Eighteenth-Century Studies at Stirling Writing Retreat

From 23-27 May 2022, several members of the Books and Borrowing team (Katie, Gerry, Maxine, Cleo, Josh, and Danni) participated in the Eighteenth-Century Studies at Stirling Writing Retreat at the beautiful Alexander House in rural Perthshire. Fifteen scholars came together to write and to support each other in that endeavour.

Alexander House in the Perthshire landscape
Alexander House

The idea of the retreat is to bring together scholars working on long eighteenth-century topics in a collegial atmosphere, and to write as much as possible in three intensive writing days. To inspire us all, there were sessions on Setting Goals, Generative Writing, the Pomodoro Technique, Getting and Staying Motivated, and Editing Generative Drafts scattered throughout the programme, and we all benefited from sharing our ideas and tips for successful writing. Some tips for motivating ourselves included

  • ‘Write with hope and joy’
  • ‘Remember how much you like writing once you get started’
  • ‘Take frequent breaks’
  • ‘Don’t be a perfectionist’, and
  • ‘Talk to someone else about it. It will help you remember how excited you really are about your work’.

Good tips for editing included reading your draft aloud, giving it to someone else to comment on, and printing the draft out – it’s too easy to forget the value of a hard copy in this age of the digital!

Views of Perthshire landscape
Inspirational Views from Alexander House

The beautiful views were inspirational, but so, after two years of forced separation, was the pleasure of being in congenial company once again. The sociable aspect of the writing retreat is extremely important – the conversations over breakfast, coffee, lunch and dinner, or even in the swimming pool, are often where a person may thrash out a difficult argument, learn about a useful secondary source, gain confidence in a particular statement or line of argumentation, confirm facts, or just enjoy chatting about their work to others who know much less about it and thus regain enthusiasm for the topic.

Hogarth scene of a party with punchbowl, pipes, and overindulgence.
Sociable Times

We were all working on different things – Cleo and Josh wanted to make significant progress on chapters of their PhD theses (their topics are described here and here respectively. Maxine was working on one of her ‘Books and Borrowing’ articles, on the Royal High School of Edinburgh. Gerry and I needed to write our linked papers for the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) conference at which there will be a strong ‘Books and Borrowing’ presence, and which is taking place in August. Gerry wanted also to make some progress on another paper, this time for the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society (ECSSS) conference at Liverpool And Danni’s goal was to get a chapter of her MRes thesis, on psychological realism in Jane Austen’s works, written. I also wanted to make some progress on the keynote lecture I’m giving to the lovely Library and Information History Group at their conference in Bath, in July.

I’m happy to report that we all made significant progress, chalking up a whopping 27,141 words between the five of us.

We are very much hoping to return to Alexander House next year, and are very grateful to its owner, Jo Lewis, for kindly donating the space to us. Thank you Jo! Thanks also to the marvellous housekeeping and grounds team, ably led by Fiona and Jimmy.