The life of a graduate student involves a lot of writing, thinking about writing and then doubting what you have written. I spend a lot of time questioning how often I should write, is what I am writing good enough, and can I publish what I am writing. Sometimes the question is, why am I even doing all this writing? Why put myself though this painful process? Recently, I went to a writing retreat for graduate students hosted by Dr. Sonja Boon from the Gender Studies Department. While the retreat didn’t answer all my questions, it did answer the crucial question of why I continue to write: because I enjoy it. While there is pain in the process there is also the thrill when everything is flowing just right. There is satisfaction when you make new connections and get it all out there on paper.
I have come to understand writing is a process. Writing helps to share research when we have completed it, but writing also helps me to understand my own research. Writing is part of the process of learning. The writing retreat really helped me to reconnect with the process of writing. It also helped me to reflect on the passion I have for this academic work that at times can be challenging and full of uncertainty.
The retreat was held over 3 days during a mid-term break. There were about 12 students in attendance from a number of different departments within the humanities and arts. The days were divided into a mixture of writing exercises led by Dr. Boon and blocks of writing time. The exercises were designed to flex our writing muscles and encourage us to think about our own research in new and interesting ways. The remainder of the time was divided into hour-long blocks with 15-minute breaks. During these times, we wrote our own projects. All students were at different stages of writing proposals, thesis, papers or course work.
I would highly recommend attending such a retreat. It was helpful to be in a room with others writing. Writing can be a very isolating experience and just the presence of others was nice. Furthermore, we did share some of our writing as well as frustrations with the process, so you don’t feel alone about your own worries and doubts. It was also helpful to have a time keeper who kept us on track for hour-long writing and 15-minute breaks. While writing is the important part, breaks keep us going. We were also encouraged not to write in the evenings during the retreat. This was an important acknowledgement of how much we were doing during the day and that we do need breaks away from work. I also really enjoyed the writing exercises. These were creative exercises to think about research and writing in new ways. Sometimes it is challenging to think about writing as process when you have deadlines and goals to meet. But these exercises were a reminder of the importance of writing as a process and as an enjoyable activity, not just a means to an end.
While the retreat was exhausting and hard work, it was for me a renewal. A reminder of why I like to write. It renewed in me a creative spirit and love of the craft of writing.