10 benefits of academic writing retreats

October 10, 20225 min read

Here’s something I didn’t realize until I was playing with the idea of hosting our own in-person writing retreat… There are scholars who study and publish research on academic writing retreats.

One of the most well-known researchers in this field is Rowena Murray, professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland. Dr. Murray 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".

Writing retreats typically offer fixed blocks of time dedicated to concentrated and distraction free writing. My company Write the Damn Dissertation is hosting "The Empowered Writing Retreat" in October, and was designed based on the work of Dr. Rowena Murray. It also includes a private 1:1 goal setting meeting prior to the retreat, and support during the retreat.

The Empowered Writing Retreat follows Dr. Murray's structure, and is based on three key evidence-based principles:

  1. The ‘typing pool’ which means that we all write individually but are in the same room for the duration of the retreat (Grant & Knowles 2000).

  2. The use of a series of strict, fixed writing and discussion slots (McGrail, Rickard, and Jones 2006).

  3. The use of peer discussion to review progress during the retreat (Murray 2009).

While the research provides so many benefits of academic writing retreats, here are my favorite 10 most important benefits of writing retreats.

  1. Focus on Productivity - When attend an in-person writing retreat, you’ll get more writing done. But what’s also amazing, is that the productivity is not only limited to being in the retreat! Research studies indicate that you’ll stay productive longer.

  2. Protected Time and Space - Being in a safe place that is different from your usual writing space can spark creativity. When the environment is calming and inspirational, without the distractions of daily life, you can protect your time and space to focus on writing.

  3. Long Lasting Output - Studies on academic writing retreats conclude that Academics who attend writing retreats publish more.

  4. Undistracted Focus, Scheduling and Protecting Time to Write - Since research-based writing retreats include structured writing sessions that are outcome-based, there is less time wasted with delay, questioning, and distractions.

  5. Stepping Into and Strengthening your Identity as a Writer - Another benefit of writing retreats is that they strengthen a scholar’s identity as a writer. We focus so much on identity work in our programs, so this is one of my favorites!

  6. Being Surrounded by a Supportive and Caring Community of Other Women Scholars - It’s common for academics to write in solitude, isolated from the rest of the world… either in their office, or at home. Participants of writing retreats reported, however, that they particularly valued working around other writers, which led them to experience a sense of connectedness.

  7. Investing Time, Money and Energy - What you pay for, you pay attention to. When you invest resources in writing, you are committing to an outcome. When we or someone on our behalf makes a significant investment, we feel more motivated to get that task done.

  8. Ability to Focus on a Single Project - Writing retreats allow participants to focus on a single project, rather than squeezing writing in between meetings, or when there is time between the competing priorities in life.

  9. Developing Academic Writing Skills - Academics develop their writing process. The distraction-free writing sessions in structured retreats model an ideal writing process. Murray argues in her book "Writing in Social Spaces" that academics can develop a writing discipline in writing retreats. Some academics she interviewed for her studies told her that they hadn’t realized that they were capable of concentrating deeply for prolonged periods for several days. Similarly, academics learn to set boundaries around their writing, as Rowena Murray writes.

  10. Focusing on well being - Studies have reported that academics who attended retreats feel more motivated and confident as writers, and less fearful of writing. You may imagine that there are plenty of benefits of attending academic writing retreats, and this is scientifically proven. Rachel Kornhaber (2016) studied the benefits of writing retreats. This study and others also have also reported an improvement in general well-being. This can be seen as a boost of motivation, confidence, and promote a sense of calm and accomplishment.

There you have it. The ten most important benefits of academic writing retreats.

Are you as blown away by the results of all the studies on writing retreats as I am?

With all this evidence I have to ask… why is it still common practice for scholars to attend a few conferences every year but not writing retreats?

Interested in attending the Empowered Writing Retreat? Go here to register ==> https://retreat.writethedamndissertation.com/

Have more questions and want to talk about the retreat? Book a call with me here ==> https://DissertationCoachingwithWTDD.as.me/retreat


For my nerdy research junkies, I see you... Writing Retreat Research References (in APA format so your eye doesn't start twitching):

Grant, B., & Knowles, S. (2000). Flights of imagination: Academic women be(com)ing writers. International Journal for Academic Development, 5(1), 6-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/136014400410060

Kornhaber, R., Cross, M., Betihavas, V., & Bridgman, H. (2016). The benefits and challenges of academic writing retreats: An integrative review. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(6), 1210-1227.

McGrail, M. R., Rickard, C. M., & Jones, R. (2006). Publish or perish: A systematic review of interventions to increase academic publication rates. Higher Education Research & Development, 25(1), 19-35. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360500453053

Murray, R., & Newton, M. (2009). Writing retreat as structured intervention: Margin or mainstream? Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 541-553. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360903154126

I spent the first 40 years of my life beating myself up. 

Finishing my doctoral dissertation after spending four years in the “drift”, it took a personal transformation for me to silence the inner mean girl and activate self-kindness. Now, I’m obsessed with helping other women befriend their inner critic, get out of their own way and achieve their biggest dreams. A seasoned K-12 educational leader and coach, when I finished my dissertation, I started Write the Damn Dissertation. Since 2018 the Write the Damn Dissertation Team has helped over 17,000 doc students (and masters thesis students) make progress on their dissertation and thesis. I live on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with my husband and teenage son, two French bulldogs, and a ragdoll cat. Some things you may not know about me… me and my husband have an Airbnb with 98 (5.0-star) reviews, and absolutely love being hosts. I’m a certified Master Gardener, I’ve raised Nubian Goats, Chickens, Turkeys, Peacocks, and I’m a former Lavender Farmer.

~ Dr. Amy Boyd
Founder and CEO, Write the Damn Dissertation
Coach, Motivational Speaker, Podcast Host

Dr. Amy Boyd

I spent the first 40 years of my life beating myself up. Finishing my doctoral dissertation after spending four years in the “drift”, it took a personal transformation for me to silence the inner mean girl and activate self-kindness. Now, I’m obsessed with helping other women befriend their inner critic, get out of their own way and achieve their biggest dreams. A seasoned K-12 educational leader and coach, when I finished my dissertation, I started Write the Damn Dissertation. Since 2018 the Write the Damn Dissertation Team has helped over 17,000 doc students (and masters thesis students) make progress on their dissertation and thesis. I live on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with my husband and teenage son, two French bulldogs, and a ragdoll cat. Some things you may not know about me… me and my husband have an Airbnb with 98 (5.0-star) reviews, and absolutely love being hosts. I’m a certified Master Gardener, I’ve raised Nubian Goats, Chickens, Turkeys, Peacocks, and I’m a former Lavender Farmer. ~ Dr. Amy Boyd Founder and CEO, Write the Damn Dissertation Coach, Motivational Speaker, Podcast Host

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