Thursday 30 August 2012

How To Run A Writer's Retreat: Part One

As I said in this post, I will be answering all your questions about the Homeric Writer's Retreat & Workshop, in a series of posts. Tune in every Thursday to get some answers. I'll be posting until I run out of questions.

The first question I'm going to answer is the most popular one. One that was asked by many, including Shannon Cyr, Theresa Milstein, D. G. Hudson, Lane7, and Hart Johnson:

QUESTION: "I'm curious about how you structured it--how did you mix writing, learning from the experts, (seminars versus workshops?) playtime ...?"

I spent quite a bit of time organizing the schedule to work well with the August heat. This was my main concern, because in the middle of the day on a Greek island it can get pretty stinky. But holding the retreat at any other time of year, would have meant missing out on the amazing traditional dance festival which proved to be an absolute hit with our attendees. (you can read some testimonials here.)

the schedule: click to enlarge

Firstly, as you can see if you enlarge the schedule, most of the sessions were lectures/seminars on how to get published. From the query letter, to getting articles published in magazines/newspapers, to building a platform. The only interactive workshops were mine on the last day, which I will be incorporating more of next year due to the fact that they were very much enjoyed. (woop!)

During free time, which was mostly in the middle of the day, one-on-one sessions took place. We just played this by ear. Whomever was ready to do one, did one. It worked very well this way. No pressure on us, no pressure on the attendees. Attendees also sent their work to Chuck earlier in the year, so that he could thoroughly prepare. Excellent idea. The feedback he was able to provide due to this was phenomenal, and so I've heard, totally satisfying.

We also had excursions to various places on the island. One particularly interesting one, was to Homer's School, where it is believed, Odysseus' palace was. In addition, there were organized dinners, trips to picturesque villages, by the sea and on TOP of the mountains. And of course, the dance fest. You can see more photos on our Facebook Page.

On Kravoulia Beach, singing like divas.
One night a few of us decided to take a stroll to the beach with Chuck and a guitar. Which just proves, despite the full-looking schedule, there was still time to chill out, and do a few things on the spur of the moment. Which I think is vital too. You don't want to bog people down with too many 'have tos'.

I honestly don't think many got a lot of writing done. But that wasn't the point of this retreat. It was to learn and experience something completely new, to enrich lives, to motivate. And you know what? By the time it was over, everyone was inspired. INSPIRED. Everyone jumped back into their writing on their return home with full force. The positive feedback has been astounding, and I couldn't be any more pleased!

In a nutshell, I think there are 5 things you need to remember when organizing a workshop schedule:

1. Make sure you schedule breaks if you have more than two sessions in a row.

2. Consider the weather. It affects people's concentration more than you know.

3. Allow plenty of free time. But make sure everyone knows what they could do if they don't particularly feel like writing or lazing around, i.e. show them where they can eat, swim, etc.

4. Be available. You never know when someone might need you for something. If you are the organizer, do not expect to get a holiday out it this. It is HARD work. You need to be there for everyone, both teachers and attendees, around the clock.

5. Get to know everyone who you are doing business with, and know your destination like the back of your own hand. Especially for when unexpected things happen, such as someone losing their luggage! Trust me, when most businesses shut at 2 pm, it pays to know people, who know people, who know people. Get my drift?

Check out this video I took, while on Homer's Walk. Sorry about the poor sound quality, but I recorded it on my phone on the spur of the moment:

Got any more questions? Leave them in the comments, and I'll be sure to answer them in my future posts.


  1. Congratulations. Sounds like it was a total success. I'm taking notes. I hope to have my retreat up and running in 2013. I'm building mine so it's going to a bit longer than I thought.

  2. That was a full schedule! But you planned it well. Yeah, I don't think well when it's hot.

  3. Thanks, Jessica. It's not just an inspiring write on organising a creative writing workshop but a lesson in determination, planning and making it happen. Ever since I read your first post on this retreat, I've been dreaming about it. I didn't sign in for the Ithaca retreat because I couldn't afford it; but someday I'll make it. The pics you posted on FB were simply out of this world!

  4. Wow Jessica. That is amazing! Very well planned and thoughtful!

  5. I'm sure it's a labor of love putting that all together.

  6. I'm like Alex, I melt in the heat. Thanks for posting that brochure. The retreat sounds wonderful, and seeing a Greek dance festival would be a definite plus.

    I'll come back for the other posts.

  7. If only it wasn't like $1500 for airfare, I totally would have come.

  8. Hi Jessica!

    So glad to hear that the workshop was a success! I would have LOVED to have attended. It sounds like a wonderful time all around.


  9. What about the pina coladas? Who can write without pina coladas? Serious oversight.

  10. Sounds awesome, Jessica. I so wish I could have been there!


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