Every year my department takes a day-long “retreat” at the end of the semester. When it’s announced, many people roll their eyes and sigh deeply.
That’s because our department retreat isn’t really a retreat. It’s an 8-hour meeting with bad catering.
Nobody wants to do that.
A true retreat isn’t a vacation, though. A vacation is an escape from the everyday to explore a new place or to relax with loved ones.
A retreat is also an escape, but it’s an escape that is designed for deep work and focus. It’s a chance to put aside the daily demands on our time–the meetings, the classes, the grading, but also the meal-prepping, commuting, and kid-wrangling. What we do instead is to concentrate on a highly complicated task (writing) without the interruptions and attention-pulling of everyday life.A writing retreat is an escape (much like a vacation), but it’s an escape that is designed for deep work and focus.Click To Tweet
This focused, concentrated time can take our writing from demanding just enough attention to get something done to commanding our most intellectual and creative selves. In this sense, a writing retreat is certainly not a vacation.
Writing retreats for academics have actually been studied systematically to figure out how (and why) they work so well. Dr. Rowena Murray of the University of West Scotland School of Education researches academic writing retreats using a social processes approach. She lists the common purposes that writing retreats share:
- privileging writing over everything else;
- legitimizing the act of writing in academic and professional work;
- developing the discipline of writing;
- inducing the level of concentration needed for academic writing;
- stimulating discussion of research and writing;
- enhancing writing behaviors, concepts, and relationships;
- linking discipline, behaviors and concentration;
- increasing/improving outputs for research assessment/promotion. (Writing in Social Spaces, 2015, p. 57)
Sound like a vacation to you?
It’s not. In fact, writing retreats are essential, though often disregarded, forms of academic and professional development. They should be required of all academics. Sadly, they aren’t.Writing retreats are essential, though often disregarded, forms of academic and professional development.Click To Tweet
What could you get out of a writing retreat? How would it change your academic practice? How would it help you center your writing and drive your career?
If you can articulate that, then you can get funding from your institution for writing retreat participation.
I would LOVE to have you come to Puerto Rico for my next writing retreat. My next retreat is taking place in July 2020.