This year’s residential Writing Retreat, the fourth in consecutive years, took place between the 11-13th of April at The Priory in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Writing Retreat process began in 2009 when the first retreat was held at Streatley, Oxfordshire. This retreat and that held at Highgate Hall in Northants in 2010 were organised by the University’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to produce two internally published books charting different departmental perspectives on the significant curriculum changes introduced during that time.
The 2011 and 2012 writing retreats had a different purpose: to produce individually authored articles for externally published academic journals. So the overall aim of these events was for each participant, including us, to finish an academic paper, the first draft of which had been submitted to the CLE for editorial review as part of the application process several months earlier. The objective was for all authors to submit their papers electronically at the end of the three days. This objective formed part of the Centre for Learning Excellence’s strategy to support the University’s ethos of scholarship by encouraging academic writing for publication. Writing Retreats are the final event of a process that includes our Writing for Publication seminars and the establishment of the Journal of Pedagogic Development. Having gained experience of writing and publishing in this process, Writing Retreats allow delegates the opportunity to dedicate time and concentration to a specific piece of writing with the support of their colleagues. By taking the delegate away from his or her more customary work patterns and rhythms of the working week, the Writing Retreat provided space to focus and for the words to flow. Although the three days were busy with activities, workshops and tasks, the focus was very much on completing the paper in question, or getting as close to completion as possible.
In attendance at this year’s event with the two of us were ten delegates from the University, all from different departments. This wasn’t regarded as a problem. One delegate noted this: ‘If we are all from one discipline there would be differences of opinion of content or subject, but that hasn’t got in the way at all…’. We also had an invited Guest Editor, Professor Hilary Constable. We invited Hilary to the retreat because we believe that is important for the authors to have the experience and perspective from an external authority in research scholarship focussed on their work. Six of the ten participants had never been on a writing retreat before. Naturally, there was an air of anxiety when we first assembled. Not only was there concern about writing at the perceived standard and finishing; there were the other delegates. Would everyone ‘get on’?