How to get the most out of a writing retreat

Posted by Cate Macinnis-Ng @LoraxCate

This week a group of us from the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity had the pleasure of attending a writing retreat at the fabulous Aio Wira Retreat Centre in the Waitakere Ranges. A writing retreat is a great way to get away from the office and specifically concentrate on writing, enhanced by the pressure of others madly writing around you. Here are a few things you can do to boost productivity before, during and after a writing retreat.


A beautiful spot for some writing

  • Plan, plan, plan

Work out what project you want to work on and plan your time so you can hit the ground running when you arrive. In our line of work, a writing retreat might include data analysis, reading papers, designing experiments, preparing figures and of course, writing about it all. It can be a good idea to plan a few different tasks so if you get stuck on one, you can still make goood use of your time by getting on with another. That said, prioritising the most important tasks is still important. Perhaps discussing your plans with a colleague or supervisor will keep you accountable.

  • Gather everything you need

If a writing retreat is about progressing your work, it’s important you have everything you need to do that. Before arriving, make sure your data are in the right format, you have the references you need and you have your work plan. Bring your computer and charger or pen and paper if that works better for you. Perhaps gathering thoughts is the most important thing to do in preparation for a productive time.


Funky footwear is essential

  •   Comfortable gear

On a winter retreat, being warm and comfy is a must so wear your warmest, most comfortable clothes.



  • Don’t forget down-time

Having time away from the computer is just as important as time at the keyboard. There are some wonderful walks in the Waitakere Ranges so walking shoes are a must out here. It’s pretty muddy at this time of year so cleaning shoes and sticking to tracks is essential to avoid spreading kauri dieback but getting out in the bush or on the beach is a great way to prepare for the day or take a break from it all.


Good food helps power brains

  • A writing retreat doesn’t have to be away from the office

Continuing momentum is easy with virtual writing retreats. Try Shut up and Write Tuesdays for an online community and some great writing tips.


Close to the fire is always a popular spot on a winter retreat


Other useful resources

Stephen Heard’s The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is a great read for postgraduate students and early career researchers across many fields. It is a comprehensive guide to the structure, content and style of scientific writing. My only criticism is that there was very little said about writing abstracts.

Duke Graduate School Scientific Writing Resource has writing lessons and exercises to improve writing.

For the academics of writing, the University of Auckland’s writing website has a blog, projects and events.

Happy writing!

Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng is a Senior Lecturer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.  She is a plant ecophysiologist and ecohydrologist working on plant-climate interactions.




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