Retreating to Write

I planned a writing retreat for myself back in 2017. It was in George Town, Penang, and it pretty much failed. Or rather, I failed to do what I set out to do: write.

At the time, I was trying to complete a collection of short stories. I was hoping to write at least two stories while on this retreat, but I ended up completing just one.

I spent five nights in George Town, and I should have spent more time writing, but instead I wondered around a lot, exploring the city. The Airbnb I had booked was partly to blame. I hated the place the moment I checked it — long story, but basically, the owner was odd and I just felt uncomfortable the whole time I was there. There was no writing desk in my room so I had to use the communal tables, which weren’t comfortable or conducive to writing. The seats (wooden benches) were hard, without backrests; and the area was near the entrance and saw a lot of distracting foot traffic.

Still, I could have found a quiet cafe (I actually know several in George Town) and written there, but I didn’t. I preferred to wander the streets, taking pictures of temples and clan houses and Datuk Gong shrines. Perhaps what I really wanted to do (deep down) is have a solo holiday, doing exactly what I wanted without having to worry about other people’s expectations or desires. Perhaps I just wanted to escape my life. Perhaps I was looking for inspiration.

I don’t consider that retreat a waste. I enjoyed myself, despite not liking my accommodation and the unfriendly host. However, when I returned to George Town in 2018, for a four-nighter, I stayed at another place (Fhoya Fhoya on Gat Lebuh Melayu) that I was familiar with and liked.

The purpose of that visit was not to write, but just to be by myself. It was then that I decided that I would have a solo retreat every three or so months, whether to write or just have some ‘me’ time.

I am off to George Town again next week and will be staying (for three nights) at Fhoya Fhoya’s sister-property: Fhoya Fhoya di Chulia. This time, I intend to write. I wish to make a start on my two novels: Too ambitious? Perhaps, I will figure out which one I should work on in earnest. At the moment, I love both of them equally and don’t know which one I should focus on.

I shall have to be more disciplined. The temptation, when in GT, is to wander about semi-aimlessly and I can’t allow this to happen. So, my schedule is writing in the morning til mid-afternoon, with some wandering in the late afternoon, and ‘me’ time in the evenings.That’s the plan anyway. I will report back next week!

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