Himalayan Writing Retreat – a book writing support group or a conspiracy of the Universe?
‘I haven’t even started my book. I don’t really even know the basics of writing! Would the Himalayan Writing Retreat still be for me? If so, sign me up!’ I explain excitedly.
And, poof, the wheels were set in motion. The universe conspired for me, and I soon found myself high up in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas participating in the first Himalayan Writing Retreat hosted by Chetan Mahajan, a former classmate from business school. I wasn’t surprised I was here.
The overnight train arrived into Kathgodam three hours late. Thankfully, the pre-arranged taxi driver waited. After a breathtaking drive on a steep, curvy road (barf bag not included), I arrived in Satoli. Chetan and I caught up on life before Roy, a visiting facilitator for the HWR, arrived. Roy and I immediately started tossing around ideas for my book; I laughed out loud at his insights on God, religion, and spirituality including one about God being ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor.’
It was late afternoon when I arrived at the writer workshop location. An atypical wood house situated down a steep hill from a one-lane dirt road in the middle of…well, nothing except the pure expression of Mother Nature. I experienced visual euphoria looking out at fields of orange flowers, fog covering the valley and snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Chetan, Roy, and a token random dog greeted me upon arrival; I instantly felt comfortable and safe in my latest home away from home. The other participants filtered in and by 4pm most of us headed out for an easy hike in the majestic Himalayas. We shared stories of why we were there, what we wanted to write about, how we heard about the retreat and our careers. Within the hour, strangers had become friends.
The next morning I awoke to Indian spices floating from the surprisingly large kitchen. There was not a drop of pollution in the air. Is that really ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ I hear playing? I can’t exactly tell amongst the kitchen mixer, plow, laughter and lively conversation. I know I’m in India, a land where chaos seems to be happening in perfect harmony.
Over the course of the retreat, we learned about plot formats and applied those learnings to our own writings. We learned about characters, description and setting. On a few occasions, we completed 20-minute writing exercises incorporating what we had discussed up to that point. For one of the writings we were asked to describe our surroundings while remembering to address all five senses. After each person read their writing, the rest of the group offered input. I found this experience and the small group writers workshop format very helpful.
One evening we were given a New Yorker article to read and the next morning we discussed the article. Its purpose was to demonstrate how every detail included by the author added depth and context to the story. It demonstrated how to use words to add detail and complexity. We learned about various kinds of research, purpose of dialogue, and importance of showing verses telling. We learned about style, editing, rewriting, and publishing. We discussed book and movie titles that inspired us, and Anuj told us the ‘Fresh Fish Sold Here’ – joke to demonstrate how to make every word count. (I’ll let him tell the joke in a future blog post.) All along the way, Chetan & Roy incorporated many different styles of learning (visual, auditory, written) so they were able to hold my attention all day. As the final exercise, we created timelines for getting our books written if that was our goal.
In the three months since the HWR, I finished the first draft of my first book (aka ‘vomit on paper’). Yes, I’m disciplined. Yes, I was able to solely focus on writing for 2 weeks after the retreat, spending about six hours every day on plots, story lines, characters, dialogue, research and writing. But, behind it all, was an accountability factor. I committed to a timeline with all my new writer-friends as witnesses, and I took the baby steps laid-out in that timeline to make another one of my dreams come true.
Know more about the Himalayan Writing Retreat here.
About the author:
Jennifer Harper is a world traveler, Yoga instructor, business professional and now a writer. Jennifer attended the Himalayan Writing Retreat in Fall 2016. Jennifer lives in LA and her first book is a spiritual travelogue.