DIY Writing Retreat

 This week I’ve been holding a do-it-yourself  (DIY) writing retreat at home. The idea began on Monday when I read a book from another discipline and was taken with the notion that one of the ideas could be adapted for application in teacher education. I played around with it using some existing data and it seemed to work well. This article wasn’t on my publication plan for the next couple of months, but I’d just submitted one paper, sent the beginnings of another writing project to a colleague for feedback and was about to start work on one of the papers from my publication plan. Instead this idea grew bigger and I thought of a journal that might be interested in publishing a paper on how the approach could be adapted and applied. Next step then was to write a paper exploring it. Easy hey?

Tuesday I was off to Melbourne for a meeting with a research colleague from another institution so I thought I’d start the day with a solo shut up and write to get my ideas down on paper. I began with ideas for the skeleton abstract using some of the prompts from Pat Thomson’s blog post of a writing course she ran to get me started:  Just free, spontaneous writing, putting in references where I could pull them from the top of my head, but otherwise, just writing the ideas knowing that I could build the literature and references in later on. 1000 words later I was ready to hit the road, feeling smug and self-satisfied at my morning.

Sitting in a busy Northcote café my colleague told me that she was heading off a 2 day writing retreat that she had organized and the faculty had funded. They were running 4 parallel sessions, 2 keynotes, everyone had written draft papers and they were locking themselves away from campus in a picturesque location to focus on writing and talking about writing. I was almost sick with jealousy! 2 days to talk and think about writing and only writing. I’d been following the tweets of some UK researchers who had been on a writing retreat, and I’d also followed the thesis bootcamp tweets online as well. There seemed to be something incredibly productive that could come from having a couple of days designated to writing and writing alone, removed from the shackles of normal academic life and perhaps normal life in general. I drove home, wishing that I could have been there, wishing that my faculty had the same thing, wishing, wishing, wishing.

Wednesday I woke up and an idea had been infiltrating my sleep. I live on a picturesque olive farm having moved here only 5 weeks ago. I’m surrounded by peaceful, still surroundings. Why do I need to go anywhere else? I could run my own writing retreat. I had a quiet study, a trusty writing companion in the form of a dog, paddocks to roam in and trees to gaze at when I needed inspiration. I had two clear days in my schedule due to an all day meeting being cancelled. I drove into the office and left a note on my door saying I was off-campus writing and to email me and I headed home. I had in my head Inger Mewburn’s write a paper in 7 days, you can check out the slideshare here if you haven’t seen it

I began picturing a magazine for academics, no glossy headlines about dropping a dress size in 7 days, or boosting your sex life. It’s all about boosting your output! Increase your writing potential! Write that paper in 7 days!  Hmm  – I reckon I could be onto something here!

Image Image

I turned back to my 1000 words from Tuesday and I didn’t hate it. I kept writing. I searched for articles to fill in gaps, I read them, I gap filled. Oh, how I love journal databases and a speedy internet connection. I took a break and cooked a proper lunch and ate it while reading the Weekly Times and gazing out the window. I returned to my desk and kept writing. I tweeted about my progress and the tweet community gave me support and encouragement to keep going. I participate in a fortnightly shut up and write and regular tweeters whizzed words of encouragement through cyberspace. At 5, I pushed my chair back, grabbed my sleeping canine companion, laced my runners and ran through the paddocks, blood cursing through my veins and ideas swirling in my brain. I came back in, cooked dinner and kept writing. I wrote and tweaked and at 8.30pm pushed my laptop away, declaring enough for one day. The word tally sat at 4, 359 words and once again, I didn’t hate them.

I woke Thursday morning looking forward to my day of writing. I sent some emails, responding to the most urgent and telling others I’d get back to them on Friday. I sat down at my desk and began. Today things weren’t as easy as yesterday but I was beginning to get to the end of the paper and trying to draw the threads of my ideas together in ways that might be meaningful for readers. Soon I was finished a complete draft of 4900 words. I was hoping for an article just over 5000 words all up and I figured that a starting draft of 4900 wasn’t bad in getting me on track.


I picked up my pen, clutched a cup of tea and began to read through, trying to adopt a critical reviewer’s eye, picking faults and holes in my argument and process. Pages scrawled on, I returned to the computer screen and made some changes. It was then that I started to think about the flaw in my DIY writing retreat- I’d done a chunk of writing, I had a draft paper, but I had no colleague with me to talk through the ideas, to share a paper with and to get feedback – I had no critical friend on hand and I needed eyes other than my own on this thing! I emailed it off to a friend and colleague and hoped that they might find time in their busy schedule to have a read.

 As a process the DIY writing retreat has been hugely productive for me and has kick-started my academic writing year. I started with an idea, some data and a space in my calendar.  I ended with a fully formed draft of a paper and a commitment to trying to find the space in my calendar to do this more often. I’ll keep you posted on how the paper goes! 


3 responses to “DIY Writing Retreat

  1. Thanks for sharing this Sharon, especially for the articulation of the little spurts of inspiration that you had during the whole process. Doesn’t make me feel so insane after all. I am going to bookmark this boot-camp method to address sudden conditions of non-productivity (yes its a disease, just like the writer’s block but with writing bootcamp as the magic solution, no kidding).

  2. Pingback: Critical friends, coffee and the writing process. | sharonmcdonough

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