Writing retreat

Closeup of a woman typing on a laptop with a notebook and a mobile phone next to her.

Photo: startupstockphotos.com. Public domain (CC0).

Last week myself and nine other researchers of various levels, from PhD to professor, drove ourselves to a moderately large country house in the middle of nowhere to write. All of us had a paper to produce; some were converting thesis chapters into journal articles, some (like me) had new and fully-outlined articles that they just needed to sit down and write, and others had less-clear ideas that they needed clear thinking time on.

Writing, and subsequently publishing, is probably the most important thing that most researchers do – at least in career terms – but it is never the most urgent. There are always other things demanding attention, and those things tend to have deadlines, while journal articles usually do not. As a result it can be hard to set aside time to get papers written. Setting aside a week for doing nothing else allowed people to protect their time and, at least as importantly, their thinking space, and there was a consensus among the group that this was a Good Thing.

During working hours we mostly wrote; at mealtimes and in the evenings we socialised, discussed our work, played giant Jenga, and bounced ideas. One biologist benefited greatly from this cross-fertilisation when she spoke to a policy expert and realised that her very specific, factual article about a protected area for a specific species raised an important policy issue that is much more widely applicable. Now she is planning to expand the focus of her paper and submit to a different (and more prestigious) journal.

I had a good time professionally and socially, and I had a productive time, and now I have a fully drafted paper that I need to fill in a few figures on and send off to co-authors. Woo!