Study

Writing Alone Together

To be honest, I’m not big on group studying. For some people it can be beneficial to think out loud with others and work through ideas together, but I’m not one of those types. It’s hard for me take in information, especially new information, when I’m surrounded by other people. Over the last few years I realised that no matter how engaged I am during lectures or tutorials I ended up doing most of my actual learning at home when I was able to sit alone with my thoughts. That said, when you’re working by yourself the temptation to give in to distractions is so much greater. So how do I find the happy medium?

I think what helps for me is to be able have my private bubble (physically and mentally) so that I can do things on my own, but do that within the presence of other people who are also in their own bubbles. They say that there’s a certain productive energy in the room when a group of people work “alone, together” in this way and I feel like that’s probably true.

With all that in mind, I was pretty excited when I heard of New College’s Writing Retreat. The idea of spending an entire Sunday writing with other people would appeal to me anyway, but the fact that I had an essay due that week (that I had not started at all) made the event even more attractive.

Table of pastries

Starting the Writing Retreat with some treats! (and coffee, of course)

The retreat was structured not so much around time, but around spaces. There were spaces for silent writing and “coffee shop” writing. There were spaces that were a little more closed off and others that were more open. There were also writing spaces that were dedicated for those who were editing and looking for feedback, whether from peers or from writing centre instructors. One of the things I loved most about the retreat was exactly this feature. Each space had a different vibe to it and depending on my mood or energy level, I found myself bouncing around these different spaces when I wanted to get into a different head space. There can be many things that contribute to one’s productivity, but I think a lot of us would agree that the importance setting out a specific space to work is crucial. Generally speaking, when I set aside a chunk of time to study I end up picking one spot in a library and basically not moving from my spot (except for the occasional bathroom/stretch break) for the next eight hours, lest it be taken by someone else (not surprisingly, these sessions don’t tend to be very productive). It was nice to be able to change up my writing routine to include being able to write in different spaces.

Empty board room with class windows.

One of the silent writing spaces.

Of course, no one expects you to work for eight hours straight without any breaks. Among the other offerings available at the retreat were yoga breaks, walk and talk brainstorming sessions, mini writing workshops, and all-day coffee and snacks. I was pretty excited to schedule in yoga breaks and brainstorming sessions when I was coming up with my schedule and list of tasks to complete for the day, but as it turns out I became too busy to go to any of these! I took my own coffee breaks and walks of course, but for the most part I actually did spend most of the time working on my paper.

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I think this was my favorite writing space of the day.

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It was a cozy, yet productive atmosphere here.

It would be nice to have this kind of writing environment available to me every time I had to start working on a paper, but of course I know that’s not possible. One thing I can take away from this experience though, is the fact that our habits and processes change (something that was mentioned during the lunchtime student panel). Being open to adjusting your study habits and writing processes and continually reassessing their usefulness keeps you from getting in a rut. Also, if my day spent at the retreat was anything to go by, changing up your routine leaves a little room open for motivation to come in the form of some actual inspiration instead of motivation from the fear of deadlines, bad grades, or judgment.


I believe there will be another retreat happening in the winter term. However, registration is prioritized to New College students and students taking New College courses. There are many other writing resources on campus, though! Check them out and be sure to ask your college if they have similar events.