Roald Dahl once said that ‘Writing is mainly perspiration, not inspiration.’ This is, of course, true. In order to write a novel you have to put in the work – a relentless mining expedition, if you will, through the pitch black, hoping to finally reach the light at the end. But we need inspiration, not only if we are to begin, but throughout if we are to achieve it. Inspiration is not only the seed of your story idea, it’s the fuel that keeps your bottom in the chair and gets the work done. That beat up lamp on your rusty mining helmet that you fire up every day as you enter the abyss. And, of late, I’ve been having a bit of trouble with mine.
I’d fallen into the trap of letting the book I have on release sap all of my mental energy, so much so that I’d virtually none left for writing its followup. My creativity had been swallowed by the beast that is marketing and publicity and of course self-doubt. Gotta do more. Gotta be more. Gotta sell more. In order not to have a nervous breakdown and reminding myself that as an indie author, I need to learn how to balance them both, I signed up for The Inspiration Project – a writing retreat held last weekend in Wexford by best-selling authors Carmel Harrington, Hazel Gaynor and Catherine Ryan Howard.
To say it was a tonic, is an understatement. I’d never done a writing retreat, hadn’t really considered one – thinking that I could never carve out that time for myself when I’m a stay-at-home-mum – but with these writers involved, I knew it would be worth it. I’d heard Hazel and Catherine speak at other publishing events and was struck by their honest, no-nonsense approach to the industry and their willingness to share their experience with others. That this then extended also to the tour-de-force that is Carmel Harrington, well – I knew that it would be invaluable.
I booked it quickly, before I could talk myself out of it and in the run up I began a new writing schedule, so I’d be knee-deep in word count by the time it came around. But again the lamp would not ignite. And so last week, when January 12th rolled around, I needed The Inspiration Project more than ever. Progress had ground to a halt. I needed a reboot, all of my circuits fried.
The Seafield Hotel & Spa in Gorey is a beautiful hotel and even standing at reception, on my own, without husband or kids, felt like a little victory for me. I was there. Just me and my laptop. I had made a statement to myself. You know what – your writing is important. Your career (in the early stages, as it is) is important. I’d made a commitment to it. And it felt good. I went to my room already feeling that energy rising and was delighted when I pulled back the curtain to reveal the green fields, lake and trees beyond. Inspiration already!
In my welcome pack, lay an itinerary for the weekend. Welcome drinks that night, Saturday’s list of Inspiration Shot classes, dinner that night and then on Sunday my one-to-one meeting with my allocated mentor, Hazel. Also inside I found the note at the top of this post with clear instruction on where to place my arse. I did as instructed, put my phone on silent and plotted out exactly where I was with my novel and more crucially where it was going. Then I set about re-writing my opening chapters.
I put on my name badge and went to the drinks that night reinvigorated if a little shy of meeting my fellow writers and our fearless leaders for the weekend. But the ice was quickly broken by the fact that these authors had been in our shoes – started out with nothing more than an idea, a wish to write and a dream that it could be a career. By way of introduction, they declared their goal to inject some positivity back into what has recently become a cloud of doom and gloom hanging over the Irish writing scene. Think you can’t make a living as a writer? They can. They are. I knew I was in the right place and everyone there felt it too. The atmosphere was warm and friendly. We exchanged stories, laughed, the camaraderie growing. We were all in this together. I realised among such vibrant, fun chat just how long it had been since I got out and mixed a bit.
The next morning I set my alarm for 6am to get some writing in before breakfast and found myself sitting at my laptop at 5am instead. I don’t sleep great in hotels. For the first time ever that proved useful. When we started at 8.45am I was ready and I sat like a sponge absorbing all the well prepped and delivered content. Some of it I was familiar with, like the submissions process but even in the familiar I found something new. The fact that Carmel, Catherine and Hazel work in different genres was a great asset. The fact that all three started out in self-publishing, how they found their particular agents, how they organise their day, what a writing career over a year looks like in reality – all helped shape my own aspirations.
I retired that night, brimming with writing ideas and plans for the year ahead and when I sat down with Hazel the next morning, we discussed them in detail. It turned out my crazy notions for my career path were not so far-fetched but rather achievable with a bit of hard work. I was worried that my own determination to make a go of this would make me come across as slightly unhinged – but Hazel got it. And suddenly I didn’t feel like an oddball but understood I guess. And that feeling was priceless.
As Sunday morning rolled on, the awareness that it was all going to end dawned and I decided having not left the hotel for 48 hours, to grab some final inspiration at the beach.
It was breath-taking and I had it all to myself. I picked up some shells for the kids (really for myself) and headed back. At one o’clock we met up in The Library for final words and last goodbyes. We exchanged contacts and vowed to stay in touch, bound by our experience and floating on the wave of positivity. But there was a reticence – an unspoken reluctance to leave and go back to normal life. As if to leave that room, a spell would be broken, the magic diminished. The task in leaving was to carry that magic and preserve it, fuel for the writing fires to come. A reminder to us that our dreams are achievable.
Before they left the room (someone had to kick it off), Hazel, Catherine and Carmel asked each of us to sum up our weekend in a few words. For me?
If you’d like more information on The Inspiration Project you can find them at www.theinspirationproject.ie. I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether you are published or not, finishing your manuscript or just think you have a great idea. As The Inspiration Project say ‘Dream. Dare. Do.’