Post authored by Dr Letitia Schoeman
The EucXylo team recently embarked on a 3-day writing retreat to The River House just outside Worcester, in a truly stunning setting, perched on the banks of the beautiful Breede River.
So, what is an academic writing retreat? One of the leading researchers in the field, Professor Rowena Murray from the University of the West of Scotland, defines a writing retreat as “a total immersion experience, writing support and mentoring, focused engagement in the writing experience and a community of practice and reflexivity”.
The purpose of our writing retreat was to provide the EucXylo team with an escape from the typical work environment to an ‘enabling environment’ to devote time to productive writing and to engage with each other’s research. It was also an opportunity to explore the important links between projects and to create a diverse group of writers who could provide support and advice to one another. The focus was to concentrate on thinking, reading, and writing in a sustained way, and to gain new inspiration, let original ideas be born and maybe even ground-breaking ideas for future projects.
The writing retreat consisted of structured sessions dedicated to brainstorming, discussions and concentrated and distraction free writing. We started the first day off with two brainstorming sessions led by Dr Kim Martin, focussing on collaborative concept mapping. The aim of these sessions was to work together as a group to identify concepts of interest (a “shared vocabulary”) and to separately build our own “maps” focussing on concepts that are relevant to our own research. We were introduced to a new software, the Arrows.App, to perform our concept mapping. The brainstorming sessions were concluded by presenting and discussing our own maps. The first day’s session was very successful as it made us realise how our individual “maps” can be combined to help us explore how our specific areas of focus relate to each other, both in retrospect and with a view to the future.
The second day was focussed on dedicated writing sessions where the time could be used to write up research outcomes for a publication; work on research proposals, explore literature or any learning focussed research. This was truly a productive working experience in which each member could commit to a specific writing goal and try to achieve it. I am sure that we will reap the fruits of our labour, as academic writing research has found that one of the most promising strategies to increase publication outputs are writing retreats.
We concluded our last day with another interactive brainstorming and writing session. With such a beautiful and tranquil setting, it was easy to get the creative juices flowing. The quote received with our breakfast on the last day truly summarised our writing retreat experience: “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”
All work and no play… Amidst our scheduled sessions we also made some time for leisure and teambuilding activities. We enjoyed canoeing on the Breede River and in the evenings pool and card games provided for a lot of entertainment. Our Ultimate Braai Master team, Leandra Moller and Jurie Visagie, made sure that the braaiing was performed to perfection.
The writing retreat had a measurable impact on facilitating what is often a daunting task of writing in higher education. Hopefully we can make this writing retreat an annual institution as it was a great “treat” indeed!