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July 11, 2013 - Writing may ultimately be a solitary endeavor—just the writer and his or her ideas—but it doesn’t have to be done alone. At least that was the idea embraced by 26 Penn professors from the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education, who gathered in a large room in Harrison College House simply to write. In the second of what participants hope will be an annual weeklong event, the scholars silenced their cellphones, ignored their inboxes, and said no to the many other obligations that often erode their writing time. Coming on the heels of the spring semester, the June retreat was timed to kick-start their summer writing projects.
Many people find inspiration in the supportive, structured environment of writing retreats. One participant, in an anonymous post-retreat evaluation, credited the group with increasing her productivity: “I had to push through the times when I was having writing blocks because there was nothing else to distract me. If left to my own devices, I would have probably done more research, read more books, searched online for articles—all of which are stalling techniques for me when I get stuck in my writing.”
The retreat ran daily from 9am to 4:30pm. Coffee and snacks were available throughout the day, and the writers took a noon break for socializing over a catered lunch. They also had access to the services of Penn GSE editor and writing coach, Jennifer Moore, who was on-site during the retreat.
Although faculty writing retreats are becoming more common at many research universities, last year’s retreat is thought to be the first one held at an Ivy League institution. Participants attending the writing retreat for the second year in a row pointed to the successes generated from last summer’s gathering, among them book contracts and accepted journal articles. Many reported feeling the impact long beyond the actual event.
Linda Chance, an associate professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, said that “last year’s retreat changed my summer. The experience of sitting with other writers for five days energized me and built a community that has been valuable all year. I could not imagine passing on this boost this summer.” David Barnes, an associate professor in the Department of the History & Sociology of Science, said that participating in the retreat “forced me to recognize—and unlearn—several bad habits that I didn’t know I had, which has multiplied my writing productivity two- or threefold ever since.”
The retreat was organized by David Barnes, Ayako Kano (East Asian Languages & Civilizations), Beth Linker (History & Sociology of Science), and Janine Remillard (Graduate School of Education) and funded by the School of the Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education. Inspired by the retreat, many faculty members have started meeting regularly at Van Pelt Library to write alone, together.
Photograph by Allison Dougherty.