The power of ‘retreat’: Escaping from regular life in order to write

Are you finding it hard to get traction with your writing? Facing too many distractions? Always being interrupted? A Writing Retreat could be just what the doctor ordered.

One definition of ‘retreat’ in the dictionary is “an act of leaving or escaping”, as in pulling back or fleeing from attack. Another definition is “a quiet or secluded place” in which to rest and relax (OED, 2017).

Writing retreats embody both of these definitions. They involve both a withdrawal from the world, with all its many demands, and, they provide a peaceful, restful environment. In this blog post I discuss what takes place at a writing retreat, and the many potential benefits.

What happens at a writing retreat?

Writing retreats can be planned group events, or something an individual can organise for her or himself.

At a group writing retreat, a gathering of writers, with something in common, retreat together to a location away from work, home and regular life. The location is generally a quiet relaxed setting, nestled somewhere close to nature. Participants are also freed from the need to prepare meals, childcare, and housework etc.; they may also be isolated from phones and even the internet! Group academic writing retreats are often organised for university, faculty or department staff or postgraduate students.

Sometimes the format of a group retreat is formal, with both compulsory and voluntary writing workshops and opportunities to share writing and provide feedback to others. Other times, people spend most of their time immersed in writing and socialise when it suits them.

Writing retreats can also be solo endeavours. Any academic or student can arrange their own retreat. They could book in at a retreat centre or go to a holiday home for example.

What are the benefits of writing retreats?

Many people have written about and extolled the benefits of writing retreats. Grant (2008) has organised many academic writing retreats. She writes about the pleasure of embracing the act of writing in this communal setting:

The writing retreats offer various riches to all those who attend: a chance to affirm, maybe even discover for the first time, the creativity and pleasures of academic writing; an opportunity to move between the act of writing and interactions to do with writing that brings the writer back to their work with clearer sight; a time and place to learn that the solitariness of writing can co-exist with productive and stimulating sociality. (Grant, 2008, p. viii)

Another retreat participant speaks of the interplay of solitude and connection with others that is a unique and wonderful feature of a group writing retreat:

I love many things about the retreat process: the opportunities for solitude as well as the unexpected connections made with others, the chance to really grapple with the challenges of my own writing, working alongside others who are grappling with theirs and observing the different approaches they use. Some are so business-like and unruffled, others fight and resist, yet others seem to daydream their way through a first draft. As well, I value the occasional invitations to enter someone else’s writing world and assist them with their work (Author’s personal reflection as cited in Grant, 2008, p. xi).

Research has certainly highlighted the value of a good writing retreat. One recent integrative review identified five essential advantages of staff academic writing retreats (Kornhaber, Cross, Bridgman, & Betihavas, 2016):

  1. Protected time and space – speeding up the writing process.
  2. Community of practice – creating a safe space to share writing and get feedback.
  3. Development of academic writing capability – facilitating greater competence and confidence about writing.
  4. Intra-personal benefits – increasing “self-awareness, confidence and motivation”, and reducing “writing-related anxiety” (p. 1222).
  5. Organisational benefits – occasioning more publications.

In other words, writing retreats help people write more, get better at writing and have more fun doing it! Why not consider going on one?

References:

Grant, B. (2008). Academic writing retreats: A facilitator’s guide. Milperra, Australia: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia

Kornhaber, R., Cross, M., Bridgman, H., & Betihavas, V. (2016). The benefits and challenges of academic writing retreats: An integrative review. Higher Education Research and Development, 35(6), 1210-1227. doi:10.1080/07294360.2016.1144572

Oxford English Dictionary (OED). (2007). Retreat (n). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from www.oed.com.

About Kathryn Owler

Dr Kathryn Owler is a Postgraduate Learning Advisor at AUT University. Her job is to assist postgraduate students to develop their academic skills, including writing. Kathryn is very interested in understanding the relationship between the writer and their writing; this includes finding ways to enhance the writing experience. She completed her PhD on the experience of dissertation writing and has subsequently publishing several papers on the topic. Kathryn currently attends AUT postgraduate writing retreats as a facilitator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

sixteen + 1 =