Wednesday, 2 July 2014

#madwriting in the real world – write-ins and writing workshops.

By Rebecca Williams (@volcanologist)

One of my favourite Twitter things is the #madwriting hashtag. Got 45 minutes you want to dedicate to some paper writing? Tweet it, set goals, get some allies and then dedicate 45 minutes to uninterrupted writing. Get that abstract written, that paper started or even do some #madediting and get a manuscript ready for submission. Our ever increasing workloads mean that writing up our research for publication gets shunted for delivering lectures, designing lab practicals, endless admin tasks, long, drawn out meetings and often, even more meetings. Yet, publishing papers remains one of the most important outputs of our work – grant money aside, it’s what academics are most judged on. #madwriting helps find some time to get some writing done.
Recently, I’ve been involved in some real-life #madwriting sessions. I’ve been to THE GEES Network Writing Workshop and a GEESology Writing Group Write-In. Ultimately about academic writing, both had different aims and both were successful. 

THE GEES Network is a network that I got involved in when I was working as a Teaching Fellow. It is a support network for teaching-focussed academics (either those on teaching-only contracts, or those who identify as teaching-focussed). The recent workshop was part of a two-day professional development event where I was talking about taking the step from teaching fellow to getting a teaching & research lectureship. The writing workshop aimed to get together some people who were writing papers on pedagogy in GEES, or themes around teaching in Higher Education. Before the workshop participants expressed an interest in a theme and then joined up with other participants who wanted to write on the same theme and put a draft paper together. Some were already working together, others forged new collaborations. It was particularly aimed at helping those who were publishing in this field for the first time. We read each other’s drafts (in vastly different states of completion, but that didn’t matter), discussed possible destinations, research methods and how to present our data. This was particularly useful for those of us used to discipline-specific publishing.
The GEESology Writing Group Write-In is completely different. This is more like a real-life #madwriting session. We’ve done two write-ins now – one was a full day write-in and one was a half day. What we do is book a room OUTSIDE of our department. We don’t go far, just to the Student Union building who have some nice rooms with decent views across campus. We gather together and set our goals for the day. Some people need to start papers, others need to get them ready for submission, others need to write grant proposals. Goals are normally a word count, or a page count, or a section. We then get going on a set period of time of uninterrupted, no talking, no email checking, non-distracted writing. Normally we do 45 minutes, or an hour. Then, we take a short break (15 mins), review how it’s going, maybe grab a coffee or eat some of the goodies that some good soul has normally baked for us (thanks Jane!). Its important here to celebrate achievements,  no matter how small.
Then repeat. Then repeat again, and continue repeating for however long we have. At the end of the day, goals are reviewed and stickers given out to the successful. Reflecting on what we’ve achieved is motivating and helps the momentum spill out into the rest of our day or week. We find that getting a good, quiet, airy room away from our department with access to coffee works best. Going somewhere specifically TO WRITE certainly helps concentrate the mind. Sticking to the blocks of time and making sure everyone has a break after each block prevents writing burn out and helps make writing enjoyable. It also helps to celebrate those small goals – each paragraph contributes to an eventual paper!
I have found both of these workshops really useful. One actively used the group to help discuss our manuscripts and improve our papers. The other used the group for support and motivation. Both achieved their aims equally well and I’d recommend either approach though I think that the writing workshop is most suitable for research groups. The GEESology write-ins have proved so popular that we’re planning on running half-days weekly through the summer....we’d better get baking!

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