Suzanne Harris, Edmonton-based writer, editor and writing coach, organizes retreats to Greece through Olivewood & Laurel. Her next one, called “Breathing Space” will be held in September.
Here’s what she told me recently:
Do you find it’s mostly men, women, or a mix of people who attend?
I think retreats allow us a measure of breathing space, release us from our daily obligations, let us remember who we are and what’s important to us, allows us to hear the creative voice within. I think women really need that space. We crave it.
Do you find there’s a particular point in a project that a retreat is most beneficial?
I haven’t found that. Stillness, room to think, and an absence of external demands are useful at any stage of a project.
Retreat participants work on all sorts of projects in every stage, from initial brainstorming to final edits. For example, on my last retreat I had one writer who came with no project in mind and left with a chapbook’s worth of poems plus an extensive outline for a book, another writer who was emailing final edits for her most recent novel back-and-forth with her publisher in Toronto, and other writers at points in between.
Is there an ideal balance between social time and solitude?
I think everyone’s solitude-to-social needs are different, and that’s the beauty of writing retreats like Olivewood & Laurel Retreats in Greece, or any well-designed writing retreat. Nothing is mandatory. It’s all about the writer and the balance she needs. I create a space where participants can find that balance.
In Greece we generally agree to meet for the evening meal, which makes a nice touchstone for people. We have very lively dinner conversations!
During the day we have a system for people to post notes inviting company if they are, say, going for a swim at a certain time, or for a hike in the hills. The village itself is so small and intimate that we can cross paths with each other if we are out.
Writers can choose solitude in nature or social interaction, or both, if they sit at a taverna by the sea.
What is the benefit of going overseas compared with a local or regional retreat?
For me, the beauty of an overseas retreat lies in its other-ness. That fish-out-of-water feeling that magnifies all the senses, lets you see and feel more keenly, fires up the imagination, provides new perspective.
Every day is a discovery day for participants. Every day they discover something new, so it’s invigorating, exciting, and retreat participants carry that energy into the culture and landscape of their own work.
Cultural differences make an impact in unexpected ways, too. For instance, in village Greece there is still the culture of siesta. When you relax into it, it changes your rhythm. Your heart beats to a different drum. Some participants find it ignites their creativity in a different way. They find themselves slipping more easily into a dream state where their creativity can speak.