If you would have asked me about residential writing retreats or strict online writing retreats a year ago I would have told you about the inaccessibility, the forced structure and a whole range of other things that I don’t like about these types of retreats. (This is based on advertisement since I avoided these types of retreat due to this perception and stories I heard about how some of these are organised)
So when I was asked to help plan and facilitate a residential writing retreat at The Burn, a lovely estate and house in Aberdeenshire near Montrose (and the Highland Boundary Fault) I wasn’t too sure what it’ll be like. The two-day retreat is spread over 3 days and aimed at PhD students from a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) and the Scottish University Physics Alliance (SUPA). As the facilitator, I was able to help design the structure of the retreat, and I wanted to follow the well tested Power Hour of Writing. I know this format very well since I organise regular online Power Hour of Writing sessions at UWS with a colleague. But how would the Power Hour format translate into a residential setting?
First, it was important to me that we made the Power Hour of Writing sessions optional, but with the emphasis that students were expected to write or work while at the retreat. Luckily the layout of The Burn allows for that and whoever wanted to follow the Power Hour structure congregated in the main room with me as time keeper. Anyone who wanted to write longer or in a different setting was able to do so in one of the other rooms, or in their bedrooms. This allowed everyone to structure the days and the retreat around their preferred writing styles and mix and match as well.
We planned common meal times and some breaks for everyone so we could get together as a big group and share our experiences, goals and progress of course. This flexibility was very well received and the informal feedback has been great. I am happy with the retreat and it was great to see that people tried different settings to write and most people tried at least one Power Hour, some have also asked how they can keep the moment going once they go back to full PhD life. Luckily this is where the (online) Power Hour shines and we are trialling a weekly online Power Hour for SUPA and hopefully some of the PhD students might even start their own Power Hours – on campus or online.
The added bonus was that as a researcher developer I was also able to talk to the students about careers, postdoc life, and training opportunities. I’m not sure if the students expected to get this as well and I’m waiting for the official feedback to see how the students felt about the retreat.
If you are planning a writing retreat and are looking for a facilitator or have other academic writing related needs please have a look at my business website.