Have you heard about this amazing concept that is Thèsez-vous? It is a retreat for grad students in a beautiful and quiet spot where all you have to worry about for three days is writing. For non-French speaking readers, “Thèsez-vous” is a word play between thèse (a thesis) and taisez-vous which means “Be quiet”.
The idea came from graduate students who thought about what could help them and other students in the same situation finish their thesis. It all started in June, 2015 and it has been growing ever since. I heard about it from my colleague who is not only working full time but also struggling to finish her memoir. She thought Thèsez-vous would be a nice push to the finish line.
Last spring, although I was not in my writing phase yet, I decided to try it. Signing up at the last minute, I was lucky enough to buy someone’s else spot and to find a ride from Montreal. For every retreat, there is a Facebook event where you can arrange car-pool and meet your fellow grad students.
After a nice drive with a biologist, a philosopher and a video game expert, we discovered the magical place that is Le Couvent Val-Morin. Once installed in our shared rooms, we all met for an ice breaking activity. Everyone had to give three key words about his research and a hobby – not related to grad school. It helped me a lot to know briefly who I was going to be writing with.
The retreat counts 27 hours of actual writing. Although it may seem like a lot in three days, it is well balanced with group activities and breaks. My biggest surprise was to realize that I could be efficient early in the morning if I had a good night of sleep, yoga and a real breakfast. I’ve always thought that I could only write in the evening or late at night. What a discovery!
There are several workshops with professional to help you with time management, procrastination, planning your life for the next five years. Each strategy can even be tested during the retreat itself and then it’s up to you to adopt it or not for the rest of your writing process.
What I enjoyed the most was the absolute quiet and focus. Writing in such conditions, surrounded by people who have the same exact goals as you do is a blessing. I usually go to the public library where you sit next to someone who is just reading a book for fun or someone who will get lost on Facebook or catch Pokémon all afternoon. At Thèsez-vous, everyone came (and paid) to be efficient and write.
Sure, it’s a small investment, between 200 and 250$ for a retreat. But it looks to me like a smart investment compare to partying all weekend and spending that much money in booze and food. Here you get excellent healthy food, no need to worry about groceries, cooking or even washing the dishes. How cool is that?
No matter how social you are, it’s easy to make new friends through group activities. Depending on your mood, you can pick between outside group games after lunch or playing cards next to the fire in the evening. I did both and thanked my car-pool friend for bringing a bottle of red wine that we all enjoyed sharing on the first night.
The second thing I liked the most was how efficient I was when I took real breaks. Let me explain: often, when I decide to write I can’t seem to turn my brain off. If I’m on my own, I spend the entire day thinking about my subject or the last book I read. When I’m with friends from school, it’s easy to talk about your research with them.
This doesn’t happen at Thèsez-vous! When you do end up talking about your subject, you do it with people from different fields for which you have to make it accessible. I found it to be a great exercise!
As wonderful as it can seem, nothing magical will happen if you don’t prepare for it. My advice to you is that if you decide to try it, you have to take it seriously. Read everything you need to read in advance, take notes, print it, save it on your computer and go to Thèsez-vous only to write.
For more info and a calendar of the retreats this autumn, check their website www.thesez-vous.com and don’t think too much before signing up since there are only 40 spots per retreat.