It’s Saturday morning and I’m leaving after lunch to go to a wedding. I’ve painted my nails, gathered petals to use as confetti, and all that remains for me to do is dress for the occasion. It may be a weekend, but this is no day of leisure for me as I have writing deadlines to meet. I must squeeze in some time to focus on my thesis. So, I’m at my desk having given myself permission to write. I’ve set an alarm on my phone for ninety minutes—I know I can get a lot done in that time. I know this from experience having participated in Manchester Metropolitain University’s online PGR writing retreats. By setting the timer and keeping all other distractions at bay, I can produce a piece of writing that will surely need editing, but it at least will be there on my digital page, reassuring me to keep going until I get eighty thousand words together in some sort of intelligible order.
I began attending the retreats in March 2021, enjoying the full day sessions, and welcoming the more intensive two- and three-day retreats. I notice that even as each group is different, there is always a collegiate atmosphere. I have learned how to make the most of little windows like the one I’m enjoying right now. If I hadn’t attended the Manchester Met writing retreats, I would probably have spent this morning doing other things, like flicking through old photos or prepping food for the next few days. Well, I can do that later, after the wedding, or tomorrow, or the next day. Those time-laden activities can be put off. Getting this thesis written cannot.
Now, I see there are three new emails in my in-box. I am not going to open them until after my alarm goes off. Just imagine if I did … the rest of my precious writing time would disappear. Then how would I feel? Defeated, disappointed, and miserable. I don’t want that. Instead, I know that when I finish my writing session this morning, I will feel good. I’ll be happy, content, and ready to enjoy the rest of the day. And, when I get back to my desk, I’ll have some writing to edit.
I am thankful that the structured writing retreats are online as I live two hundred miles from Manchester and cannot attend University seminars and workshops. Dipping into this community, and benefitting from the support it offers, is just what I need because I feel quite alone sometimes, geographically and psychologically. I’m now in the final six months of my PhD. I need to be committed if I am to get the words down and make sure they work for the reader. I’m going to attend every one of the writing retreats I can, and I’ve also planned regular writing days of my own when I’ll follow the same tried and tested structure used by the Graduate School and outlined in Rowena Murray and Mary Newton’s paper, ‘Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream’.
Another, quite different, form of help I receive via the Graduate School is through the Writing Buddies Scheme. Last year I was put in touch with a PGR at another university. Over the last eighteen months we have met regularly online; sometimes we exchange work and offer feedback to each other, and other times we just chat. This relationship has been terrifically helpful—and I’ve received some illuminating feedback.
I think my ninety minutes is nearly up. I’m getting a good feel for this length of concentrated writing time. A quick look back at my words now… eight hundred, not bad. The alarm on my timer has made me jump! I close the curtains on my writing window, click ‘save’, and put my laptop to sleep. I look forward to the rest of the day and, ‘hurrah!’, the sun is shining for the wedding.
It’s such a privilege to be part of the PGR community, but it is difficult at times and anything that makes it a better experience is worth a try. I can certainly recommend the writing retreats as one of the tools for success. Perhaps I’ll see you at the next writing retreat?
You can book on to any of the sessions using the links below:
One- day writing retreat
Two- day writing retreat
We also offer a writing buddy initiative which provides PGRs with consistent peer support for their writing. By providing your details and some information about what you hope to get from the scheme in our sign-up form, we will be able to match you according to your stage of study and aims for the buddy partnership.
The sign-up sheet will be open until Friday, 30 June 2023 and matching will take place in early July.
You can find more information about the scheme using the link below.