Paul wrote yesterday about the downfalls of combining writing and holidays. It got me thinking about writing, solitude and location.
As a young woman of eighteen and with the desire to write burning with passionate intensity, I visited Warrnambool on the Victoria Coast for the first time. I imagined myself there at some point in the future, in a little whaler’s cottage – just me, a blazing fire, my typewriter, possibly my cat and the wind howling across the ocean from Antarctica (the next closest landfall). Nothing to do but stay indoors writing.
At the tender age of eighteen I couldn’t imagine my writing life would encompass a partner, a small son and a home, none of which would happily be left to fend for themselves – a domestic maelstrom with a writer at the heart trying to get by, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.
Not surprising, part of me still yearns for the solitude and romance of that wind swept cottage and a dodgy typewriter. Rather than feel like an empty or unfilled space, the dream of the cottage is a warm beacon. Perhaps when I get to that cottage I’ll know I’ve made it. Or my family may have finally had a gut full and kicked me out deciding they’d be better off fending for themselves!
There is something about location which evokes romantic notions of writing – though the reality is the hard slog of page after page and a sort of social “outcasting”. On the silver screen writers are often in seclusion. The best example which springs to mind is Colin Firth’s character Jamie Bennett in Love Actually who has exiled himself to the South of France to write his next novel. At the other end of the spectrum is The Shining’s Jack Torrence.
It would be easy to add but I can only write in the South of France to our list of reasons why we can’t/don’t write, write well enough, write prolifically, finish our book/anthology/chap book. But for most of us we’ve carved out a small niche in our homes to find a fragment of creative solace. To blame location for our lack of productivity/creativity is, like all the other excuses writers and poets trot out, just masks of our real fears about writing.
But a change of scenery can be good.
A change of location can bring with it disconnection from modern conveniences such as mobiles and internet (I was most productive during NaNo when my internet was knocked out racking up 12,000+ words in less than four days). It can bring with it a change in routine which opens up opportunities to write, when real life demands of work or family are not packed along with the warm socks or sun screen. It can also provide new experiences, new people to meet and places to explore; space to follow your thoughts or dance with your day dreams and the opportunity for a few days or a week to “work” as a writer.
In the lead up to the National Novel Writing Month last year I considered a writing retreat. It would give me some necessary quiet time to focus on writing, it was a way of again saying to my family writing is important and of disconnecting me from distractions/demands. And who doesn’t love a holiday?
I started to think about going to the Bunya Mountains – firstly with my family and then later as a solo visit. We discovered the Bunya Mountains about three years ago and there is a similar wild, windswept element as Warrnambool which made me think it was the perfect place to write. There is sporadic mobile service from the top of the mountain, the cabin we stay in has no internet and without anyone, but myself to worry and care for it seemed to be the way to fill pages. Additionally there are lots of tracks for bushwalking and the opportunity for a roaring fire. But the expense? The time away? There were dozens of reasons to deny myself.
So I revised my NaNo get away. My father owns a caravan near the beach at Anglesea – the same beach I spent my holidays at as a teenager. There was a definite pull to return there and write again – as I had done as a 17 year old. With the exception of getting a cheap flight there, I honestly thought I could swing it because it “wasn’t expensive.” I deserved it – I’d ask for the help I needed to get away. But again – the guilt rose to the top and I didn’t go.
But gratefully, some dreams never die they just get bigger and grander. More fun.
One day I will indulge and take myself on a writer’s holiday. And my fantastical writing holiday already exists. I discovered the Cuban Writing Retreat, run through the University of Sydney under the auspice of award winning Australian author Sue Woolfe last year after the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Cuba has held a certain writer’s fascination for me since tortured writer Evan Wyld took himself there in series two The Secret Life of Us (yes I do know he was just a guy on TV!) Evan Wyld aside, Cuba has dancing, a fascinating social history and knock out cocktails? It sounds like a writer’s paradise to me. Especially with someone like Sue Woolfe as your guide.
This year I couldn’t conjure (beg, borrow or steal) the $6000 to get myself there. However, I tell myself there is next year, and the year after and just hope Sue Woolfe and the University of Sydney continues to host trips like this. I will write and dance in Cuba one day before I need a zimmerframe to get about in.
In the mean time, I’m making a pledge to start carving out regular writing getaways as Paul suggested – treating the writer within who, more often than not, goes without.
Where would your writer’s paradise be? Have you ever been on a writer’s retreat? Was it a worthwhile experience?