The Benefits of Writing Retreats and How to Find One That Works for You
Why is it acceptable in our academic cultures to go to conferences, but less so to attend writing retreats? I’m diving in to the (evidence-based) benefits of retreats and how you can find one that works for you.
Writing retreats might be viewed by some institutions as a vacation more than an important work activity, but that just isn’t true! Retreats are shown to have measurable positive effects on your writing and your career. That’s a win-win for everyone.
In this episode of The Academic Woman Amplified I’m going deep on writing retreats to help you see the very real return on your investment. I’ll walk you through the evidence-based positive outcomes, give you tips on what to look for in a retreat, and share ideas for every level of retreat, from professional to DIY.
Research on Benefits of Writing Retreats
Writing retreats are good for your writing and provide ongoing benefits, and there is research to back this up.
A 2016 integrative review on academic writing retreats by Kornhaver, Cross, Betihavas, and Bridgman found that increased publication outputs was a measurable outcome of academic writing retreats. Five themes were linked to this outcome:
1. Protected time and space. Time apart from distractions helps with focus and reflection on writing, and not just at the retreat itself. Participating in a retreat helps participants legitimize the time needed and prioritize it as an important activity on their return to campus.
What we do on our retreats: Make sure that your needs are taken care of so you don’t have to devote time to things like planning meals, housekeeping, or caregiving.
2. Community of practice. A supportive cohort and social interaction provided by a writing retreat helps participants write more. Discussing ideas and common roadblocks with your peers adds tremendous value.
What we do on our retreats: We provide structured times for co-writing, goal-setting and time for community and support.
3. Development of Academic Writing Competence. Another key aspect of academic writing retreats linked to increased writing output was the development of academic writing competence. Focused time to practice, and learning from other attendees or presentors adds to competence. Everyone learns differently, and exposing ourselves to new avenues of learning is priceless.
What we do on our retreats: At our last retreat, we had presentations and feedback from periodicals editors, as well as time provided for peer review and feedback.
4. Intra-personal benefits. My favorite intra-personal benefit that Kornhaver et al. found was “increased self-awareness.” The studies showed retreat participants learned barriers and enablers to increased writing output during their interactions with other retreat participants.
What we do on our retreats: We include relaxed, peer interaction and downtime as part of our retreat structure. We also provide peer mentoring and review.
“When you get academic women together across fields, mentoring happens.”
5. Organizational Investment. Not surprisingly, the review found that writing retreat participants experienced longer lasting benefits when they had support from their institutions. When your institution supports you by allowing you the time to attend a retreat, or even funding your attendance, it creates a positive cycle of support and mutual benefit.
What we do on our retreats: We help with goal-setting to maximize outcomes for you and your institution, and each attendee gets a one-on-one session with one of our coaches. If you need tips for how to approach professional development funding requests with your institution, be sure to listen in to Episode 7: Securing Professional Development Funding.
The main outcome of this evidence-based research is this: increased publication outputs are a measurable outcome of academic writing retreats. That sounds good!
“The bottom line is that you want to publish more.”
For another take on the benefits of retreats, see the research of Dr. Rowena Murray. She researches academic writing retreats using a social processes approach. She discusses the common purposes that writing retreats share in her book: Writing in Social Spaces: A Social Processes Approach to Academic Writing. She lists a number of essential purposes that writing retreats share, including increasing and improving outputs for research assessment or promotion.
What to Look for In a Retreat
- A change of physical space. Make sure you are out of your usual environment, away from the usual distractions.
- Physical needs like food and housekeeping are met for you, or there is a plan in place to do so.
- There is structure, but not too much structure.
Three Levels of Retreats
1. Professionally Run Retreats.
The retreat I have coming up in July 2020 is a professionally run retreat. We provide lodging for a week, most meals, group activities, coaching, co-writing, goal setting, and one-on-one sessions. Retreats like this one give you all of the evidence-based positive outcomes discussed in the research linked above.
- If you are struggling with the idea of spending this much money, look at it as the very real investment in your career that it is. If a writing retreat moves the needle on a book, or a grant project, or receiving tenure, the payoff received in terms of higher pay over the course of your career offsets the investment pretty darn quickly!
- Don’t forget to petition your institution to help with the cost of a retreat under professional development umbrellas.
“Making investment into writing will have the biggest payoff in terms of our career.”
2. Low Cost DIY Retreats.
If a professionally run retreat isn’t going to work for you, consider creating a retreat experience for yourself. Be sure it still has all the essential elements to look for in a retreat.
- Change in physical space: rent an Air BnB or a hotel for a few days.
- Physical needs met ahead of time: be sure to have a plan for meals ahead of time.
- Create a little bit of structure for yourself: an example would be to write, then walk, then eat. Repeating this cycle throughout your day gives a little structure, but not too much.
3. No (or very little) Cost DIY Retreats.
If you truly can’t get away, consider a working-hours-only retreat. Even in this pared down version, be sure to still include your 3 essential elements.
- Change of space: reserve a room in your public library or another department of your institution; go to a hotel lobby or a coffee shop where you are unlikely to know anyone.
- Be sure to have a plan for meals.
- Give yourself some structure or a plan for your day.
I hope you’ll come away from this episode with a lot to think about, and some good ideas for how to include some kind of writing retreat in your writing goals this year. Read on for more information about our upcoming retreat.
Puerto Rico July 2020 Retreat
If you’ve decided that the lasting benefits to your writing practice and the payoff for your career are worth investing in a professionally run retreat, consider joining me in Puerto Rico this summer!
The retreat price of $4000 includes 7 days, 6 nights in a boutique hotel in Old San Juan, steps from the beach, in a culturally rich and vibrant neighborhood. Group coaching, peer mentoring, co-writing and a one-on-one coaching session for each participant are part of your program.
If this sounds like a good fit for you, be sure to click here to join before 2/15/20, when the price will rise to $4500. We have 6 spaces left as of the recording of this podcast. Keep in mind that this will be our last “stand-alone” retreat… future retreats will be included in the membership for my Amplify program.
Get in on future retreats by joining Amplify, my program that helps academic women go up for tenure with confidence. Click here for more information and to apply.
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