Think globally, write locally – and save the planet?

I started facilitating writing retreats partly out of flight shame. Every year, I go to meet colleagues at several conferences all over Europe, which means a lot of flying. At METM19, we felt this had to change: translators and editors need to take more environmental responsibility. In 2020, I decided to invest most of my conference energy into somewhere I could walk to, in my town.

Which led to the Writers’ House. It’s an old wooden building, with resident writers living upstairs. I have had a desk here since the new year, so welcoming my first retreatants in on 23 and 24 January already felt like inviting people into my home. We were researchers, PhD students, and translators, authors of short stories, a play, a novel, and a new website. We were first-timers and old-timers: one person was on their fourth retreat.

Luckily, the group soon seemed as at home as I was, gravitating inevitably towards the kitchen. We had a constant supply of fair trade organic tea and coffee, and our food was almost completely vegan, made by a small local enterprise. Just before this writing retreat, the sad news broke that The Local Culture Hostel and Café was closing, but some catering students stepped into the breach – thank you Oppipuoti.

Meeting locally, our writers were global. We had come down from Vaasa and up from Helsinki, but most of us lived in Jyväskylä. Group members had moved to the university from the UK, from India, and even from Eritrea with ELFA within the last two weeks. We learned a lot from each other: it was a real pleasure to facilitate such a multilingual, multitalented group.

Writers at the end of the retreat – photo by another member of the group.

We reduced our emissions by going offline. Getting away from the internet and your mobile phone makes you phenomenally productive. Writing for five and a half hours a day is about the average maximum anyone could expect. But if you work like this, do you always manage to spend all that time actually on your writing, without checking your email and social media, but still taking proper breaks to eat well, move, and clear your head? I know I do not. Which is why I – we – need retreats like this for a creativity boost. It makes space to get that global thinking done.

On the first afternoon it felt like we were already making an environmental impact. In the warmest Finnish winter in a century, it finally started snowing.

If you would like to join us next time, let me know what dates suit you. See what this group thought of the experience below.

Footprints in the snow outside the Writers’s House after day one of our retreat.

What did writers think of the retreat?

I understood something new in the writing process.

Saavutin tavoitteeni ja ylitinkin ne, en odottanut ehtiväni kirjoittaa uutta tekstiä lainkaan.

Yes, I met my goals!

Writing in a different space really helped me.

I liked the facilitator’s time keeping, strictness. Her encouragement to create a friendly atmosphere and collegiality.

I liked break time tea and chatting, walking before lunch… we need activities which make you relax before or after writing time.

Kiitos! Retriitti piristi sosiaalisuudellaan ja loi uskoa siihen, että saan kirjoitusprojektini joskus valmiiksikin. Oli myös mukava huomata, että pystyn työskentelemään sillä kurinalaisella tavalla, jota retriitissä edellytettiin. Yritän toteuttaa sitä yksinkin.

In 2 days, what did we write?

The beginning of an academic article. I had only a vague idea of the theme, but it crystallized quite soon when I got to work. I wrote about 8 pages. More than I have written in months.

Kirjoitin uudestaan romaanin alkua, jonka olin jättänyt kesken monta vuotta sitten.

A conference paper from my article-based PhD and re-organized my academic CV for the conference proposal.

Revisions based on supervisor feedback on the first complete draft of a PhD.

The conclusion chapter of a monograph.

75% of the content for a new website.

Olen hidas työskentelijä, joten kirjoitin uutta tekstiä vain muutaman sivun mutta parantelin melkein kahtakymmentä sivua.

The whole of a summer school application, an academic CV and 2-3 pages of the theoretical framework of the second article for my PhD.

Want to give it a try?

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