Reflections on Will Medd’s Summer Writing Retreat


Will Medd ran an online Write Here, Right Now Retreat on the 21st July for NWSSDTP-funded students. This day-long session offered a uniquely formatted writing retreat, bringing together the traditional space of such a writing retreat with the provocation of live coaching experiments, to enhance and sustain an effective writing experience. The retreat provided a powerful format to get writing done, harnessing the collective energy of the group, while the live coaching invited greater awareness of how to shape the writing experience. Several attendees have provided their feedback below on what they took away from this session with Will.

‘I was initially unsure about taking a whole day out to attend training on writing. I thought that perhaps I could use the time better if I simply put my mind to writing for the day! However, I can safely say that attending this writing retreat was very worthwhile. I’m coming to the end of my 2nd year of the PhD and am conscious that next year will involve a lot of writing. This course has given me some valuable tips and tools for writing effectively and it has helped me better understand what works best for me in terms of a writing schedule. Will was informative, kind and open to many questions. The day was filled will plenty of practice time and it was well-paced. By the end of the training I had written far more than I anticipated and had also learned a lot. I highly recommend this course.’

Victoria Hirst, Educational Research, University of Manchester, 2018 Cohort

‘Up until now, I would say my daily experience of writing the thesis can be described as “painful, often slow and sporadic”. Thankfully, learning Will’s technique has moved things into a new, reinvigorated phase, where now I feel more capable, creative and in control. Will’s coaching style made the whole day experimental, meaning we were given permission to approach our writing in ways I had never considered. For the most part, we wrote for 20-minute intervals followed by moments of individual and group reflection. If we got “stuck” we were told to simply keep writing about how we feel. By lunchtime, I had over 1,000 “good” words. What I found really interesting was the difference that covering the screen can make. I found this exercise liberating because my usual method of writing resulted in reading over, amending, and then returning to the top of the page to start again. This process would repeat itself until I got so fed up with re-reading the same paragraphs I’d pack in feeling exhausted and with not much to show for my efforts. Not seeing the spelling and grammar allowed me to write much faster. It felt less painful because I was less focussed on looking over and over at the structure of the sentence. Whilst this method may not be suitable for all writing, I found it allowed me to capture my own thoughts and it made me rely on my natural vocabulary and “voice”. In this way, my writing became more authentic, written from the heart which may make it more creative and easier to read. I would worry this makes the writing less academic but that is what the “editing” stage is for, and Will was able to provide us with some excellent methods to break down editing into a traffic light approach. Thanks to Will, I believe the remaining time spent writing the thesis will become more pleasurable and far less repetitive. Thank you!’

Cara Molyneux, Social Work, Lancaster University


‘Having attended one of Will Medd’s writing days before, I had an idea of what to expect in terms of useful tips and ways to trick yourself into enjoying writing. However, this time I was struck about how productive I could be in 20-minute slots. Rather than focussing on my lack of dedicated workspace (sharing a home with teenagers and 2 dogs during lockdown can be challenging in terms of space and distractions), I was motivated to see writing as something that I don’t need a lot of time to do – it is achievable in small writing blocks if I am focussed, warmed up and have prepared adequately for it. This has shifted my relationship with writing from one of guilt and feelings of ‘if only’ or ‘when everything gets back to normal, to one of positivity and certainty that even if I don’t have access to my workspace at uni for a long time, the writing of my thesis is not going to suffer.’

Rosie Harrison, Business and Management, Lancaster University, 2019 Cohort

‘Well, what can I say? Like mindfulness? Like Yoga? Like regular breaks? Like writing? Ok, so, the last one might be a stretch but that is fine given that pain-free writing is the objective, not a prerequisite, of the day. Will is a skilled and motivating coach and I left the day feeling a sense of accomplishment in my writing which was accompanied by plenty of guilt-free breaks, or what I call ‘power breaks’. There were lots of tips throughout the one-day session to help participants get the most out of their writing in small bursts while still producing a healthy amount of words to be proud of. The word count was not the only healthy gain by the end of the day either. Mindful writing, yoga-writing (yes, yoga), and break out rooms to share the pains and privileges of a PhD (why is it we always feel better when we know others experience the same pain?). And all delivered online!

For anyone struggling with anxiety about their writing, or just interested in developing healthier and more productive writing habits, I highly recommend this virtual (re)treat with Will!’

Nicole Renehan, Criminology, Social Policy and Social Work, University of Manchester, 2017 Cohort

‘You may as well write…

I wasn’t in the mood to write this piece when I sat down to put pen to paper. Typically, I would have used that as an excuse to check twitter one more time this morning. Instead, I employed a few tools learned in the “Write Here, Right Now” workshop I attended with Will Medd in July. The day-long workshop had come highly recommended from a few peers, and while the timing wasn’t perfect, a recent supervision meeting led me to realise I had not yet achieved one of my original writing goals set months ago.

A number of insights have stuck with me since taking the course, and I’ll share one with you now – the same one that got me writing this post. The instructions feel pretty simple:

  1. Write it
  2. Write about it
  3. Write about your feelings about it

What does this mean? When you sit down with an intention to write something in particular, first, just write it. If that isn’t quite working or you feel stuck, write about what it is you are trying to write. Finally, if you can no longer write about it, but you still aren’t ready to write it, write about your feelings about what you are writing.

For me, this means if you have set aside time to write, then write. Even if you are writing about how you are feeling about writing, you are still writing, practicing. What I find happens is that often moving through steps 2 and 3 may reveal an adjustable impediment to step 1. You also may just get bored enough from writing about those feelings that you shift back to what you intended to write. Maybe, all you needed was a warmup session before jumping in the deep end. What did I realise this morning when writing about what I should have been writing? Not much, only that all of a sudden I actually began putting words down that were originally what I intended to write in the first place. All of this might sound quite simple, but it has helped me get going on a number of occasions! At other times, the approach has actually clarified that I needed a bit more preparation before writing – that is useful, too!

A whole day may seem like a lot to give up when you feel like you already are behind in work or have a looming deadline, but taking a bit of time to examine and improve how you relate to your writing has the potential to create long-term benefits you can start to reap right now. Check out future courses if you are interested in jumpstarting your writing in a meaningful way – and put some of your ESRC training funding to work.’

Ellen Schwaller, Health and Wellbeing, University of Liverpool, 2018 Cohort

Like many, working from home has posed new challenges over the last few months, including maintaining a productive writing practice. Signing up for Will Medd’s Writing Day, I was mostly interested in gaining some new strategies to increase the speed of my writing output. Unexpectedly, the day instead went far beyond this and shifted my relationship with writing. Our group covered strategies including intention setting, drafting vs. crafting and even some ‘writing yoga’. The day was intense but fruitful and I’ve come away feeling energised. Instead of a sole focus on measuring productivity, I’m back to enjoying writing as part of my research. Many thanks to Will for leading such a thought-provoking retreat and for the generosity of the other participants in engaging honestly with the reflections.

Lorrae Fox, Linguistics, Lancaster University, 2018 Cohort

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