SWW is an open creative writing group based in Seoul that started in 2007. They focus on organizing weekly workshops for fellow writers of the area to share their poetry and prose while gaining insight, advice, and constructive criticism to support each other’s work. They also publish a yearly anthology; this December will be its 5th publication.
The beginning of Korea’s chaotic Chuseok this past weekend caused traffic jams, train delays, and overcrowded airports. Yet the members of the Seoul Writers Workshop (SWW) slipped off into solitude in the backwoods of the Cheopyeong Lakeside of Gapyeong County to catch writing inspiration, alongside the company of soju, makgeolli, beer, vodka, and not enough wine.
SWW went against the grain of fleeing off to popular Chuseok destinations such as Jeju or the Philippines and, instead, chose the countryside to simply let out their inner Shakespeare. (Or more like inner Bukowski for those who drank more than they actually wrote.) In the last minute, I was lucky enough to snag a spot on the retreat and found myself wrapped inside the world of sixteen very different strangers for more than 48 hours.
These sixteen strangers shared different tastes of music, books, films, Korean experiences, backgrounds, ages, opinions, travel stories, humor, sexuality, and love wounds. When I took my place sitting down in the circle of our enlightened group discussions (or a little game of Never Have I Ever…) I couldn’t help but notice our obvious differences reminded me of a distorted ‘Breakfast Club’ mix of personalities that carried a dash of Vonnegut humor. Amongst us poets and writers there were: Atheists and Catholics, wine sippers and beer lovers, two herbivores and fourteen omnivores, and a few shy faces but mostly witty bastards. Yet in the end, inside our cabin-esque pension tucked away in never-never land, all sixteen of us writers were exactly that for those two days: writers.
This marked SWW’s 4th retreat, and it was instantly filled with an energy of understanding, support, openness, and good ol’ Mitt Romney bashing. We sprinkled the two days with creative writing exercises, group discussions, and free writing time. Some wrote with paper and pen while others typed 60 words per minute behind their laptops. Some stuck headphones in their ears and found a corner of the pension to read, while others trekked down towards the river bank with only the company of trees to witness their handwriting.
We spoke about what goals we wanted to complete by the end of the weekend, shared favorite personal writing tips and advice, and opened up about the difficulties of being a successful writer and the problems we conjure every day. Yet our topics of conversations didn’t stop at the subject of just “how to be a better writer.” Our discussions would escalate into personal debates such as Can men and women really be friends? Is carrying your girlfriend’s handbag and opening doors a trade off for having power in the relationship in Korea? and Have you ever been friend-dumped? The writers would also naturally break into what I like to call “mini therapy sessions” in smaller groups and tickle the topics of love, lust, marriage, divorces, break-ups, one-night stands, open relationships, dating Koreans… all the way down to Are you passive or aggressive in bed?
This being my very first writer’s retreat, I am more than delighted to say that it was a success. I witnessed novels being born, poems being created, and stories finally meeting their last sentences. I learned what an aubade was, the definition of curmudgeon, and wrote a poem, something I haven’t done since I landed on Korean soil six months ago. The only piece of major advice I would want SWW to remember for the next retreat is simply: more wine, please.
If you’re a writer or are interested in joining a workshop, reach out to SWW on Facebook at Seoul Writers Workshop.
Written and photographed by Emily Ann Hodges.