I dream of writing a book… A really good book.
Countless aspiring writers world-over have said this phrase, journaled its manifestation plea, and then found themselves stuck in the overwhelm, fear and doubts that inevitably arise in the writing process. Jan Cornall knows this battle well from her own writing journey, and this -- along with her strong Buddhist meditation practice -- is what drove her to create her Writer’s Journey retreats.
“All the writers that come along have the same story. You get overwhelmed, you think, ‘am I good enough?’ You think, ‘who wants to hear this story?’ And everyone’s story is totally unique, so that’s what I like to do: nurture that uniqueness in the person.”
And in this way, the work of writing begins to transcend beyond pen and paper. Jan sees writing as a deep, personal journey of transformation, connection, and the opportunity to be seen and celebrated in what is sometimes an unknown space of creativity and expression. “I’m collaborating in sharing my skills with others but also I’m taking them into ‘that’ place within themselves where they can really experience some kind of connection with the place they’re in, with themselves, with other people. But the beauty with the writing is that it’s an instant form of expression, and then they share it with one another instantly. They are reading to one another and that takes you really quite deep, you don’t have to get into all the ‘get to know you’ because in the personal aspect of writing you somehow know them...”
In beautiful locations like Bali, Morocco, Japan, Myanmar and Tibet, the practice of unfolding a piece of writing can become something powerful and full of surprises. What once was writer’s block, or a musician who struggles to find words to adequately express another artistic flavor, or maybe just someone who wants the space to focus on their art, becomes immersed with a devoted and supportive group. This creates an alchemy that can bring out different voices, different visuals, and different expressions than might otherwise be accessible. Part of this is due to Jan’s meditative approach, which invites writers “in” through the senses rather than by beginning with words. This, she believes, is essential to accessing your unique personal story:
“Sometimes we start our mornings with a simple meditation practice but in the writing exercises it’s a guided meditation/visualization technique where I take writers in via the senses, the inter-sense memory. I take them in but the pictures that are coming up for them and the visualizations are unique to their own stories or their own journeys.”
You might even say that writing walks hand in hand with a sort of spiritual journey.
Basing most of her retreats around visits to temples and shrines, Jan invites participants to bring their creative expression into the truth of Now: “For me, it’s taking the writer into the present moment and writing from that place - or using the writing to bring yourself into the present moment. That’s why I love this sort of heart-full approach to writing. I try to inspire that in the writers, so when we’re out walking we’re looking out in a heartful way of observing and I think simply the art of expression and the art of sharing is creative expression. It does have its layers with the type of spiritual experience; I’m not saying it’s spiritual in itself. We’re taking our inspiration from many different places when we’re in Bagan, in Burma with these giant Buddhas and when we go every day into these extraordinary temples we can’t help but be moved by a sense of spirituality in the different places that we go to.”
All this to say: instead of trying to push through a writer’s block, or endlessly set your own deadlines that never seem to be met, Jan offers a different approach: go in, and in, and find your own unique, creative expression. It is from that place that your true great novel will be born.
Jan Cornall is a teacher, writer and performer based in Australia. She leads international writing and creativity retreats in various countries around the world. Be sure to visit her Retreat Guru page or her website here.