A Perfect Writing Retreat

SEJ note: This post was first published in June 2016 and was updated in February 2018.

What makes a really great writing retreat? One that inspires newer and more experienced writers alike… One that achieves that perfect balance of solitude and creative conversation? In October 2018 Phil Cousineau will be leading a writing retreat for Sacred Earth Journeys to the idyllic Greek island of Hydra. This will be his 2nd writing retreat on Hydra – Phil has also led writing retreats for us in Connemara, Ireland.

The feedback we received from Phil’s previous writing retreats was so positive that we can’t help but feel this journey to Hydra will be the perfect writer’s retreat for all participants. Whether you are a beginning writer or have several projects already under your belt, we invite you to read our exclusive interview with Phil Cousineau to discover how this retreat will provide inspiration, and learn more about the importance of retreats in a writer’s life.

hydra greece
The idyllic Greek island of Hydra

Here’s a sample of feedback from Phil’s previous writing retreats in both Hydra, Greece and Connemara, Ireland:

“The Hydra Writer’s Retreat changed my writing life. This experience has been unparalleled, and I’ve participated in my share of writing retreats! Phil Cousineau is a masterful teacher, historian and writing coach whose extensive life experience and knowledge of literature combine to expand his one week writing retreat into a future filled with possibilities. The Retreat helped me reclaim my desire to write, to express myself, to tell my stories.” Gretchen Wright, Cedar Rapids, IA

“The writing retreat on Hydra exceeded my expectations. Everything was better than perfect. Phil is an inspirational teacher, storyteller and motivator. His writing prompts broke through my 3-year block and I’ve been writing ever since!” Cynthia Greenberg, San Anselmo, CA

“Exceptional… unexpected… more than I imagined it could be! I feel restored to my creative capacities and renewed in my sense of purpose and love for the book I am writing.” Ana Mozol, Vancouver, BC

“Phil was amazing. Highly recommended for all writers! I know each one of us gained a great deal.” Stephanie Bennett, Auckland, New Zealand

“Phil is an outstanding guide in all aspects, and I am forever grateful for his skilled hand at helping me with my previously stalled-out writing project.” Karle Dickerson, Pasadena, CA

For more testimonials from this writer’s retreat, please visit our testimonials page. To hear more about our retreat in Ireland, visit our blog interview in which three participants share their creative reflections.

Interview with Phil Cousineau

SEJ: Why did you choose the Greek island of Hydra as the base for this writer’s retreat?

Phil Cousineau: Since I first reveled in the Greek islands in the 1970s Hydra has held a special place in my heart because it was one of the favourite writing locales for a few of my favorite writers, such as Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Leonard Cohen. Later I learned that its sparkling light also attracted painters, photographers, and musicians. Indeed, something is in the air on Hydra, the light, the compactness, and even the curious fact that no cars or trucks are allowed on the island – all transportation is by foot, mule, or boat. For me, the two secret ingredients to the writing life are sacred time and sacred space, and Hydra provides both. Within hours of arrival one feels transported back in time, and since it is a small island with one main harbour and fabulous walking trails, all space there seems sacred. I can testify to the combination since I have written reams of stories and poems there.

mules hydra harbor
The mules at the harbour, Hydra

SEJ: Can you explain the term “mythopoetic” and how this approach will manifest itself over the course of the retreat?

Phil Cousineau: Mythopoetic is one of my favourite literary terms, fairly obscure and worth reviving and vaunting. Literally, it means “the making of sacred stories,” from myth, sacred story, and poesis, the making of a thing. Together, they allude to the making of stories or poems with mythic content. This is shorthand for the creation of not only fiction but non-fiction, especially memoir, since, as Carl Jung puts it, all personal stories are myths-in-the-making. For this workshop I have an entirely new round of teaching exercises that will serve to prompt the mythic and the poetic in our groups writing endeavours.

SEJ: Is the retreat suitable for new or beginning writers as well as those with more experience? How might a newer writer benefit from this retreat?

Phil Cousineau: The Hydra Writer’s Retreat is geared for writers of all ages, all genres, and all stages of experience. Over the last 35 years I have published nearly 40 books and helped another 100 writers publish their work, including scores of first-time writers. I ardently believe one helps the other so my creative life is constantly cycling. It helps me to help others, and I encourage those I help with their writing to pass on the gift of time and space to others they may come across. At this point it is also important to note that because our group on Hydra will be small I will have personal time every day for each and everyone, both during our classes and afterward in one of the harbour-side tavernas.

greek food
Phil enjoying some fine Greek food and creative conversation

SEJ: How important is it for writers to take the time to “replicate the ideal writing life” on retreats such as this?

Phil Cousineau: In my experience the more a writer can focus on this special time together the more they can accomplish. For that reason I encourage everyone to talk about either their writing life or the life of writing, the life of books, art, movies, and culture, as often as possible during our time together – rather than slide back into stories of home. I believe all of our senses are heightened during these workshops and if we take full advantage of it we will have the creative breakthrough we were longing for.

SEJ: How has travel and spending time in retreat influenced your own work and creative juices?

Phil Cousineau: Considering the fact that I am always working on more than one book, plus film, television, and radio scripts, I need infusions of inspiration and energy just like everyone else. Travel fuels me, retreats replenish me, new friends and eager students remind me why I wanted to write in the first place. Travel time and retreat time provide new experiences and new perspectives, and if I honour them then I become a perpetual motion machine of creativity – never wrestling with the dreaded writing block problem. Over the course of our time together on Hydra I plan on sharing this secret alchemy so that anyone who joins us will know how to cultivate not just a creative week here and there, but a creative life.

bratsera hotel hydra
The terrace at the charming Bratsera Hotel, our base for this writer’s retreat

Read more or book your spot on the Hydra Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau.

~ Sacred Earth Journeys