My First #remoteretreat Experience

Writing is hard.

Anyone that tells you otherwise is a dirty, dirty liar and you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Or maybe I’m just super envious.

I recently reopened my GoogleDrive to figure out where I left off on my PhD and other academic tasks before stepping away for health/life stuff, only to find myself verbally saying, ‘nope’ before promptly closing out of the overwhelming files. Realising of course that this is no way to proceed with things, I grappled with the anxiety of ‘do I try again another day…do I put myself in a different setting and see if it helps shift my mindset…do I think I can even jump back into this at all??’

Rather than rant about it on Twitter like my 20-year-old self begged me to (I see you 2014 Brittnee with your #purplehairdontcare tweets) I instead looked for a way out, some solution amongst the sea of wisdom that is academic Twitter. Luckily, that search proved fruitful *this does not always happen* and I came across a writing day being organised at a cafe just up the road from my flat. Hallelujah!


Since the first year of my PhD I’ve been fascinated by the concept of a writing retreat. It sounded like something transformative and exciting- I pictured myself sitting on a porch overlooking some water feature wrapped up in a comfy blanket, writing 2-3,000 words a day and coming back with a thesis chapter draft sorted. However, the more I looked into attending a writing retreat, the more I came to understand the true purpose of them. My main productivity blockers can be pinned down to three things:

  1. Outside distractions: namely that new Netflix series that needs binge-watched or that new novel out from my favourite author that has nothing to do with my research.
  2. Poor planning: a to-do list only gets you so far if you don’t refer back to it and tick things off. Spending an hour on admin tasks and then following it with an hour of planning the rest of your time makes sense until you let yourself jump around and neglect your plan.
  3. Accountability: holding myself accountable, especially if I’m working from home, is one of my biggest challenges. While it’s always good to allow yourself to be human and give yourself a break, there is such thing as letting that lapse into laziness. Learning to recognise the signs when that happens is something I recommend everyone practice- which is easier said than done!

Having identified my weaknesses, I know what I’d look to gain from a retreat. I needed somewhere free of distractions, with structured goals and someone, or a group, to hold me accountable. The Instagram-able writing retreat in my head soon evaporated when I realised I was essentially in need of a bootcamp to kick myself into gear, and where was the fun in that?


Writing retreats require a lot of apple juice…get it?? Photo courtesy of Lucy R. Hinnie

It turns out, there is a lot of fun in it after all! And cake! Writing retreats don’t have to take you into some remote part of the country where you shut yourself away, they can happen in a local cafe or library and give you the same experience. With so many PhD students identifying their need for a more structured, even communal, approach to their PhD writing, the concept of remote retreats have become quite popular across all disciplines. Check-ins with each other via Twitter and well-placed breaks for coffee and cake make you feel a part of something even though you’re all doing your own thing. You share your goals, your struggles, your lives, and network in a way that you wouldn’t expect to outside of conferences.

The concept of remote retreats actually came about from PhD students, like Lucy Hinnie who was running the session I was at, who were given SGSAH funding to attend one of Rowena Murray’s writing retreats. The experience inspired them to replicate the Rowena Murray method virtually, and thus the #remoteretreat movement was born!

I encourage all PhD students, no matter if you’re just starting out or in the write-up stage of your thesis, to give remote retreats a chance, and aim to attend at least one over the course of your PhD experience. You never know who you might meet or what you might accomplish with a bit of structure…and cake, obviously.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Brittnee via email at or connect with the blog on Twitter

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