As some of you may know, last week kicked off a series of SGSAH-organised writing retreats in Hospitalfield, Arbroath. The instructions for participants were clear: Have something to work on, set manageable goals – and most importantly: forget about the outside world for three days. While this might sound a bit harsh and frankly almost impossible with constant emails and other obligations pulling you out of the writing flow you have worked so hard to immerse yourself into – these worries go out the window once you settle into the remote and idyllic premises of Hospitalfield.
Before I dive into the reasons why you should consider attending a writing retreat, I want to acknowledge that accessibility to retreats may be limited. In this particular case, applications were open to all SGSAH-funded researchers. However, there are many other writing retreats that are open to researchers across different fields and institutions regardless of PhD funding source. Keep an eye out for these opportunities, as they can be invaluable for your research and personal growth – keep reading this post, to find out why.
But first, let’s set the scene:
Hospitalfield, with its rich history dating back to the 13th century, is a unique location that blends work and leisure seamlessly. Originally constructed as a hospital, it was later converted into a monastery and then transformed into an early arts and crafts building in the 19th century, before eventually being established as a residential art school in 1912. The building boasts stunning picture galleries, with intricate details in the walls and ceilings that serve as a testament to its rich artistic heritage.
Now that the scene is set, let’s dive into the reasons, why you should definitely sign up for the next call for participants for a writing retreat!
Working by yourself – alongside each other
Sounds a bit like a contradiction, but there is some comfort in sitting in a room with other people knowing everyone is trying their hardest to make the most of the time at the retreat. By working alongside each other, communicating our goals, and scheduling regular check-ins before our breaks, we created a sense of judgement-free accountability, which was enough to trick my mind into working extra hard. It was also reassuring to see how the others were progressing and what hurdles they were trying to overcome – it shows you once again that research rarely goes smoothly. When someone achieved a goal – regardless of how big or small, it felt like a collective win. In a way, the retreat allowed us to get away from the isolating experience that individual research tends to be.
Change of scenery
Coming into the retreat, I was worried I would be distracted by the beautiful surroundings. However, I noticed fairly soon that it had the opposite effect on me: It minimised the number of distractions that I have to face daily and therefore helped me focus more. Especially, since the retreat was designed to facilitate some quiet work hours and the WIFI was spotty enough to force me to fully concentrate on the work that has been piling up and can be done without going back to literature or online resources.
A change of scenery can also stimulate the mind in the sense that it breaks up the monotony of your regular routine. This can in turn inspire creativity and increase motivation. For me, there tends to be a direct correlation between productivity and journey length, meaning travelling the two hours from Edinburgh to Hospitalfield have peaked my productivity compared to when I work from home (but maybe that’s just me). Knowing that my stay at the retreat was limited in time, I wanted to make most of this experience which has resulted in a progress in my work that I was surprisingly very happy with.
Sense of community
PhD and postdoctoral journeys can be isolating, with limited opportunities to exchange ideas with other researchers facing similar challenges. However, this writing retreat provided ample time for community-building, allowing me to learn about my fellow participants’ research interests, inspirations, and future goals. It was eye-opening to discover the breadth of research fields funded by SGSAH, which span across the arts and humanities. Through engaging with others, I was exposed to fascinating topics that I had never previously considered.
Overall, I highly recommend attending a writing retreat if you have the opportunity. Keep an eye out for retreats that are open to researchers in your field!
Anna Rezk is a 2nd year PhD researcher in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the BBC R&D. Her research revolves around the implication of personalised and highly customisable public service media content and how it can be leveraged to promote inclusive and democratic civic participation. Due to her background in journalism and computer science, she is particularly interested in news, and how content can be algorithmically enhanced and curated without thwarting editorial intent. Find her on Twitter as @anna_rezk.