Quiet writing: Retreat as pedagogy

M. Keane


In a climate of increased pressure on academics to publish, some writing retreats have become crash-courses on writing, or bootcamps for getting words on paper.  I argue for a pedagogy that deliberately aims to restore a sense of well-being in writers and draws on creative writing (Haarhoff 1998), situated within a paradigm of mindful inquiry (Bentz and Shapiro 1998). Based on observations, reflections and evaluations of 18 retreats run over the past six years for staff at a university in Johannesburg, I argue that the structure and process of the retreat is an integral part of the writing pedagogy. A retreat traditionally includes mindfulness, with a balance between effort and reflection. The writing retreat pedagogy I propose is a flow between being productive and restoring a sense of life-balance: quiet writing – meaning coming from a place of inner calm. 


writing retreat; mindful inquiry; wellness; creative writing; academic development

Full Text:



Aldridge, F. & Lavender, P. 2000. The impact of learning on health, Leicester:

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

Antoniou, M. and Moriarty J. 2008. What can academic writers learn from creative writers? Developing guidance and support for lecturers in Higher Education. Teaching in Higher Education 13 (2): 157-167.

Ashwin, P. 2015. Reflective teaching in higher education. London: Bloomsbury.

Badenhorst, C. 2007. Research writing: Breaking the boundaries. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Badenhorst, C.M., Joy, R., Penney, S., Pickett, S., Hesson, J., Young, G., McLeod, H. Vaandering, D. and Li, X. (forthcoming). Becoming an academic: Reflective writing and professional development. In G. Ortoleva, M. Betrancourt, P. Tynjälä & S.T. Billett (eds.). Writing for professional development. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Publishers.

Barnett, R. and Leibowitz, B. 2014. A will to write. South African Journal of Higher Education 28 (1): 10-27.

Bentz, V.M. and Shapiro, J.J. 1998. Mindful inquiry in social research. New York: Sage Publications.

Cameron, J., 2006. The artist's way workbook. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin.

Castle, J. and Keane, M. (forthcoming). It was an oasis in a busy life, a busy city: The Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development writing retreat. Journal of Education.

CLTD (Centre for Learning Teaching and Development). 2012. Internal report: survey of staff wellness. University of X, South Africa.

De Bono, E. 1995. Serious creativity. The Journal for Quality and Participation 18 (5): 12-18.

Dirkx, J. M. 1997. Nurturing soul in adult learning. In P. Cranton (ed.). Transformative learning in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Devlin, M. and Radloff, A. 2014. A structured writing programme for staff: Facilitating

knowledge, skills, confidence and publishing outcomes. Journal of Further and Higher Education 38 (2): 230-248.

Elbow, P. 1998. Writing with power: Techniques for mastering the writing process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fensham, P. 2004. Defining an identity: The evolution of science education as a field of research. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Field, J. 2009. Well-being and happiness. Inquiry into the future of life-long learning. England and Wales: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. 1-52.

Goman, C. K. 1989. Creativity in business, a practical guide for creative thinking. California: Crisp Publications Inc.

Grant, B. 2006. Writing in the company of other women: Exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education 31 (4): 483-495.

Grant, B., and Knowles, K. 2000. Flights of imagination: Academic women be(com)ing writers. The International Journal for Academic Development 5 (1): 6-19.

Gundry L.K. 2007. Managing creativity and innovation in the 21st century. London: Sage.

Haarhoff, D. 1998. The writer’s voice: A workbook for writers in Africa. Johannesburg: Zebra Press.

Hanson, J. 2009. Displaced but not replaced: the impact of e-learning on academic identities in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education 14 (5): 553-564.

Janks, H. 2012. The discipline and craft of academic writing: Building writing capacity in Institutions of Higher Education. Reading & Writing 3 (1), Art #25, 9 pages, accessed 10/10/2015, http://dx.doi. org/10.4102/rw.v3i1.25.

Kabat-Zinn, J. 2009. Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life. UK: Hachette.

Lee, J. J. 2012. Teaching mindfulness at a public research university. Journal of College & Character 13 (2).

Lee, A. and Boud, D. 2003. Writing groups, change and academic identity: research development as local practice. Studies in Higher Education 28 (2): 187-200.

Mittins, M. 2010. Corporate reputational elements reflected in organisational storytelling. Unpublished MBA Research Report. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand.

Moore, S. 2003. Writing retreats for academics: Exploring the increasing the motivation to write. Journal of Further and Higher Education 27 (3): 333-342.

Moore, S., Murphy, M. and Murray, R. 2010. Increasing academic output and supporting equality of career opportunities: Can writers’ retreats play a role? Journal of Faculty Development 24 (3): 21-30.

Murray, R. 2009. Writing for academic journals. (2nd ed.) Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Murray, R. 2012. Developing a community of research practice. British Educational Research Journal 35 (5): 783-800.

Nairn, R. 1999. Diamond Mind: A psychology of meditation. Boston: Shambhala.

Palmer, J. 2002. Identifying the role of creativity in the strategic process. Unpublished MBA dissertation. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand.

Patton, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Prather, C.W. and Gundry, L.K. 1995. Blueprints for innovation: How creative processes can make you and your company more competitive. AMA Management Briefing, American Management Association, New York.

Pryce-Jones, J. 2010. Happiness at work: Maximizing your psychological capital for success. West Sussex, UK: Wiley and Sons.

Quinn, L. 2012. Understanding resistance: An analysis of discourses in academic

staff development. Studies in Higher Education 37 (1): 69-83.

Rock, D. 2007. Quiet leadership. New York: Harper Collins.

Samararatne, G. 2007. The gentle way of Buddhist meditation. Penang: Inward Path Publisher.

Smalley, S.L. and Winston, D. 2010. Fully present: The science, art and practice of mindfulness. Philadelphia, PA: DaCapo Press.

Succito, A. 2011. Meditation: A way of awakening. Great Gaddesden, England: Amaravati Publications.

Wheatley, M.J. 2006. Leadership and the new science, 3rd Edition, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20853/31-2-1339


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.