Writer Development Course


Communication skills

Target group

PhD students from any faculty of the Doctoral Schools. Up to 15 participants can be accepted.


All PhD students


There are copious 'writing' courses that focus solely on grammar and the proper structuring of written text. There is no argument against the necessity of these courses. What is often forgotten, however, is that even if a writer has a good (or native) command of a language, and even if s/he is able to produce outstanding written text, it does not necessarily follow that s/he is adept at actually getting that text produced, or doing so without great agony. Some excellent writers produce hardly anything at all, and even productive writers get stuck from time to time. Seasoned writers might know how to get themselves un-stuck, but many novice writers assume that having little written output simply means they are bad writers. This belief undermines confidence, which leads to lowered productivity, creating a vicious circle. Established writing courses often ignore the fact that how-to-get-writing-done is just as important to teach as how-to-write. The Writer Development Course explicitly teaches strategies for becoming a more productive writer, as well as non-grammar-based strategies that help ensure the text produced is of a high quality. Producing more good text builds confidence and increases motivation, which leads to more text production, creating a virtuous circle.

In the Writer Development course, the skills and strategies that facilitate the virtuous circle are taught in the setting of a writers' retreat. Retreats offer 'protected space' where writers can ignore the distractions of everyday life, and concentrate fully on their projects at hand. It also provides an opportunity for participants to immediately and directly apply the learnt strategies and skills to their own writing projects. Protected space coupled with the newly-acquired repertoire of skills allows writers to double, or even triple, their written output when compared to an equal amount of non-retreat writing time. In addition to greatly increased output, the retreat setting allows writers’ to establish communities of practice. Within these communities, writers talk about writing, exchange ideas and strategies, triumphs and disasters. This talk decreases the feelings of isolation and increases confidence and motivation. Although some writers might subscribe to, and thrive in, the romantic notion of the solitary writer, many PhD writers prosper when writing is practiced as a social activity, and is done within a support network that extends beyond promoters.

While it is not possible to retreat from the world and be part of the intense community of practice all the time, the retreats lay the groundwork for sustainable writers' groups, which serve as regular mini-retreats. It is well established that writers who have the support of a regularly-meeting group write more, become more self-sufficient, and produce higher quality text. While writers’ group meetings can re-create the community and productivity of the longer retreat, most PhD students would have no idea how to start or maintain such a group. As such, the potential benefits of writers' groups often go unharnessed. The Writer Development course not only gives participants knowledge about how to run writers’ groups, but the retreats can also provide the initial momentum necessary for a writers' group to flourish.

Thus, the Writer Development course combines three important elements: explicit teaching of strategies for becoming a productive, self-directed writer; protected space for concentrating and putting the productivity strategies to immediate use; and a ready-made community of practice that can help sustain the productivity of the retreats after the course is finished. Because writers’ retreats and writers’ groups are a fairly new concept locally, it might be important for promoters to know why it is a good idea to let their students go away for six days, and disappear for a few hours every second week. An information session explaining the course is thus offered as an option for supervisors.


Dr Sarah Haas

For the past eight years, Dr Haas has been setting up/running writers' groups and writers' retreats for postgraduate writers and academic staff.

Her PhD research lies in the area of postgraduate writer support, focusing on ways to help writers develop confidence, efficiency and the ability to be self-directed. These qualities enable postgraduate writers to rely less on their supervisors and more on themselves and on a sustainable community of peer writers. She has published in the area of writers' groups and writers' retreats, specifically for master's and PhD-level writers.

Course components - Time schedule - Venue

Participants will be required to participate fully and actively in intensive writing retreats spaced approximately two months apart. In between the retreats students will be required to independently organise and sustain writers' groups. An information session will be offered for supervisors.

New course AY 2017-2018 to be announced


    The retreats time is organised to alternate between workshops and intensive self-directed working hours. The workshops combine input sessions from the lecturer with active discussions and tasks for the participants. The working hours will enable participants to directly and immediately apply the strategies and tools learned in the input sessions to their own writing/research projects.

    In addition to meeting face-to-face, to facilitate community of practice, there will be Facebook and Skype groups set up for participant communication between retreats.

    Course content

    The input sessions, discussions and tasks cover the following topics:

    • Taking control over distractions that keep one from writing
    • Setting realistic writing goals and sticking to them
    • Keeping focused and working for specific lengths of time
    • Increasing productivity by making use of 'dead space' in a day
    • Dealing with writers’ block
    • Writer-centred text vs reader-centred text
    • Giving/receiving feedback on scientific output (abstracts)
    • Understanding individual writing processes
    • Using understanding to take control over and optimise individual writing processes
    • Keeping a writers' log and using it to understand and optimise the writing process
    • Setting up and maintaining successful writers' groups

    Registration fee

    Free of charge for members of the Doctoral Schools. However, a no show fee of 150 EUR will be charged for cancellations without valid reason after 1 March 2017.

    Registration procedure

    Please follow this link for registration: Your registration will be confirmed by separate e-mail from the Doctoral Schools. If the course is fully booked you can ask to be added to the waiting list by sending an e-mail to

    Study Material

    Readings and writers' log templates will be made available on a Dropbox folder and Minerva.

    For further literature on writers’ retreats and writers’ groups please see authors:
    Rowena Murray: 1992, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011. 2012
    Claire Aitchison: 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011

    For a more extensive list of relevant publications, please contact:


    Although people writing in languages other than English are most welcome, and can use the information from the course to their benefit, the course language is English, and thus a high level is required for full advantage.

    Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

    • Full presence and active participation in both writing parts
    • Participation in regularly-scheduled writers' groups held between the two parts
    • Evidence that a writer's log, and a writers' group log has systematically been kept, and used for analysing/addressing writing strengths and weaknesses