Lydia Ayame Hiraide23 November 2022

Earlier this term, we were delighted to be able to host an online seminar on the value of writing retreats for early career and PhD researchers. We were grateful to get some valuable advice from Dr Nancy Stevenson, Dr Marcella Sutcliffe, and Dr Esther Allen about writing retreats and their utility in their many formats!

Whether you’re about to embark on your first writing retreat or just want to improve your writing experience at home, here are some of the valuable tips our guest speakers shared with us:

  • Rest is as valuable as work! All of our speakers emphasised that it is just as important to schedule meaningful breaks (away from your computer!) as it is to schedule in working/writing sessions. This will ensure that you can both be productive and have a more sustainable approach to your research and wellbeing.

  • Realistic goals count for a lot. Imposter syndrome (and the like) might come up during or after the retreat, particularly if you feel like you haven't received the goals you set for it. Many times, this comes down to that the goals you set are not achievable for the time you're there. Working on making achievable goals is a skill in itself. So, how do I set reasonable goals? This will depend on the specific project and how you work best. A tip is to structure your goal/s in line with what type of writing you are going to do. Editing, writing abstracts, funding applications, and so on all require a different type of writing and won't necessarily require a specific word count. 

  • Word count isn’t everything! All of our speakers gave the advice to not only set a goal that specifically targets a word count. Setting and then comparing word counts with other participants of the retreat can lead to feelings of being inadequate and "not doing enough". Sometimes editing a piece of writing will mean shaving words off - but this doesn’t mean the quality of the work depletes. It can also be a good thing! Quality, not quantity.

Our guest speakers also gave us some valuable advice on the practical aspects of attending or organising writing retreats, particularly thinking through navigating accessibility and cost.

  • Writing retreats are often structured around 60-90 minutes of writing with breaks interspersed throughout the day. So, how might a writing retreat work for someone with ADHD? Indeed, there are many different ways of working and the most important thing is to find the style that works for you. If 60-90 minutes doesn’t work for you, perhaps you could try the Pomodoro technique to make the sessions shorter, experiment with where you do your writing, and/or bring something that makes the session more accessible to you (e.g. like a stress ball or a fidget spinner). You can experiment with different strategies to see what works for you. Check out this article written by an attendee from one of Marcella’s writing retreats at Chapelgarth: Managing the Challenges of ADHD While in Lockdown.

  • What about costs? If the writing retreats are organised and set within your university, they are usually free for students. Retreats on another site tend to be around £140/day (including food). Academics tend to cover the costs with the help of conference funding from their universities or through specific grants they've won from their university or another funding body. It’s also worth asking your research managers or departments whether your university might be willing to put some money aside to fund a writing retreat for you and your peers. There is an increasingly large body of research which evidences the benefits of writing retreats which you can point to if your university needs convincing! Remember that you can also organise your own writing retreats either on campus or online too.

Importantly, all of our speakers stressed the importance of putting your well being first. Writing is important and can even be very fulfilling but not at the cost of your happiness and wellbeing. Make sure you schedule in lots of breaks and remember that, though important, your writing does not define your entire life!

The PSA ECN Committee would like to thank our wonderful guest speakers again for giving up their time to join us at this session and provide some extremely valuable and encouraging tips in a friendly and relaxed setting.

Useful links 

We thoroughly encourage you to get in touch with us at if you have any ideas for how we can  support you as a PhD or early career researcher. Our inbox is always wide open and we can't wait to hear from you.

The Political Studies Association Early Career Network’s ‘Publication Pipeline’ aims to support ECRs to equip themselves with the skills and knowledge to secure a publication. There is still much work to be done to make academia more inclusive. In our commitment to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion within the discipline, this workshop aims to widen access to conferences and publication by bolstering the skills of ECRs and removing barriers to much of the ‘unspoken’ knowledge we need to participate. We encourage participation from scholars of all backgrounds based in any location.