Finding my discipline to write

By Aris Malapaschas
Wednesday, 5th June 2019
Filed under: ESRBlog

A few weeks ago I attended a 2-day writing retreat organised by our project. Since this was the first time I took part in such an event, I didn’t have any expectations, or prior experience to compare it with. But in the end, I left with a lot work done, and learned useful things which I can apply to my work in the future.

The writing retreat started on a Sunday morning, after a very demanding week (both mentally and physically). We met with the facilitator, who walked us through the schedule and asked us to set writing goals for the entire retreat, but also for each day and session separately. Then we started writing. Each day included 4 writing sessions: 2 sessions of 1 hour and 2 of 1.5 hours. During each session we were all sitting in a quiet room, each of us concentrated on their own work. We were not allowed to cause any distractions to ourselves or to others, e.g. by checking our phones or browsing the internet. Between each session there were long breaks, during which we either relaxed over some coffee or tea, or by taking a walk outside. The retreat took place in a hotel southwest of Glasgow. It was not exactly an idyllic resort in an exotic location, but it felt remote enough for us to be able to concentrate.

Being in the same room with the other ESRs (most of whom I hadn’t met for months) and not being allowed to say anything, was awkward in the beginning. The imposed silence felt a bit unnecessary and reminded me of my school years, where I had to be quiet or get scolded. But since everyone was doing the same thing, I had no other option but to start writing. And it worked! I normally find it difficult to concentrate and start working. And even when I do, I am easily getting distracted have a hard time staying productive. During the retreat we didn’t work long hours; we took long breaks, and each day ended early. But during the sessions I was very productive. Partly because of the “forced” structure, and partly because of the indirect peer pressure I would feel when looking around and seeing everyone else writing.

There are some things I learned from this writing retreat that I can apply to the next one (if there’s going to be one), in order to make it even more productive. The first thing is to set specific and realistic goals. It takes some practice and experimenting to be able to estimate how much work you can get done in the duration of one session (60 or 90 minutes), but having a specific target for every session helps you adjust your pace, and gives you the ability to assess your efficiency at the end of each day or session. Another thing is to make good use of the breaks. Sometimes at the end of a session we would sit in the room and discussed with each other about our work, and the different writing methods we were applying. But our facilitator insisted that we try and disconnect completely, and do some physical activity. Being able to clear your mind of work during the break can really improve your productivity in the next session. Finally, good preparation is very important: going to the writing retreat with the purpose of writing something specific (e.g. a section of a paper) and having collected all the needed resources in advance.

All in all, the writing retreat helped me get some work done, and it was a good opportunity to catch up with the other ESRs. But I also gained experience that will help me become more efficient with my personal work. So, I’m looking forward to the next one!

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