Yesterday, colleagues from the University of Exeter Law School met in the heart of old Exeter to take part in a writing retreat, facilitated by members of the Academic Development team.
Building on research into writing retreats, the day was structured according to principles suggested by Murray and Newton (2009), in order to enhance creativity, and help the participants to set and achieve their writing goals. We met in the Devon and Exeter Institution, a private library in Cathedral Green, established in 1813. The historic and tranquil setting was conducive to the task in hand, while the view from our writing space, see photograph above, could not fail to inspire.
The day began with some creative visualisation, followed by a brief session of creative free writing, to serve as a ‘warm up’. Then SMART aims were identified, discussed and shared. Individual writing sessions were opened and closed by the facilitators, establishing the framework of the day, but allowing participants to plan their own progress within the framework. Movement both around the building, and outside on Cathedral Green was encouraged, and in such a fabulous location, there was plenty to see, from the shelves lined with tempting books, to the restored cupola, and the secret door!
Writing blocks of 30 minutes, 45 minutes and 60 minutes were interspersed with consideration of tactics to improve writing performance, and a brief mindfulness exercise. The structured nature of the session allows these interactions to be embedded in the writing process. Discussion around the duration of the writing blocks highlighted different preferences, with some preferring the longer time slot, and others seeing the positive benefits of a disciplined short period of endeavour. A 30 minute session would be able to be squeezed into the busiest of days, and if planned as a brief focused ‘blast’ of writing, could be a productive way to banish procrastination.
In the afternoon Dr Sally Flint ran a creative writing workshop, successfully demonstrating how we can all be creative writers. The participants each produced an original piece of poetry, inspired by a visual stimulus. Sally went on to stress the importance of thorough editing, whilst acknowledging that the creative approach she favours is not always possible in an academic setting.
In the final group discussion, there was consensus that excellent progress had been made with the writing aims, and a general feeling of accomplishment permeated the room. Writing individually as part of a shared experience was welcomed, and plans for future events discussed.
Feedback was extremely positive “Very successful overall, Great venue, good balance of timings”, “Overall very useful and very productive. I’d like to do this more often.”, “Focussed blocks of time for writing were really valuable”. We also received excellent suggestions for future iterations of the day.
[Rowena Murray & Mary Newton (2009) Writing retreat as structured
intervention: margin or mainstream?, Higher Education Research & Development, 28:5, 541-553]