Written by Michelle Edwards | USA
on December 17, 2020

"When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought…

This is the question that was put to the attendees after the first UP writer’s retreat ended a short time ago. But how participants answered may not mean much without a bit of background. Let’s start at the beginning.

If you are fortunate to be a member of UP, or in fact a client of UP, some very interesting opportunities are bound to come your way. This UP member, and a baker’s dozen of others were lucky enough, a short time ago, to be selected to attend an UP Writer’s Retreat.

A bit of clarification. The word “attend” is used loosely. As although “retreats” generally involve going to a place past the walls of your own home, in these times of COVID, our retreat was virtual. And as this was unusual, in and of itself, we were also notified very early in the retreat that we were also the “guinea pigs” for such an undertaking.

And so began our fab, (but long) two days off in the world of writing, under the guidance of Stuart Delves, to explore…laugh…and learn. But before I get too much into that, a bit about Stuart – who became our beloved Muse for these two days.

Our retreat leader, Stuart Delves

Stuart joined UP as a Senior Writer in November 2019 after 30 years’ copywriting experience and 16 years of running creative writing for business courses, which includes co-founding Dark Angels in 2004 and Invisible Grail in 2017. He started out in a bricks and mortar agency off Euston Road (CDP), has been out on his own and is delighted to now be part of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE, the global cloud-based agency. He also writes poetry and drama.

In addition to these skills, we found along the way that he had other very important skills. For instance – keeping track of all of us on Zoom. It is an interesting feature of Zoom that not everyone stays in the same place on the screen. Imagine keeping track of who people are, and what they said, if they are getting up and changing seats all around the room, every time you look away.

He also sorted out how to get us into our breakout rooms…how to get us back into the main room…and in one participant’s case, how to get them back at all, when they were floating around somewhere out amongst the pixels. As one of our members said when we finally got her back; “No worries, I was out there doing cartwheels in the cloud.” We are all quite sure that “zoom” expert was not on Stuart’s radar when he agreed to take on this virtual retreat.

Now on to the nitty gritty. I am sad to say, I won’t share all of Stuart’s secrets. You will have to attend a future retreat to be lucky enough for that. On Day 1, we started off with an ‘automatic’ writing task. Given a sentence, we were asked to write about it for 5 minutes. We then had a discussion about this task. Five minutes had passed very quickly indeed and although most of us were a bit rusty, it was found to be quite enjoyable.

The first day

In the course of the first day we also talked about some “precious items” we were asked to bring with us. We then broke out into smaller rooms and discussed very specific details that Stuart had crafted in order to help us explore writing from different angles. There were other exercises as well, that got us both thinking and writing.

Save for a quick morning break and a short lunch, we were kept busy. Stuart did an amazing job of keeping us engaged, while time flew past. And a big shout out to the entire group, for not jumping off screen to “do emails, take calls, etc.” This could have been a big detractor from a virtual retreat. But all were dedicated to listening, learning, and contributing. That is a MAJOR accomplishment in this day and age, where – let’s face it, we all have the attention span of a gnat.

At the end of this first day, we were all looking forward to a nice evening off, where we could stretch our legs, clear our minds, and deal with all the work we had ignored all day. But that was not to be. Stuart –gentle taskmaster that he is – was going to allow none of that. He gave us homework! And not easy, finish it in five minutes homework. Nope. This was a task to write a short story about a given object, with a specific theme. And we were to present it the following morning.

No pressure.

The second day

Needless to say, day 2 dawned early. And we all joined each other at our workspaces, and zoomed in. By the second day, faces had become familiar. And although there had not been any part of day 1 that had included the standard; “go around the room and tell us about yourself”, it was quite frankly amazing how much better we knew each other. Everyone was also clearly looking forward to spending another day with each other, collaborating, contributing, and building relationships, as well as our skillsets. After we spent some time reading our stories (for those of you who are freaked out by this thought – reading them was optional), we got on to the business of day 2.

I could go on for a long time about day 2, but suffice it to say, it was a really great experience. Again we were broken up into teams and then were given a large “branding and marketing” task, that we had to complete. Each team had its own criteria to work with, but the deliverables and the deadlines were the same.

The team that I worked with, for reasons that won’t be delved into, became known as the Flamingos 🦩. We hadn’t worked with each other before, but this was an amazing team. And it definitely took a considerable amount of collaboration, great thinking, creativity…and fast typing, to get all of the assigned tasks accomplished.

Time literally flew past. And after presentation of our projects, and a quick final go around, it was time to…”Zoom Out”. Before we signed off with a sad wave to our team members and new friends up in the cloud, Stuart gave use one last piece of homework. He seems really good at that. The task – was of course – to finish a sentence, and to send it back to him, copying others if we so desired.

Over the subsequent days, I felt an amazing afterglow. As if I had in fact traveled to a marvelous place and met some great new people who became quick collaborators and comrades in crime. No small feat in 2020 – largely due to Stuart and the amazing place he created for us in our little Zoom world. It occurred to me as I read the homework back to Stuart in emails, that others might feel the same. 

And so in true Stuart fashion, I asked my fellow Writer’s Retreat mates to complete the following sentence:

"When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought…

Here is what everyone had to say:

  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought… wow, how can I be so exhausted and energized at the same time?“
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought: it’s amazing how many talented writers there are out there, and what creativity and warmth as well – in fact I felt really good, which is quite a remarkable feeling in the middle of November in the North, where there is so little sunshine this time of year.
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought, more of this please!"
  • “When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer’s Retreat, I thought…What a great experience, to see so many UP members engaging in this very inspiring training.  Thank you for bringing us together!”
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought…What a great way to spend two days, and what inspiring people! If only I had done that sooner.” 
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought…where do I sign for day three? For anyone considering it, know that it’s the perfect way to reconnect with your writing and get to know some of the wonderful folks at UP a little better.
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought…wowowzers! What a fantastic opportunity, such superb special people. Wish we could do it again. What a great creative and collaborative group of people you find on that UP There, Everywhere cloud!
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought...what a privilege it was to deep dive into the world of writing with such a talented and infinitely interesting group of UP-ers. I'm inspired!"
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought... now a few hours sleep, then a big cup of coffee and then UP for the third day of the retreat!"
  • “When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought "Boy, what a pleasure to have dedicated space to write for the pure joy of it. I feel reinvigorated!"
  • "When I zoomed out after two long days attending the Writer's Retreat, I thought what a lovely bunch of people. Warm, generous, willing to explore and so sparky and talented. It was a joy leading everyone on this virtual journey.” 

More about Dark Angels from Julian Stubbs, CEO of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE:

 ‘I first went on a residential Dark Angels Course ten years ago and met Stuart – who was one of the founders.

In late 2019 Stuart joined UP and then we started discussing a writing course and – but for COVID – we would have held one over a long weekend in an Oxford University College. Then because of the big C word – we had to cancel. And thus, The Online Writer’s Retreat was created.

We are now planning further UP Retreats including a drawing course, a Creative Retreat Presentation Skills Training and (hopefully) a return to Palma Mallorca for a larger in person Meet UP.’


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