I have written about the importance of finding like-minded souls to help navigate academia. My previous posts can be summed up as how I find my people and why I need them. The ideas here are drawn from a book chapter I co-authored with colleagues on writing as women in higher education. I had occasion to reread this publication recently when a researcher requested a copy via Researchgate, and I thought the discussion of intimacy worth revisiting.

The chapter is a reflection on the gendered practices of writing groups in higher education. Ours was an accidentally women-only writing group; nevertheless, the gendering of the group impacted its practice. The context of the reflections was a writing retreat. The ResearchWhisperer had a recent post entitled Writing Retreats: Academic indulgence or scholarly necessity?  I think they are a bit of both. I try to participate in at least one writing retreat every year, whether day retreats or overnight, whether self-funded, won as a lucky door prize or supported by a university or project. Writing retreats provide time to become immersed in academic writing interspersed with the sharing of conversation, food and laughter in an emotional and intellectual collaboration.

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In our reflections on writing as women on a retreat, we described the escape from the distractions of multiple responsibilities and fragmented identities as PhD students, casual employees, professional staff members, academics and/or mothers. (A caveat: as we reflect in our chapter, this is compromised by insecure work. Even identification as a writer is more tenuous as a result of the “sheer panic that there may not be an available job that will allow me to develop my potential as an academic writer and researcher”).

Participants repeatedly used the term ‘intimacy’ to describe the practice of the writing retreat:

We all juggle being employed/staying employed with family commitments with the demands on early career researchers/writers/academics … We recognize ourselves in each other. Support and understanding, even intimacy flows from this.

Being women only has enabled the development of much more intimacy than I imagine would be otherwise possible.

I enjoy the intimacy of the group, and the way in which we blend conversations about writing, work and our personal lives.

The writing retreat made manifest the performance of intimacy. Five women with family, work, social and study commitments chose to put aside all these demands and spend time together. In an unfamiliar context that exceeded the usual boundaries of work, we exposed aspects of ourselves we would not otherwise have shared–in our pyjamas; preparing, eating and cleaning up meals; and spending downtime together discussing our lives. Our writing similarly overflowed from the usual conventions of writing group meetings; at the retreat we critiqued each other’s writing but also had an opportunity to observe and talk about how others approach the practice of writing.

I am looking forward to women’s writing retreat with a different group in May, where I will be working on a paper that brings together Luce Irigaray’s writing on breath, autoethnography on motherhood and academic work, and a discussion of feminist writing on slow academia.

6 thoughts on “Intimacy

  1. Thank you for this Agnes! This has made me consider doing an organised writing retreat sometime. I do regular solo writing getaways to a family-in-law place on a remote island – hard to get to, not a soul around – and it works wonders. As a freelance academic I also do regular work/writing sessions with others and, accidentally, as with your experience, they always happen to be women – and something great does happen with the dynamic there! I’ve reposted your piece on Facebook @theroguelinguist and Twitter @rogue_linguist 🙂


    • Thanks Alison – I am now following your great blog! I can’t recommend writing retreats highly enough. The greatest challenges are logistical – finding time, funds, childcare – but once there, I find immersive writing wonderful. When my children were very young, I found daytime retreats during normal work hours were great.


      • Interesting! Just curious: what did you do for your daytime retreats when the kids were small? Work at home/someplace else, but then just focusing on the one writing task all day? (I’m due to have a little boy next month …)


      • Congratulations, Alison! For both of my kids I was breastfeeding during the day for the first year, so I wanted to stay close. My babies were either in childcare on campus, with me or with my parents. I had writing days with colleagues at my house and at two at different conference-type venues close to campus over one or two days. I stuck to one writing task only. As they got older, slept better and breastfeeding came to an end, it was easier to concentrate on more than one thing and venture a bit further afield. Good luck with it! I found having little babies the most intimate time of my life and I enjoyed the enforced (partly hormonal) slowness.

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