"I Love the Dedicated Time to Writing:" Faculty reflect on time spent at HCWE Writing Retreat

Miami Writing Spotlight. Faculty writing at tables. "I love the dedicated time to writing." Faculty reflect on time spent at HCWE writing retreat.

by Caitlin Martin 

Published Feb. 26, 2019

“I’m a regular,” said Mary Ben Bonham, associate professor of architecture and interior design, when asked about her time at the retreat. “I love the dedicated time to writing.”

“It’s exactly analogous to a gym class for me,” she continued. “I could exercise on my own, but will I? So signing up for the writing retreat is a guarantee that I will do what I want to do without other priorities getting in the way.”

Text: Quote from Mary Ben Bonham, Associate Professor, Architecture & Interior Design, "Signing up for the writing retreat is a guarantee that I will what I ant to do without other priorities getting in the way."Bonham was just one of 68 faculty and graduate students who attended one or more days of the HCWE Winter Term Writing Retreat held January 22-25. But she wasn’t the only one who commented on appreciating the time to focus on her research and scholarship.

“The writing retreat helps to sort of legitimize that time you’re spending away” from other personal and professional obligations, commented Helane Adams Androne, professor of English and chair of interdisciplinary and communication studies at Miami Regionals.

“Suddenly, you can place this on the calendar,” Androne continued “and it feels like you are committed to it just like you’re committed to committee meetings and other kinds of things.”

Thoughts from First-Time Attendees

First-time attendees Emily Channell-Justice and Leah Wasburn-Moses also commented on the retreat’s benefits.

“I really appreciated that it was before classes started,” said Channell-Justice, a visiting assistant professor of global and intercultural studies and a Havighurst Center Teaching Fellow. “I didn’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

When asked if this was her first time at a retreat, Wasburn-Moses laughed and acknowledged it was, adding  “I don’t know what’s been wrong with me all these years!”

In addition to being a professor of educational psychology, Wasburn-Moses is also a parent and foster parent.

She said she often has to do her work “a little bit at a time” but that “there are some projects, especially an extended writing project, where I just feel like it cannot get done in that manner.”

Text: Quote from Leah Wasburn-Moses, Professor,  Educational Psychology, "I signed up for one day, and then I got so excited I signed up for another day."Wasburn-Moses spent the retreat working on a book project focused on student teaching, an experience she called “the single most powerful learning experience for our teaching education majors” while adding that there “haven’t been any books that focus especially on student teaching.”

Because Miami’s classes weren’t in session but Wasburn-Moses’s children were in school, the retreat gave her the opportunity to devote two days to her work.

“I signed up for one day and then I got so excited I signed up for another day,” she said.

Channell-Justice said that her three days at the retreat gave her the space to focus on writing parts of a book manuscript about protests in Ukraine collected during her dissertation fieldwork; this writing  would otherwise get pushed to the background by other tasks.

“I’m in the part of that task that is mostly editing and rewriting and revising and bibliography and photos,” she said, her tone emphasizing her assertion that this is “the least exciting part of the whole process.”

“That is not what I want to do with that small snippet of time that I have for myself,” Channell-Justice said. “I wanted to use the retreat as an excuse to do all that stuff that I never actually want to make time to do because it’s not very exciting.”

Distraction-Free Writing Time

Long-time writing retreat attendees also commented on the helpfulness of having long spans of time to write.

Jill Korach, the Assistant Director of Field Programs for Project Dragonfly and a doctoral candidate in Miami’s ecology, evolution, and environmental biology program, said the retreats help her produce “better quality work” because she’s “really just focused on the task at hand.”

“I always start out the day with journaling, so I can make a plan for the day and get things out of my mind that I don’t want to focus on while I’m there,” she said, adding that she tries “to have three big goals” to accomplish each day.

Korach spent the retreat working on two chapters of her dissertation that looks at how individuals’ personal values and knowledge of important natural places can support pro-environmental behaviors and contribute to conservation management.

Her morning journaling helped her focus on edits for one chapter of her dissertation and to think about the “big picture” task of outlining a second.

Bonham spent the retreat turning an abstract for the Architectural Research Centers Consortium into a fully-developed research paper after an unexpected deadline extension.

“I was really happy with it,” Bonham said, “because sometimes I don’t have that much time to put into [writing].”

Bonham’s conference paper focuses on double-skin glass facades and is related to her book project. These facades “provide a buffer against heat and cold  like the normal insulating window does,” she said. “But they have operable pieces” like “windows, vents, dampers, all kinds of things that control the airflow.”  

Those features of the double-skin glass facade make the building more comfortable, not “just high-tech looking,” she said.

Sense of Community

In addition to getting her conference paper finished, Bonham said the retreat is “a great place to meet people outside of your home department.”

“That’s one of my very favorite things about it,” she said.

Wasburn-Moses said it was “empowering seeing my colleagues working on what they’re working on.”

Korach also mentioned the importance of seeing others writing, adding that she likes “the combination of grad students and faculty.”

“I think it just allows you to realize that we’re all doing the exact same thing,” Korach continued. ““I think when you’re a grad student, you don’t know that.”

“We’re all doing exactly the same thing,” she said, “and we all need motivations to do it.”

Setting Themselves Up for Success

Text: Quote from Helane Adams Androne, Professor, English, "It's really a marked moment for me to start conceptualizing a book proposal [at a writing retreat.] It almost says to me, 'Oh, this is going to get done."Androne called this sense of community the “right kind of pressure,”  saying that the retreat helps her be set up for success. Over Winter Term, she started working on a book proposal—the third book she’s worked on at an HCWE writing retreat.

“It’s really a marked moment for me to start conceptualizing a book proposal” at a writing retreat, she said. “It almost says to me, ‘Oh, this is going to get done.’”

Her new project is focused on myths and magic in black and Latino speculative fiction. The book has been “in mind for a while,” she said, and the writing retreat provides a distraction-free opportunity to “harness and organize those ideas.”

“We have to set ourselves up for success,” she said. “And that’s what I think is accomplished by” attending the retreat.

Join Us for Future Retreats

The HCWE hosts faculty and graduate student drop-in writing hours every Friday from 8:30 am until noon in King 133. Two upcoming Saturday retreats are scheduled for March 2 and April 6, 2019. Those retreats run 8:30am to 4:00pm in King Library. The HCWE provides breakfast and lunch each day of the retreat. Coffee, tea, and other drinks are also available throughout the day.

Interested faculty and graduate students can learn more or sign up to attend on the HCWE website.