Writer and playwright Jan Cornall tells us why it is important for writers to immerse themselves in new experiences, and she should know – she leads writing retreats to places such as Luang Prabang in Laos, to the temples of Bagan in Burma, and to the edge of a volcano in Kintamani, Bali.
What makes people want to travel and write? Is it simply a desire to get away from day today reality, escape to an exotic paradise or follow the dream of finding a perfect writer’s hideaway?
Perhaps some or all of the above ring true, but more importantly — travel opens your eyes to the new. Which is why simply traveling to another suburb in your own city may even do the trick. It’s one of the things I suggest to my writing students when they are feeling stuck or stale— take a train to a part of the city you have never visited before; imagine you are traveling in another country; keep your notebook close by and jot down everything you see, hear, smell, taste touch. Become a sense detecting sponge, capturing first impressions, taking your self back to ‘beginner’s mind’.
This is also something I remind people to do when we travel in a group to various locations in Asia for intensive writing retreats like the heritage town of Luang Prabang in Laos, the temples of Bagan in Burma, the edge of a volcano in Kintamani, Bali, or a hidden beach in Savusavu Bay, Fiji.
To the western traveller these places often share a sense of history, beauty, peace, or serenity. We immerse ourselves in the cultures, rituals, and foods. And, if we are lucky enough to have local writers join these retreats, we sometimes find stories perhaps not so pleasant as the ones sold by the local tourism board.
This is when it gets interesting. These retreats are not just about having time away to write, but also about taking our writing to another level — out of its comfort zone, into the deep.
I know of no better place to do this than Asia, where the sights, smells and sounds of chaos can calm a writers mind, where the spirit of generosity and hospitality can feed and nurture your work, where the richness of tradition and culture will always lead you back to your creative self, and where you may find stories of such importance waiting to be told that you forget the struggles of writing them.
Jan Cornall holds an MA in Cultural and Creative Practice, has taught at the University of Western Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Diponegoro University, Indonesia, and leads international writing retreats. She is planning a retreat to follow the APWT’s Conference in the Philippines in October 2015.