I think it’s fair to say that I’m a seasoned attendee of the Think Ahead writing retreats which are held once a month, somewhere on campus. Every month there are usually the same faces and an unspoken understanding that you’re in it together, as you offer a brief smile as another month passes you by. They quickly became very important to me, particularly as I moved into the third year of my PhD, if not before. As someone who requires structure of what I’m doing, where i’m going, and knowing someone is expecting me to be there, writing retreats held me to account to turn up and get down to the task that is often most challenging – writing. I quickly learned the value of these writing retreats, and signed up every month. However, I found that one day a month wasn’t quite enough to write an entire PhD and everything else that goes with it, so I needed another strategy.
I often found myself recommending the writing retreats to other people in my department. Within this, I found a few close colleagues and friends who were in need of the same structure and accountability that I was. So, taking the Think Ahead writing retreats as an example (and the pomodoro technique of writing periods and breaks), I followed suit and suggested it to those in the Department of Sociological Studies. I put a call out to fellow PhD students and all staff asking if they would benefit from a dedicated day to write. These began early in the year and we have had six successful sessions. Future sessions are planned for the next semester together with a collaborative sign up sheet.
It is important to stress that organising these does not necessarily require money or resources. In my case, it’s booking an accessible room for those who need to write, away from the typical place of work. I always keep in my mind a nearby coffee shop for those important breaks. What I’m trying to say is you don’t need to try and get funding or take lots of time out to organise these (although funding for tea, coffee and biscuits would be lovely!). A structure, a room, and plenty of plug sockets is all you need. What you perhaps need the most is peers who will turn up with the same goals in mind as you, and support you along the way. There have been some months where there has been over ten signed up and it slowly whittles down to only two or three on the day. However, regardless of numbers, there’s something pertinent about writing retreats that goes beyond words on a page, and that’s support. From the departmental retreats I’ve ran so far, some of the best have been supportive working days and dare I say, enjoyable days. You find out what people are up to, that you’re not alone in your writing being weeks behind because other pressures have got in the way, or that you just don’t feel confident in the work you’re doing yet (and you find out that those further ahead in their career are still feeling this way!). So in between the concentrated writing hours when words get down on a page, articles get finished or chapters get redrafted, the real magic happens in the breaks. Collaboration, support, and a truly encouraging working environment. That’s the stuff that carries your writing forward.