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Writing Retreat

CPRL hosts its third successful online Writing Retreat, with future dates already confirmed, we spoke to some of the participant’s to find out more….

Dr Lis Bates, Senior Research Fellow CPRL and instigator of the writing days:

“Back in June when the 'novelty' of lockdown had worn off, and it felt very hard to generate enthusiasm for academic writing, I came up with the idea of a virtual writing day. Writing can be a very lonely endeavour at the best of times, and doubly so in a pandemic! It's hard to carve out time for thinking creatively and writing from a busy daily schedule and ever-present urgent deadlines. Like many colleagues, I'd done an in-person writing day a couple of years ago and found it very rewarding. I adapted this schedule for online use, retaining the core principles of a structured day with one-hour writing blocks, breaks, and regular 'check-ins' with colleagues. The first writing day took place in July with just two of us before scaling it up to 8 colleagues in August and September. The day was 'hosted' on Microsoft Teams, with participants coming together at the start of the day for coffee and to set and share goals for the day and each session. We then logged off to write for each block, and re-joined Teams at the end of each session to report back on progress (or lack of it) and share any blocks or frustrations. I have thoroughly enjoyed these days - not only have they been unexpectedly productive, they have been a 'safe space' to share anxieties about academic writing and connect with colleagues who it turns out have many of the same worries! Such has been the appetite for the writing days that we plan to run one a month going forward and extend the invitation beyond CPRL to wider OU academics and potentially to police partners. I think it's fair to say that I have gone from initial sceptic to enthusiastic convert - and it's heartening to hear that so many colleagues have felt the same! ”

Richard Harding, Research Fellow CPRL and Facilitator of the writing day:

“Today I had what felt like the (initially) dubious pleasure of facilitating the third in a series of academic virtual writing retreats (AVWR) hosted by CPRL when Lis Bates (the instigator of this programme) unavoidably had to hand over the reins at short notice. I had experienced a previous AVWR as a participant and had found the experience positive but leading the day for a range of experienced academics felt potentially daunting. However, as someone reflected at the end of our day together, I found the experience surprisingly and unexpectedly useful. In both participating in the writing and leading the day and its projective and reflective sessions (thinking about what we wanted to achieve and what we had achieved before and after each session) I was gratified by the sense of camaraderie (a much underfelt commodity in these COVID impacted times), shared sense of individual and collective purpose and energy which provided me with new insights into my own writing and creative processes as well as focus and energy through sharing and reflecting with others. The structured approach of the AVWR supported a more active and focused engagement with my writing, but one which was embedded within a more collective/ collaborative experience than that of lonely endeavour that my experience of academic writing has sometimes felt like. For those who are curious, or even those with serious doubts, I would suggest that you give it a go, you never know, it might be surprisingly and unexpectedly useful for you too.”

Professor Jean Hartley, Academic Director CPRL:

“When Lis Bates first suggested a virtual writing day, I was unsure whether it would work but was willing to give it a try. I am so glad I did. It turned out to be really valuable and productive for several reasons. First, making a commitment to spend a large part of a day simply writing and getting that in the diary was important and prevented other pressures elbowing it away (they nearly did, but I hung on to the diary commitment and my commitment to colleagues). Second, having to tell colleagues what I hoped to achieve in the day was an important motivator – it helped me clarify explicitly what my goals for writing were, both for the day and session by session. Third, the support of colleagues helped me to keep focused and their encouragement was very valuable. Finally, a key aspect of the day was that the writing was chunked up into defined time periods, with encouragement to move about and take a proper break between sessions. Writing can be very intensive, so it is very useful to be encouraged to take breaks. By the end of the day did I achieve all I had intended to? Sadly no! But I gained a huge amount. I realise I was too ambitious about what I would achieve but I did make solid progress and importantly the focused time gave me growing determination over the day to crack the writing of the article I am working on.”

Dr Nicky Miller, Director of Knowledge into Practice CPRL:

“I signed up to this virtual writing day with a sense of enthusiasm but as the date approached, I nearly cancelled out on several occasions due to competing deadlines. I felt that taking a day for ‘just writing’ was a luxury and one that I simply could not afford to take but I had made a commitment, so I stuck with it. I was so glad that I did. The day began with a short introductory session where we were able to share any anxieties that we had about the day right from the start. It was great to hear that my anxieties were shared and were not unique to me – immediately I felt more confident about approaching the day. The day was facilitated well and structured into a series of ‘chunks of time’ where we had to think carefully in advance of each session about what we were aiming to accomplish. This worked really well for me as it helped me to focus and not go down into too many rabbit holes and off on tangents. I switched my email off for these sessions and really appreciated the time to focus on one task without getting distracted. I had been struggling with identifying the thread of an argument that I wanted to make for a short academic article. Within the first session, I had my argument and was able to structure the article over the next few sessions. I left the session feeling motivated and re-energised – what I had been struggling with for 3 weeks all came together in just one day. I really enjoyed the virtual nature of the day and being able to drop into the breaks and discuss my progress (or lack of it) and challenges with my colleagues – being able to share the experience and realise that writing is not always easy even for those more experienced authors was a revelation. I learned a lot from the day and cannot wait to sign up to the next one!”

Dr Liliana Belkin, Research Fellow, CPRL:

“This is my second experience of the virtual writing retreat. I found the first one very helpful, surprisingly so! I was sceptical but also open to trying something new and joining in with CPRL colleagues. I was pleasantly surprised that this structure, with setting your intentions for the day, as well as vocalizing any anxieties or misgivings at the beginning of the day, really helped clear away some possible distractions and allowed me to focus more on my writing task. The format, with chunks of writing time, breaks and sharing, really helps motivate you and also provides a structure that helps you write and be productive! I am a big fan of these writing retreats and would recommend the experience to all those in CPRL!”

To enquire about joining one of CPRL’s writing retreats please contact oupc@open.ac.uk

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