Writing Retreat with the Geographies of Children, Young People, and Families Research Group

Writing Retreat with the Geographies of Children, Young People, and Families Research Group

In July 2023, I attended a weeklong writing retreat in the Cotswolds with the Geographies of Children, Young People, and Families Research Group. Research shows that writing retreats can increase writing efficiency for PhD students and academic staff alike (Grant 2006; Murray 2008; Tremblay-Wragg 2020). The week followed a structured approach, as set out by Murray and Newton (2009), where each day oscillated between scheduled writing time slots and breaks. This approach has shown to help achieve people’s specific writing goals, assuming appropriate preparation is undertaken, and goals are realistic (Murry 2008).

I followed the structured approach, as set out by the retreat organisers, for the first few days, after which I decided to return to my preferred way of working, that is, using the Pomodoro technique. This was first developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and involves working in 25-minute ‘blocks’ with a 5-minute break in between, and after 4 study ‘blocks’ a longer 30-minute break (Burton 2016). Ideally, I aim to focus on one task per pomodoro ‘block’; this can help alleviate distractions borne from multitasking (Zahariades 2015, cited in Burton 2016). I incorporated this into the established structured writing sessions, which meant that I had more frequent breaks to suite my individual needs.

Writing in groups has been noted to be an important benefit of writing retreats (Quynn and Stewart 2021) and the venue offered a broad range of writing places for us to work. We used a large conference style room for longer structured study sessions, where silence and absence of distractions was guaranteed. The dining and living rooms were also available for writing and afforded a more relaxed and flexible style of environment. I used a mixture of locations which I found beneficial, as some days I felt more productive in the silent conference room, whilst other days needed opportunities to move around more during my pomodoro breaks.

Breaks, active breaks especially, are important to counteract the long periods of sitting still (Stevenson 2021). Such breaks were bult into the programme. For instance, one attendee delivered Qi Gong sessions each morning to prepare ourselves for a day of focus and in the breaks and free time we played tennis at the on-site tennis court, tried our hand at pool, and had somewhat competitive games of Uno. The breaks and free time activities were great opportunities to regenerate, socialise and talk about things other than our work, after which we resumed writing and focusing on our goals.

Rosser et al. (2001) stated that writing retreats should be goal orientated to make them successful for the attendees. As such, we each set a goal at the beginning of the week and reflected on our goals at the end of the week. These goals we shared with the members of the group, however, we held only ourselves accountable for achieving them. Towards the end of writing retreat, I spent some time with others reflecting on achieving our respective goals. We identified that we did not manage to reach all of our goals as we had not spent sufficient time developing them. Therefore, we discussed how we could have chosen more realistic goals and concluded that multiple, smaller goals would have been better than 1 or 2 larger goals, as suggested by Murray (2008), and Murray and Newton (2009). Setting multiple smaller goals would have allowed us to have a sense of achievement even if we didn’t reach all the goals we set out to do.

Although, I did not fully reach my goal by the end of the writing retreat, having a goal kept me focused and the retreat’s structure kept me writing. I completed a sub section of my Thesis’s Methodology chapter and created a detailed plan of a sub-section, also for the Methodology chapter, totalling nearly 2000 words. As such, I came away feeling happy with what I had achieved. As it’s been noted that those “who best incorporated retreat methods into their writing lives, did so, in part, by attending more than one retreat” (Quynn and Stewart, 2021: 6), I’ll be keeping a look out for more writing retreats in the future!

Fran Musgrave, Doctoral Student in the School of Sport and Exercise Science

If you are interested in the concept and practice of play, especially children’s play and would like to know more about Fran’s work please contact her at: musf1_20@uni.worc.ac.uk


Burton, L. (2016). Can a Tomato Increase Your Productivity? Journal of Research on Christian Education, 25 (2), pp. 95-96.

Grant, B. M. (2006). Writing in the company of other women: exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education, 31(4), pp. 483-495.

Murray, R. (2008). ‘Writer’s retreat: reshaping academic writing practices’, Educational Developments, 9(2), pp. 14–16.

Murray, R. and Newton, M. (2009). Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream? Higher Education Research & Development, 28 (5), pp. 541 – 553

Papen, U. and Thériault, V. (2017). Writing retreats as a milestone in the development of PhD students’ sense of self as academic writers. Studies in Continuing Education, 40 (2), pp. 166-180.

Tremblay-Wragg, É., Mathieu Chartier, S., Labonté-Lemoyne, É., Déri, C. and Gadbois, M.E., (2020). Writing more, better, together: how writing retreats support graduate students through their journey. Journal of Further and Higher Education45(1), pp. 95-106.

Quynn, K. and Stewart, C. (2021). Sustainable writing for graduate students: writing retreats offer vital support. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(1):1-13

Rosser, B. S., D. L. Rugg, and M. W. Ross. (2001). Increasing Research and Evaluation Productivity: Tips for Successful Writing Retreats. Health Promotion Practice, 2(1), pp. 9–13.

Stevenson, N. (2021). Developing academic wellbeing through writing retreats. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(6), pp. 717 – 729.

Zahariades, D. (2015). The Pomodoro technique: A 10-step action plan for increasing your productivity (1st electronic ed.). Kindle Edition purchased from Amazon.com.  Cited in Burton, L. (2016) Can a Tomato Increase Your Productivity? Journal of Research on Christian Education, 25(2), pp. 95-96.

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