Writing retreat

One year ago I took Beth Kempton’s Book proposal Masterclass. With the help of the proposal I got an agent in August and a book deal with a U.S. publisher in September. This week I have been on a solo writing retreat, finishing the tenth chapter of my book, Listen to the wool.

If you are a patron (or want to become one) you can see more from my writing retreat in my April 2024 video postcard.

I was thrilled when I found Beth Kempton’s virtual writing retreat Breathe, Write, Repeat, and realized that I could go away on a solo writing retreat. I booked an airbnb tiny house by a lake six months ago and I have been longing for it ever since. And now I am here.

Monday

As I roll my suitcase through the train station in Stockholm, people stand at the escalators handing out discount coupons. I board the train to Falun, a town three hours north west of my home in Stockholm. After an hour and a half I see melting snow on the fields that fly by as I point my wooden needle up-down, back and under the nalbinding loops around my thumb. My suitcase is heavy with laptop, mousetrapper, keyboard, books, yoga stuff, ice bath stuff and, yeah, some clothes tool.

A person nalbinding with a wooden needle on a train. In the background a jacket sleeve with embroidered flowers.
I’m nalbinding my way to Falun.

Falun welcomes me with a sweet afternoon sun as the train arrives at the station. The gravel from the winter’s de-icing is still on the bare ground and I need to drag my suitcase along the streets rather than roll it elegantly.

A booklet featuring a black and white picture of woman writing on a sheet of paper. She is dressed in early 20th century clothing. The title of the book is Selma Lagerlöf and Falun.
Selma Lagerlöf spent a lot of time in Falun writing. She even mentions the lake Varpan (where my airbnb is situated) in her book The wonderful adventures of Nils.

I don’t have access to my airbnb for a couple of hours, so I sit down at a café. On a shelf on the wall beside me is a booklet about the nobel prize laureate Selma Lagerlöf, who apparently wrote some of her most famous books in Falun. I see it as a good sign of what this town has to offer writewise.

Chocolate conundrum

I do some grocery shopping and hesitate at the chocolate stand. Perhaps I should buy myself a bar of 70 per cent chocolate? Nah, I think, I can’t buy more than the essentials or I’ll sink under the weight of my luggage. I pay for my few products and walk even less elegantly to the bus stop.

After a final walk on a puddled gravel road I finally arrive at my lodging. When I open the door, full of excitement, I see a bar of 70 per cent chocolate on the kitchen table. I smile, put the groceries in the fridge and walk down to the lake to check out the hole in the ice for my morning baths.

Tuesday

And so my writing retreat has begun, actually-really-no-kidding. This is the time I have carved out for myself to breathe, write and repeat. I feel giddy and terrified. What if I can’t deliver, then what? What if I can deliver, then what? But I do as I always do, I start, and trust that the words will flow. I doubt, I do, but then I dance. Or look at the lake, get some fresh air, do what I can to dissolve any blockages that sneak up on me.

A woman bathing in a hole in a frozen lake.
A sweet morning dip in lake Varpan.

After my first morning writing session I take a bath in the lake, giddy of excitement over a new tub. The ice is still thick, at least 20 centimeters, but the hosts have maintained the hole through the winter and it is majestic and inviting. Silence cushions me as I sink into the cold and listen to the wind in the trees and my singing heart.

The privilege of getting lost

After a total of four and a half hours of writing with relaxing Japanese music in my ears, I call it a day. The hosts have offered me to borrow a bike, so I roll in to the town center, get lost a couple of times and smile at having the privilege of getting lost in a new town. I imagine I am Helena Bonham Carter’s Lucy Honeychurch in Edwardian dress, lost in streets of Florence, enjoying the view over the Arno, only my Arno is Faluån and I wear hiking pants and I have no poor cousin Charlotte to hold me back.

An old mitten in what looks like salt chrystals.
The born mitten, the oldest find of two-end knitting, carbon dated to between 1490 and 1645.

I walk through the textile department of the Dalarna museum. My heart tingles as I see the Born mitten, the oldest find of two-end knitting, carbon dated to between 1490 and 1645.

A house tour

When I browsed for locations and accommodations I had a few requirements. I wanted a tiny house in two floors with one bedroom. For some reason I imagined that it would feel safe to be in a small space. I wanted a vast view of a lake and large windows where I could work and watch the view. Of course I wanted a bathing ladder close by too. I needed nature around me, but also a reasonably short distance to a town for inspiration and food.

A woman writing on a laptop by a large window. A red barn, a bitch and rocks outside.
A room with a view.

This house is perfect. The living room has large windows over the lake. I sit at the kitchen table and see only nature. On the top floor, which only covers half the floor space, there is a small bedroom. An old iron gate works as a border between the landing and the open ground floor. A small window by the kitchen sink to peak out on the yard, floor heating all over and a large bathroom. I couldn’t ask for more.

Wednesday

A new day of writing, and I feel confident that I will finish this chapter here. It’s an empowering feeling. I write, take a dip, write some more, meditate, write in another spot and dance. Being able to retreat into a space of my own with no one to answer to or consider does wonders for my writing process. Even if I get blocked – and I do – I have tools to shift the block and allow the words to flow again. My mind is focused.

Giraffes and patisseries

I write for five hours today. The two squirrels that live in a tree nearby skip around on the rock in front of the house every now and then as if to remind me to lift my gaze. My optician tells me to look at the giraffes on the savannah. Our eyes were not constructed for screens, he argues, and we need to use them the way they were intended, to look for predators and danger. So I take the bike to town again to look for some giraffes. Not that I would consider them dangerous, I only decided on giraffes. I find my way through town better now, but even if I take the wrong bike lane from time to time, I know I will get to my destination sooner or later.

A person cross stitching letters, forming the words ”Jag skriver”, meaning I write. In the background a teacup and a carrot cake.
Carrot cake, cross stitching and writing. The words Jag skriver mean I write.

I bring my computer to a patisserie in an eighteenth century building and enjoy the sound of rattling teacups and giggling schoolgirls. It feels very grown up to sit with a cup of tea and a carrot cake and edit my chapter. Perhaps Selma Lagerlöf wrote in this patisserie too as she too enjoyed tea and cake.

An oasis among the barns

As I get back to the house I smile at how thoughtfully it has been placed. While it is in a natural garden with the hosts’ house next door and barns and cars all over the yard, the windows are placed in a way that I only see the lake, the trees and the sky when I look out.

A red barn wall with lichen growing on the roof panel.
Lichen and barns. Could you ask for more?

When I do my yoga practice in the morning I see the surrounding nature from different perspectives – sideways, tilted and upside down. It helps me to see different perspectives in my writing as well. In my evening yoga I see nothing but a single light at the other end of the lake, contrary to the bright city I see across my own lake at home.

Thursday

I did it. I finished the tenth chapter of my book, and the manuscript is officially halfway done. The feeling is a sweet mix of accomplishment and horror – I’m over the moon about what I have achieved so far, yet in doubt whether I can really write another ten chapters. But I start the eleventh and keep dancing.

I realize that I have managed to leave my regular life at home. My mind hasn’t bothered with laundry, wool baskets, work or garden planning. I have just been here in my nature cushioned writing bubble, writing myself and my heart into new horizons.

Wild and unrestrained

I break my schedule today, taking more pauses to breathe and move, watching more inspirational videos from the virtual retreat, writing wildly and unrestrained in upcoming chapters that appeal to me in the moment. I want to squeeze out every drop of writerly juices this last day of my writing sanctuary, I want to see what I can make of it and how I can look back on this first one. Because there will be more. Going away like this with my words as my travel companion has expanded my writing mind, and I am grateful. Frankly, also a little proud, that I have put this together on my own, moved through town and worked with dedication and joy.

Friday

It has rained all night and somebody has rolled a foggy blanket over the lake. I pack my things and clean the house while sorting my thoughts and experiences from this writerly bubble. Today I just listen to the rain when I write.

A window with a lit candle, a teacup and two books. Outside a red barn and a snow covered lake.
Closing ceremony in my first ever writing retreat.

There is a closing ceremony in the battery of videos for the virtual writing retreat. I’m reluctant to start it, I don’t want this retreat to end. But I do, and reflect over what these days have given me, and have a sweet moment of tying the retreat ends together. It will require more time to process, though.

A new writer

I am a new writer now. I know what I am capable of and what time in a bubble can do for my writing. During these few days I have explored new ways of letting the words flow and new contexts for them to flow in. I have a writing retreat in my heart now. Whenever I feel lost I can go back in my mind to the lake, the vastness and the trees, to the dancing with my words.

It’s funny, the chapter I finished is called In the bubble. In it I reflect over the process of spinning as an equally important as the produced yarn. And here I am, in a writing bubble, throwing myself fearlessly into the writing process with heart and soul.

Even though I return home with the same things I brought here, my suitcase feels lighter. The weight of the first half of my book has been lifted and I walk towards the train with a spring in my step. When I come back to Stockholm main station, the same people hand out the same discount coupons at the same escalators as four days ago. How come they don’t see that everything has changed now?

The next ten

A couple of days after I came home I did the last editing of my my first ten chapters. With trembling hands and a beating heart I sent my half-baby to my editor and turned my focus to the upcoming ten. I wonder what gifts they will bring me.

A woman writing on a keyboard. A cross-stitch sign on the door says ”Jag skriver”, meaning I write.
Back home I keep writing the remaining ten chapters.

Happy spinning!


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9 Replies to “Writing retreat”

  1. I love reading about your writing process. Your blog writing style assures me that your book will be inspiring, reflective, thoughtful and considered, all qualities I admire in a work such as this. Congratulations on having reached the halfway point! Now I am off to scribble in my own journal as well. 🩵

  2. I feel tense as I read of your embarking journey,
    shivers up my spine at the engulfing ice bath,
    And, a complete body “letting go” as you describe winding up.
    Exhale !
    Writing for the reader to have the experience as though they
    are in the present. Nicely done,
    Thank you

  3. Your blog was delightful, descriptive, calming and inspirational . . . . thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts. Keep on dancin!
    Best always,
    Rose

  4. Wonderful experience, gorgeous photos, it felt like I was there with you. Good Luck for the remaining 10 chapters (hard to imagine 20 chapters in a book about wool). Such a long wait, as you keep tempting us 🙂

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