cross the world to spend time on my own books. While some writers have the discipline and lifestyle enabling them to write every day, I do find it challenging, especially as I’m working on other writers’ books from Monday to Friday. After spending all week in front of my laptop, my eyes and hands need a break from it and before I know it, the weekend has sped by – with not a word written.

The writers retreat in Spain gave me two weeks of pure indulgence insofar as my own writing was concerned.

writers retreat in Spain Photo of whitewashed Spanish village in the Sierra Nevada
Village of Ferreirola

Why a Writers Retreat in Spain?

Why I chose Spain instead of a local writers’ retreat, or France, or anywhere else in the world was because I wanted to return after many years’ absence. Also, as my family and close friends know, Spain holds a special place in my heart. I planned to travel around a bit and make it a working holiday once the two-week retreat was over. After all, why travel almost to the other side of the world for just two weeks?

Where the Writers Retreat in Spain was Held

The writers retreat was held in a 400-year-old restored guesthouse called Casa Ana in the village of Ferreirola. It’s in the Alpujarras region of Andalucía, southern Spain, amidst the rocky Sierra Nevada mountain range, 1,000 metres above sea level. I arrived for the 8–22 June retreat, and having packed for summer, I was glad of the only light jacket and wrap I’d taken with me as it was cool for the first week, especially nights and mornings. June temperatures vary between 14°C and 28°C but that first week we got nowhere near the high.

Casa Ana is a beautiful guesthouse restored in the Spanish style. It’s a stunning location with impressive views and the house is set amidst beautifully kept gardens.

writers retreat in Spain Spanish patio with wisteria climbing over trellis and view of mountains
Writers retreat in Spain: the patio of Casa Ana bathed in afternoon sunshine

The Other Writers

There were just six of us, all English speakers. Two live in Spain, one in England, one in Germany, one in the States, and me in Australia. When attending a writers’ retreat you wonder what genres the others write, and what sort of writing expertise they have. The most important things were that we were all serious about our writing, everyone had written for years (not necessarily published) and the environment was supportive.

How the Days were Structured

Most days had the same structure. Breakfasts and lunches were included as part of the retreat, so our day began at 9 am for breakfast, a leisurely start for me.

From 9.45 am until 1.30 pm was quiet time, when we worked, in silence, on our writing. The only sounds punctuating the silence were the tinkling of goats’ bells when the farmers were herding them back to the home fields around midday and in the evenings, the water meandering over rocks in the streams in the valley below and the buzz of bees in the lavender and wisteria of the garden. There’s a huge bee in the Alpujarra region called the carpenter bee. I know it exists elsewhere also but I’d never seen one. Its body is black and its wings a gorgeous iridescent blue.

For views, we had the steep mountains and deep valleys of the Sierra Nevada to look out upon as we wrote, and we could choose various writing spots, moving around as our fancy took us: at the writing table in our bedrooms, in the sitting room, outside on the patio, or in various little nooks and crannies on the different levels outdoors.

writers retreat in Spain Mountains in the Sierra Nevada region of southern Spain
Writing retreat with a view

By lunchtime at 1.30 pm we were ready for chats as well as food and always looked forward to the amazing Spanish meals prepared for us by a private chef.

By 2.30 pm, it was silent writing time again until 6.30 pm.

Between 6.30 and 7.30 pm, we’d chat about our writing, or about anything, over a drink and nibbles on the patio, or just rest or keep writing if we felt like it. It was also the time to go for walks through the narrow streets of the village with the traditional whitewashed houses of the south. Ferreirola has only around twenty-eight permanent inhabitants. Some of the writers went on hikes along the many trails the region is renowned for. If I’d had more time in the area I’d have done so, and I did do a few of the shorter walks at the end of the writing days, but my priority was progressing with my writing.

We could choose, for an additional cost, to participate in dinners provided by the retreat three times a week, or walk ten minutes up the road to one of the three country restaurants there. We could also buy our own food to cook in the kitchen.

Quiet time again at 10.30 pm, but this was to sleep rather than to write.

Twice a week, the afternoon writing session/silent time finished an hour earlier, at 5.30 pm, to allow for a group critiquing session, which was included in the retreat price. Casa Ana organises a resident mentor for the duration of the writing retreats, and she led the critiquing sessions. We chose an excerpt of around 1,500 words from the writing we were working on and read it out to the group. Then each person in the group gave their feedback, followed by the mentor’s feedback. This was useful. Constructive feedback may:

  • reinforce a problem you see with your writing but aren’t sure about
  • confirm your feeling that your writing is strong
  • highlight issues with your writing that you haven’t been able to see yourself.

Private Mentoring

Three sessions of private mentoring a week were available with the resident mentor at an additional price. The writers submitted an extract of around 1,500 words for review. They then had a one-on-one session of one hour with the mentor to receive feedback and discuss the issues they had with their writing.

What I Learnt

It was wonderful being able to fully focus on my writing in a way I’ve probably never been able to previously. Having constructive, objective feedback from the others helped reinforce my confidence in my writing. I learnt how I could carry back into the ‘real world’ a support network by teaming up with another writer for regular critiquing sessions. The writer who told me this sends his ongoing novel to a writing buddy he met on a different retreat, and she sends him her ongoing writing. This is possibly one of the most valuable outcomes for me, as it will keep me on task.

A couple of the other writers keep a daily journal as a writing discipline. This is something I’ve done on and off most of my life, but sometimes ‘off’ lasts too long! So I’ve taken up daily journalling again. Even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs it’s preferable to nothing. Finally, I made some long-term connections with other writers.

Was it Worth it?

For me, definitely. I went to Spain with the goal of finishing, to publication readiness, two books I’d written years ago, and I’m happy to say I achieved that goal. Next goal is publishing them before the end of this year.

I couldn’t have wished for a more ideal, peaceful, beautiful location. With most of the meals and housekeeping taken care of, we were free to … just write.

writers retreat in spain Photo of two young women traditionally dressed in Spanish costume
Granada is the largest city in the Alpujarras region. The festival of Corpus Christi was being celebrated and so traditional dresses were on display

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