The terms “retreat” and “structure” might sound at odds to you. A retreat is an escape from structure, right?
Not exactly. There is growing evidence that structured writing retreats are the best alternative for academics looking to make progress on their writing.
A 2016 integrative review on academic writing retreats by Kornhaver, K., Cross, M., Betihavas, V., and Bridgman, H. found that increased publication outputs was a measurable outcome of academic writing retreats. Five themes were linked to this outcome:
- Protected time and space
- Community of practice
- Development of academic writing competence
- Intra-personal benefits
- Organizational investment
Whereas individual time away from the day-to-day grind for writing may provide protected time and space, structured group writing retreats are designed to integrate all five themes. Here’s how.
1. Protected time and space
Kornhaver and her colleagues found that time away from campus was important, and that time in a beautiful place could help with focus and reflection on writing. An important function of the protected time and space for writing on a structured retreat was, according to the authors, “Legitimizing time and space for writing.”
An academic writing retreat changed how participants thought about their writing, and helped them prioritize it as an important activity upon their return to campus. If writing keeps falling to the bottom of your list, legitimizing time and space for writing could be a real and lasting benefit of retreat participation.If writing keeps falling to the bottom of your list, legitimizing time and space for writing could be a real and lasting benefit of participating in an academic writing retreat.Click To Tweet
2. Community of practice
The authors also found that the support and social interaction provided by a writing retreat helped participants write more.
On my Academic Women’s Writing Retreat, we have structured co-writing sessions around a large table. These sessions are quiet and have pre-determined break times. Participants can choose to write somewhere else, but this communal writing space is held for all those who want to experience the magic of writing in social spaces.Research shows that the support and social interaction provided by a writing retreat helps participants write more. Click To Tweet
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, according to the authors’ review. Here, structure is important.
In Rowena Murray’s structured academic writing retreat method, participants set goals before writing sessions and debrief afterwards. In addition to using this goal setting strategy, my writing retreats also include daily group writing coaching sessions. The idea is to integrate skill development around academic writing into the retreat itself.
4. Intra-personal benefits
My favorite intra-personal benefit that Kornhaver et al. found was “increased self-awareness.” In the studies they reviewed, retreat participants learned barriers and enablers to increased writing output during their interactions with other retreat participants.
On my retreats, I’ve found that built-in relaxing and bonding time help foment the type of exchanges that yield intra-personal benefits. For example, we purposely leave the retreat house for dinner every night to give ourselves time to relax and mentally rest but also to be together and talk about our lives as writing women professors.
5. Organizational investment
Not surprisingly, the review found that writing retreat participants experienced longer lasting benefits of retreats when they had support from their institutions. In order to help my participants extend the “retreat effects,” my retreats include a 60-minute, one-on-one coaching session where we map out how the participant will implement a writing plan over the next academic year.
Most of my participants get institutional support to fund the Academic Women’s Writing Retreat. Institutions know what Kornhaver and her colleagues point out: there is a real, monetary advantage to the increased publication output that writing retreats help participants achieve. Your institution wants you to publish, and they want you to bring in grant funds. A writing retreat can help you do that.
To join my next Academic Women’s Writing Retreat, click here to get all the details and save your spot!