Tag Archives: Writer’s Retreat 2021

Day 8: Plans for a Productive Summer

As the retreat comes to a close, I want to express what a productive and inspiring experience these past two weeks have been. Hearing everyone share their work during “author’s chair” (both today and yesterday) was the perfect way to end this course, and I’m amazed by everyone’s phenomenal talent and unique perspectives. I look forward to getting to work with some of this group again in the fall, but for everyone who is moving onto new adventures, I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to seeing what you all accomplish as writers! 

As we move into the summer, I’m starting to think about how I want to move forward as a writer. I definitely want to continue writing this memoir by adding more vignettes and expanding on the ones I already have. I also hope to develop a loose summer writing schedule so that I can hold myself accountable for getting some words onto the page; I have the summer off from work, so I should have plenty of time to write. Of course, I also want the chance to relax after a year of teaching full time while attending grad school, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I don’t end up writing as much as I’d planned. 

My (very loose) plan is to set aside at least two days a week specifically dedicated to continuing this memoir. However, I also have some poetry in my drafts folder that I’d like to dust off and perfect, so I want to set aside some time for writing, editing, and seeking publication of my poems. In addition, I’ve really enjoyed the practice of freewriting to answer “write into the day” prompts, so I’m going to take at least one day out of the week to do some freewriting in order to reflect on my creative writing, to ponder possible thesis topics, and to work through my ideas and emotions. Finally, I want to keep up the practice of taking daily writer’s walks to get those creative juices flowing, so every morning before lunchtime I plan to take a walk around the neighborhood or find some nice nature trails to explore. 

So, my summer schedule should look something like this:

  • Mondays: Memoir writing and editing 
  • Tuesdays: Poetry writing, editing, and (hopefully) publishing
  • Wednesdays: Memoir 
  • Thursdays: Poetry 
  • Fridays: Freewriting

I expect I won’t be able to stick to this schedule every single week; this summer, I have plans to move into a new house, to celebrate my first wedding anniversary, and to drink orange crushes on the beach, so I’ll probably miss a few days of writing here and there. I also expect that I might get randomly inspired to write something totally different—such as a fictional short story—so if that happens, I’m just going to go with the flow and write whenever inspiration strikes. But my hope is that having outlined the above schedule will help me be productive even when inspiration isn’t striking. 

I want to end by again saying how amazing it has been to work with such a talented group of writers during this retreat. I hope everyone has a great summer, and I wish you all the best of luck in your future writing endeavors!

Day 7: Decisions and Self-Discipline

As we wrap up our Writer’s Retreat, I’m also trying to wrap my head around the thesis I’ll be starting in the fall. As I discussed in this afternoon’s author’s chair, I’m still struggling to determine whether I want to continue writing this memoir about my first year of teaching, or if I want to conduct a phenomenological study by interviewing other teachers about their experiences with hybrid and remote learning. I’m a little wary of using the memoir as my thesis because I’m not sure I’m capable of completing such a significant piece of creative writing. I’ve written some poetry and even had some short stories published, but the longest pieces of writing I’ve ever composed have been academic. I’m not sure I’ll be able to produce enough creative content to fill out my eventual thesis. 

I’m also worried about my ability to continue with this project in a structured way. For these past two weeks, I’ve been focusing on specific moments that speak to me and that I actually wanted to explore through writing, but if I decide to pursue this memoir as my thesis, I’ll obviously need to expand on what I’ve written so far. I’m not sure how ready I am to dig into some of my less pleasant feelings and experiences that relate to my first year as a teacher or whether I’ll be able to keep the inspiration I have now. I don’t usually have a huge problem with composing academic essays for a deadline, but I like to take my time with creative pieces, and I often ignore them until the right mood strikes. 

I’m therefore sincerely hoping that the right mood strikes this summer. I really want to continue with the routines I’ve built during this retreat—the writer’s walks, the freewriting, and the daily composing and editing time—because they’ve allowed me to produce a lot more content than I normally would have in just two weeks. The structure of this retreat has pushed me to write, but once those training wheels fall away, I kind of expect to topple over because I’m not all that self-disciplined. Hopefully, though, by the time fall rolls around, I’ll at least have a few more vignettes written, and I’ll maybe have a better idea of where I want to go with my thesis.

Day 6: Short Term Goals and Future Plans

I’ve only got two more days left in this retreat to realize my goals, so this morning’s “Write into the Day” prompts were a good way to organize my thoughts on how to make progress both in the short and long term. I’ve identified three major goals I’d like to accomplish by Thursday. First, I’d like to finish up a vignette about the first few days of teaching from home in March of 2020. My original plan was to complete it by the end of today, but I wasn’t as productive as I would’ve liked to be, and I also kept thinking of new ideas and elements to add and expand on in my writing. I’ve already started adding some artifacts to this vignette, such as students’ comments on Google Classroom, and I’m still brainstorming ways to incorporate more of them into the rest of my stories. 

My second goal is to go back through my other vignettes and make some minor edits and revisions. I made some good progress toward that today and even added a bit of depth to one of my short stories. Hopefully tomorrow’s author’s chair will give me more ideas for how to enhance what I’ve already written. Finally, by the end of this retreat, I’d like to write (or at least start writing) a fourth vignette about teaching pre-pandemic. Like I said, I didn’t get quite as much writing done as I would’ve liked to, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish an entirely new piece, but I’d at least like to get a basic outline or rough draft completed so that I can continue working on it on my own time during the summer. 

Once this retreat is over, I definitely don’t want to abandon this project. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll continue this memoir as my thesis; in Dr. Nelson’s class, I started making vague plans for conducting a phenomenological study to see how hybrid learning affected teachers, so I’m debating whether I should go the more “creative” route and finish this memoir or if I should stick with the more traditionally “academic” project of conducting a structured, rigorous study. I’d love to continue to flesh out my memoir and give it a plot and some direction, but I’m worried I won’t be able to consistently write creatively for two semesters to finish such a huge undertaking. 

Even if I decide on conducting a research study instead of continuing this memoir for my thesis, the project I’m working on now will still be valuable practice for writing the narrative portions of the phenomenology, and it’s also a good way for me to dump out my own feelings on teaching and get them out of the way so that my own bias doesn’t interfere with my research. Ultimately, whether I connect this project to my thesis or not, by the end of this retreat I’d like to have the beginnings of a memoir that I can return to during future summer breaks and perhaps someday publish.

Day 5: Finding Inspiration and Adding Artifacts

My daily writer’s walk this morning and checking in with our groups this afternoon gave me some great ideas for how to move forward with my project. The walk was shorter than I planned, since I couldn’t spend long outside during this muggy heatwave, but I still found some solace and inspiration in walking a familiar path through the woods near my apartment. 

It’s one I’ve walked many times, and today as I strolled across the trail dappled with sunlight and listened to the catbirds crying in the trees, I recalled the inspiration I drew from this path during March and April of last year. The pandemic was in its early stages, and I was still getting used to working from home and wearing a mask and ordering takeout instead of sitting in a restaurant. I went for walks on this trail with my then-fiancé (now husband) and wrote poetry that not only described the beauty of the nature around me, but also helped me work through my complicated feelings on the world getting shut down.

One particular poem, titled “Outlook during Quarantine,” included excerpts from the emails in my inbox. I reflected on the questions my students were asking me and the situations they were describing that made it difficult for them to complete their work from home. I’m bringing this up now because this afternoon in our groups, Dr. Zamora suggested I consider adding artifacts—such as lesson plans or emails—to my writing project to create a finished product similar to a scrapbook or a diary. I really liked this suggestion (especially since it’s something I’ve done in my creative writing before), so as I move forward with my project, I’m considering how to play with the genre of my piece and how to visually construct a coherent narrative that includes genuine artifacts from my first year of teaching. 

I’ve also developed some goals for the end of the retreat. This morning, I was able to finish up a second vignette that describes the week leading up to school closures in March; this afternoon, I got started on a third short story that explores teaching remotely for those supposed “two weeks” from home that stretched on indefinitely through 2021.

I’m going to follow Kate’s suggestion and go back to my first vignette, which details my first day of teaching, and draw out important elements that deserve to be expanded on. That way, there won’t be such a large gap between teaching pre-pandemic and mid-pandemic. As it stands now, I haven’t given the reader much context about what teaching looked like in “normal” times, so by the end of the retreat, I’m hoping to have a least one more pre-pandemic vignette that expands on the in-person elements of teaching.

Day 4: Reflections on Revision

Week one of the retreat ended with an inspiring and helpful “author’s chair” session that not only helped give my writing direction, but also allowed me to see the talents and rich stories my peers had to share. I’m glad I took the time to share what I’ve written so far, as I got a lot of valuable feedback and some reassurance that my piece is headed in the right direction. I’m going to do my best to incorporate everyone’s advice into my piece, focusing on continuing to develop my self-deprecating tone and my naïve, first-year teacher voice. 

This morning’s reflections in the spiral journal were productive for me, as well, as I articulated some of what I’ve been learning about my writing and expressed some of my hopes for my finished product. I’m realizing that, like Diana, I’m a writer who likes to get things right the first time; I can spend hours agonizing over choosing the perfect words and rearranging them into sentences with coherent, naturally flowing syntax. 

The freewriting exercises and the daily blog posts have been forcing me to practice quickly dumping my writing onto the page without spending too much time overthinking it; as a result, I’m producing substantially more text than I normally would, even though it may not quite reach my impossibly high standards. I’m doing my best to use this retreat as an opportunity to get into a flow of writing instead of stressing about deadlines and perfection; I’ll have plenty of time later to revisit my project and revise, but for now, I’m trying to just be happy with putting words on the page. 

I’ve been making decent progress toward that goal; this morning, I started another vignette that will serve as a snapshot of a moment in my first year of teaching. I’m taking an almost autoethnographical approach, marrying my bursts of creativity with meticulous review of old emails, calendars, and personal documents to get a sense of the timeline of my first year. All that review is giving me more inspiration as I remember key events and small moments that will be worth exploring in my writing. 

This first week has given me the tools I need to get started, and I’m hoping the momentum I’ve built in the past four days will carry on through the weekend and into our last week of the retreat. Hopefully, by Monday, I’ll have made even more progress on my project, and I’ll be ready to share my latest short stories at our next author’s chair.

Day 3: Processing by Walking and Writing

Day three of the Writer’s Retreat was one of discovery and reflection. This morning’s freewriting prompts, class discussion, and writer’s walk revealed some important truths about my writing process. As I wrote about “some of the most interesting discoveries I have made while working on this project thus far” and thought about our discussion of the therapeutic benefits of writing, I began to recognize my own writing process as a way for me to, well, process the events I’ve been through so far in my teaching career. While I was working through the daily grind of my first year of teaching, I had no desire to write about what I was experiencing, but now that I can look back with some distance on those events, I realize they’re worth exploring and sharing.

I’m also starting to realize that there’s a lot I haven’t been able to discover yet, both in my personal writing journey and in the logistical and technical aspects of this project. For example, if I’m going to craft a memoir, I’ll need to figure out how to handle the ethical concerns of writing about events that involve minors and that occurred at a school where I’m still currently employed. For this retreat, though, I think I’ll just stay focused on getting something down on paper; I’ll worry about the complications of publication later. I’m not in any rush to share my stories with the world just yet, so I’ll use whatever I write as more of a personal tool to allow me to explore my own emotions about the past two years and to discover new goals for my career.

This morning’s walk was another way I started to explore my emotions. As I walked, I thought a lot about the prompt: “What do our chosen paths say about our perspective?” My chosen path was originally going to be a shaded, secluded trail in the woods near my apartment, but it was a little chilly this morning, so I decided to stroll through my much sunnier apartment complex instead. Both paths are familiar territory that I’ve walked countless times; apparently, I prefer comfort and routine over trailblazing and adventure.

I also realized I enjoy being alone with my thoughts; I’d been looking forward to the walk through the woods because it would’ve meant avoiding that awkward smile and wave I give when I come across someone else on the sidewalk. The desires to be isolated and to stay within my comfort zone are ones that might limit my perspective as a writer, so over the course of the retreat I’m going to try to work on being more open and adventurous.

Of course, my main goal for this retreat is to actually write something, and I started making headway on my project this afternoon. So far, I’ve written a draft of a short vignette detailing parts of my first day of teaching pre-pandemic. In the coming days, I hope to write a few more of these short stories and to improve the prose and tone of the one I wrote today. 

Day 2: Using Memoirs as My Muse

Today’s #writreat Tweet prompt, which asked us to post a quote about writing, was actually a huge help in getting me inspired to start my project for this retreat. I chose to share this quote from Frank McCourt’s memoir ‘Tis because it speaks to how powerful each individual’s life stories are, even if they don’t always realize they have something worthwhile to share. 

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder whether my voice matters in academic conversations about the education system because I’m relatively inexperienced (both in my profession and in life in general), so the above passage was a good reminder that every person—even (or perhaps especially) those who aren’t traditional, established academics—has a wealth of unique, diverse experiences that is worth exploring through writing.

Finding this quote was also a useful exercise because it forced me to review two of my favorite memoirs: ‘Tis and Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (and, if you’re taking my memoir recommendations, you should check out Angela’s Ashes, too). As soon as I read today’s prompt, I knew the exact passage I wanted to share, so I flipped through both books, searching for this specific scene. As I skimmed the pages, I remembered why I fell in love with McCourt’s honest, poignant, and hilarious writing style, and I started to get a sense of what I want my own texts to look like.

My plan during the retreat is to write about my own teaching experiences during some very turbulent times, and, although I know that whatever I produce will never be able to match McCourt’s distinctive voice, I’ll definitely take inspiration from his brutally honest recollections of the frustration, uncertainty, and vulnerability that comes with teaching high schoolers. 

The discussion our group had in breakout rooms this afternoon also helped me start to solidify a plan for the rest of the retreat. I’m going to take Dr. Zamora’s advice and select a few specific moments from my (very long) list of challenging, surprising, funny, and uncomfortable teaching moments to expand on in short vignettes. Hopefully, writing a few distinct short stories will help me gain a better understanding of my feelings toward and my place in the education system. 

Day 1: Reflections and Vague Plans for Moving Forward

Day one is done, and I’m starting to get more of an idea of how I want to move forward with my writing projects for the remainder of the retreat. The day’s activities have been productive; hearing everybody’s diverse experiences and goals for the retreat has me reflecting more on what unique perspectives I can bring to the table, and taking a quick morning walk gave me time to get into a more creative headspace.

I’ve spent the afternoon attempting to make some concrete plans and goals for the retreat, but I have to be honest: I’ve never been much of a planner, especially when it comes to writing. I’m the type of person who likes to go with the flow, writing in random flurries of productivity when inspiration strikes, so I’m having a tough time mapping out a realistic timeline for myself. 

However, I’m starting to get a general idea of what I want to explore during this retreat. On Friday, I finished up my second year as a full time high school Spanish teacher. As you can imagine, both my first and second years of teaching were filled with unexpected professional challenges as I attempted not only to learn the ropes of teaching in a new school (and a new state; I’m originally from PA), but also to navigate the confusing world of hybrid and remote learning during the pandemic. For this retreat, then, I think it will be worthwhile for me to reflect on my experiences with teaching in such unprecedented times and dig deeper into how this experience has affected my views of myself, the education system, and our society as a whole. 

In our Research and Methods course last semester, I started toying with the idea of studying hybrid learning during the pandemic by interviewing educators to hear about their experiences. If I do choose to continue down that path, I think that writing about my own experiences during this retreat could be a great way for me to get my thoughts about hybrid and remote learning in order before I start conducting any formal research. Reflecting on how I dealt with the pandemic in my classroom could help me hone in on which aspects of remote or hybrid learning I’d like to explore, which would in turn allow me to form distinct and specific questions that I could ask when interviewing participants for my thesis.

Even if I don’t end up using the writing produced in this retreat for my thesis, I still think it would be valuable for me to organize my thoughts on teaching these past two years so that I can better understand the field of education and decide how I want to move forward with my career.