Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

A Writer’s Retreat in Greece (Part 1)

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Hello readers. It’s been a while. Checking the date, my last post on this blog o’ mine was a year ago in June 2021. Much has changed since then. For one, I am no longer a freelancer. Yes I have a full-time job these days. Veteran readers of this blog will know that I started it in 2013 as a way to chronicle my time in Beijing as a freelance foreign correspondent. In 2018, I left Beijing, and I began to experiment properly with long-term travel and freelancing (digital nomadism, if you will). That came to an end in September 2020 owing to the pandemic.

Since I’ve been back in sunny England, I started writing a book again, which has kept me busy, then I got a full-time job in October last year. Perhaps I will write about this job at some point. But first I want to talk about a writer’s retreat I went on recently, the first ever writer’s retreat I attended.

If you are unsure what a writer’s retreat is exactly, it’s simply a place you go where the purpose is to engage with the activity of writing. Holidays exist where people go on a yoga retreat, or a cooking course in Italy, for example, or a meditation retreat, or a surfing school. A writer’s retreat is designed specifically for those looking to get away to focus on their writing.

Why did I go?

Late last year I received a chunk of money via the Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England. As part of my application, I specified that I would use some of the money to go on a writer’s program or retreat. I looked some up. The most famous one in the UK are the creative writing programs and retreats run by the Arvon Foundation. Also as part of my application I specified that I would complete a certain amount of chapters for the book I am writing.

Eventually I decided to look abroad for my writer’s retreat. I hadn’t travelled overseas since I returned to England in September 2020, and I also wanted a more hands-off program, although I am still interested in those retreats where guided tuition is offered, I searched for something more open.

Just from Googling I happened to find a retreat that takes place in Greece, and one that turned out to be cheaper than a similar program at Arvon (excluding the transportation to get there).

Was it effective?

Since I started the fulltime job I’ve found I’ve had much less time to do my own writing. Beyond that, I’ve found my evenings and weekends overtaken by leisure.

When I was a freelancer, leisure and work-life wasn’t as clearly defined; actually they bled into each other. I found freelance life to be more task orientated. Once I finished tasks or a major task, I often would then do something leisurely, whether that was 12pm or 9pm, clocktime wasn’t as important.

In my new incarnation as a fulltime staffer, I have to work eight-hour shifts. Once I finish a shift and clock off I find my mind shifts into leisure mode, and it can be tough to get it back into work mode in the evenings, even if that “work” comprises a passion of mine. It also doesn’t help that my day job also involves writing.

Be that as it may, through discipline, I was able to carve out an hour here or there in the evenings to get more writing done. Through diligence I was able to accumulate, with some regularity, hundreds and hundreds of words, always keeping in sight that putting down a couple hundreds words every day is nearly always more productive than trying to get thousands of words down in a single day. However, there were many evenings when this didn’t happen. I didn’t force myself, the bursts of writing happened in bursts: some weeks I wrote for successive days, while other weeks I wrote almost nothing.

However, I needed to edit, shape, and re-structure some of the chapters I had written. To tighten up and carve them into something better. This I found harder than even just getting the words down. It’s that old saying: I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I needed a helicopter to take me above the trees so I could see the shape of the woods. So I decided that my helicopter would be a writing retreat.

Yes, it was effective.

What was the schedule?

Breakfast was a buffet of cheese, fruit, yogurt, eggs, bread, and that kind of thing. Lunch was a cooked meal. There was cake in the afternoon. Dinner was a sit down together kind of thing: more ceremonial, which was nice, and we’d converse about our day, among other things. I always looked forward to dinner and conversation.

Our meal times were announced by a bell, so that we writers would know it would be time to congregate for our food. Coffee and tea and snacks were provided. The retreat was located in sublime surrounds.

Other participants were a mix, although I was the only man there. There were people working on novels, and also those working on their PhDs. The retreat is designed for artists and writers and academics. I liked this variety.

My first days there were spent mostly lounging, and reading. I had to feel my way in. But the second day there I started to work a little more. We also went for walks and a little sight-seeing, which was organised by the retreat host, who was a kind and warm Dutch woman.

Would I go again?

Yes, and perhaps I would try their other location, which is set in rural Italy.

Being a writer is an often solitary experience. Ours is not really a very communal occupation, although I do regularly wish it were otherwise. But the idea of a writer’s retreat fulfilled me when I was there, especially as I was in such beautiful surrounds. It felt like a charmed existence.

Why would I go again? Because a writer’s retreat offers the spirit of community and the movement of travel animated by purpose; graced with the time and the space to think, read, and perhaps create. It does not even matter so much if you do not produce so much writing while you are on the retreat. Merely permitting yourself to go on one can be energising and gracious.

I would highly recommend to those who can afford it to consider going on a writer’s retreat at least once. The costs are worth it in my opinion.

This is the website of the organisation that runs the retreat I went on: https://artisagreece.org/

Part two of this will be more like a day-in-the-life type post, so stay tuned for that. Feel free to comment below, or email me, if you have questions.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

June 5, 2022 at 9:11 pm

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