I study, research, and write about leisure. But today, I’m finalizing my preparations for a work-related adventure that seemed a worthwhile topic to write about.
For the last three years, I have been focusing my attention on developing a writing practice. I have read about writing practice. I have sought out and engaged in writing “communities of practice” – mainly online writing communities. I have even tried establishing a writing community within my own Faculty. I have done on-line writing retreats – afternoon-long ones with supportive calls between writing sessions and ones that have stretched over a couple of weeks with a focus on writing 2 hours a day. Through each and every endeavour, I have learned more about writing and about myself as an academic writer.
I initially planned to go on a solo writing retreat over the Christmas break. As I assessed the writing projects I had on my plate and the looming deadlines, I felt the need to set aside time and space to focus on writing during my university’s study break. I had some idea of how to successfully orchestrate something of this nature, but through reading scholarship on writing retreats as well as writers’ (academic and non-academic) blog posts about their retreat experiences, I was more aware of some of the key elements of success.
Getting Away. To begin, I needed to chose a destination. Although writing retreats can happen without leaving one’s community, I wanted to get away so looked for advice in that regard. I appreciated the idea that the travel to the writing destination could serve as an opportunity to disengage from everyday life and transition into a mindset dedicated to writing. I heeded the advice not to travel too far away and risk arriving tired. I even found suggestions for podcasts to listen to on the way to support arriving inspired (e.g., “88 Cups of Tea” podcast). The other suggestions for the destination were related to taking care to choose a space to write that offered inspiration, and a place (community) that did not offer too many distractions. I started looking for accommodation options in a small university town that was about a two-hour drive away. I was instantly drawn to an Airbnb loft apartment that was a converted, century-old schoolhouse. The windows were large and the images showed the sun shining in beautifully. The decor appealed to me. It was not cluttered. It was close to the trail if I needed to get out for a walk. knew I was going to be spending most of the day in this space and when I saw the images, I knew that would not be a burden.
Co-Writing and the Semi-Solo Part. Subsequent to booking my spot, an academic from one of my writing groups, reached out about creating a writing community within her Faculty. We connected around our shared desire to develop a community of practice. I told her about my planned solo retreat. She works at a university in a neighbouring province and asked if I would be open to co-writing (working on our own projects, but in the same space) once a day if she travelled to the same community to also do a solo retreat. This sounded like a great opportunity for support with accountability and some social interaction that might eliminate the potential to feel “lonely” during the writing experience.
Over the course of the next 6 weeks, we communicated a couple of times about a schedule – both identifying late afternoon, after several hours of solo writing had happened, as a seemingly ideal time to meet-up, review our progress, celebrate our successes, revise goals for the next writing session, and co-write. We planned 7 hours of solo writing for each day and 1.5 hours of co-writing. She is more of a night owl and will do writing up until midnight – I will be in bed by 9:00 p.m. to maximize my “tiger time” – starting to write at 5:30 a.m. However, we both agreed that 3:30 p.m. would work as a meeting up and co-writing session time. This week, a woman from the town we are staying in decided to join us and will be checking-in and co-writing with us – so we will be a writing trio.
Prepping for the Writing. The next step was to prepare. In the reading I had done about academic writing retreats, I knew that it was important to have clear goals and objectives. Turning on the computer and wondering, “Okay – what project should I work on” would not allow me to maximize the precious time I had set aside for writing. I had read that some people have success when they focus on one project, others are more successful when they can switch between projects to maintain momentum when they hit a road block with one. Not knowing exactly which type of person I was in a multi-day retreat setting (but also figuring that I might get distracted or demotivated when I got stuck), I decided to plan out work for three different projects including one that I could work on for all the hours if I wished.
Through one of the writing groups that I have been a part of (Academic Women’s Writing Collective), I had been introduced to a project management program called Trello. While I had participated in an online workshop about this program, I had yet to use it. I decided this was my opportunity to try it. I spent about 5 hours over a period of a couple of days carefully considering each writing project and determining what each project needed. For example, one manuscript I was working on with a co-author, needed an abstract, a bit of work on the methods section, and the discussion section needed work. For each of these pieces, I broke the work down further where possible. The more clarity about what writing tasks I need to be engaged in, the better I expect I will focus.
I also then created lists in Trello (on the same board) for the first three writing days. I was strategic for the first evening 2 hour writing session – picking the easiest things I have available to work on. I want to experience success. On my first full day, I planned out what I could do for each of the three projects, but also know that if I get on a roll, I can maintain focus on one project. I have time scheduled each day to review my goals and to set new goals for the next day (something else I read as being a key to success on a writing retreat).
Prepping the Food. With all the detailed planning done, my final effort turned to planning and preparing my food – my meals and snacks. On retreats that are organized by others, one of the selling features is “delicious meals” and “snacks available” that you “don’t need to think about”. I decided that I could do this for myself. I would arrive with my meals made and designated. No wasting time thinking about what to eat or wandering around the local grocery store. So, I have a soup ready, a quiche, smoothie kits for breakfast, veggies cut up and bagged for snacks and for salads, a bag of popcorn, nuts – I will be sustained.
Prepping for Leisure. After each writing session (2 hours is the maximum session), there is time built in for leisure – an hour of it. Part of what I need from this retreat is to relax, enjoy solitude, and re-energize. I have carefully selected books and magazines that I will enjoy perusing. I have access to a walking trail which I imagine I will make use of to get fresh air. I have packed up my adult colouring book and pencil crayons. The place I am staying has an awesome bathtub which I plan to enjoy soaking in as well. And, I will have music that I can simply sit and listen to. No dog to take out. No rooms to clean. That hour between writing sessions will be just for “recovery” (the term used in some of the material I’ve read about writing retreats).
So, I’m excited to head off tomorrow and will see what happens. Hoping to at least move some of these projects forward, feel a sense of community in my academic writing, and feel refreshed from some time away.