Seven things to think about when organising a writing retreat/group/boot camp

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By Alice Hague

Alice Hague recently submitted her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is interested in faith-based engagement in politics and the public sphere, and her thesis investigates faith communities and environmental activism. Earlier, Alice described how she set up a variety of social writing supports. In this post, she provides some great advice about light and space, time and co-hosting – perfect tips for anyone wishing to DIY their own writing event. 

Alice Hague

When I started my PhD, I had never heard of writing retreats or writing groups. I certainly never expected to find myself co-leading residential and non-residential writing retreats and a monthly writing group at my university. Yet, as I started to come across resources like @DocwritingSIG, I increasingly felt that my thesis-writing would benefit from some form of structured, communal writing experience. I was struggling to find opportunities however, and eventually came together with a friend and colleague, to try and create something.

The writing group that followed became an important part of my PhD experience. It contributed not only to words on the page, but also to a sense of community, something that was critical in helping me to turn pages of field notes and interview transcripts into a completed thesis. So, if you feel that a writing group might help you make progress, I encourage you to try it out. Even if it is just commitment to a morning writing session with a friend, give it a go – you never know where it might lead. Here are a few things to think about, as you try and find what works for you. Continue reading

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What’s the best way to get writing done?

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By Alice Hague

Alice Hague recently submitted her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is interested in faith-based engagement in politics and the public sphere, and her thesis investigates faith communities and environmental activism. This is the first of two posts from Alice, and here she describes her own challenges with writing, and her moves to do something about them.

I had heard all the advice: write 500 words a day (but what about?); find a writing group (how?); go on a writing retreat (where? And yikes, they’re expensive!). I started following twitter accounts that seem to know what they were talking about (thanks @thesiswhisperer, @DocwritingSIG and @researchwhisperer). Heck, I even read books about writing (Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing; Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers, and Kamler and Thomson’s Helping Doctoral Students Write among others), as if I didn’t have enough reading to be doing for my PhD itself. But I was still waiting for the magic to happen. I felt I needed to find the right space. Or needed the right desk set-up. And I needed to find the time to write: there was always something else going on – another paper to read; coursework to be done; teaching to be prepared; a twitter feed to scroll through…

Photo: Alice Hague

And so I decided to stop looking elsewhere for spark of inspiration, and make something happen. Along with a colleague, Coree Brown Swan (@Coree_Brown), I applied for, and received, a grant from the University of Edinburgh’s “Researcher Initiative Fund” to organise two residential writing boot camps – one in the fall semester; one in the spring of the second year of my PhD. We built our case for funding on evidence that shows the benefits of social writing (Murray and Newton, 2009), and set about booking a retreat centre in the middle of the countryside, organising transportation, and trying to recruit participants from across the school. We charged a small deposit to ensure people were committed to attending and to try and avoid no-shows or late drop-outs, and successfully ran two, three-day boot camps, each with sixteen attendees from across the university. The residential part of the plan was important: we brought unfinished chapters and articles, notes and outlines, and found the time to focus on writing away from the concerns of everyday life. Writing sessions were interspersed with relaxing walks in the forest, and catered meals meant we could focus on our work. Continue reading

“The world is larger and more connected”: experiences of an online Thesis Writing Group

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By Dr Susan Mowbray with Christina Green and Rachel Westcott

In last week’s post about a virtual writing group, participants were self-managing regular opportunities to do writing together – this week’s post describes a regular online writing group where participants do their writing separately and then come together to discuss their writing.

Two participants and the group facilitator tell us how it works. Christina is a professional music therapist and composer, songwriter and performer based in Melbourne and working on her doctorate part-time. Rachel is a practising veterinarian and volunteer coordinator for South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management; she is based in Adelaide and is completing her PhD (by papers). As the Academic Literacy Advisor at Western Sydney University, Susan facilitates the group.

The Online Thesis Writing Group: practices and processes

Online Thesis Writing Group (TWG) members meet in virtual online spaces (via ZOOM) for up to two hours once a fortnight.  Groups are small and meetings are facilitated so that each piece of writing is allocated equal time for group discussion. Continue reading

Survival and solidarity: Virtual shut up and write, parents’ edition

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This guest post is written by Katrina McChesney from the Virtual Shut Up and Write Parents Edition Facebook group. Katrina has just finished her PhD through Curtin Universitys School of Education (Western Australia), researching teachers experiences of professional development within education reform.

There’s no easy way to get a PhD, but many doctoral students have learned the power of community for easing the journey in important ways – motivation, accountability, encouragement, celebration of milestones, support with questions that arise along the way.

Previous posts in this group and elsewhere have described various ways this community can look – bootcamps, AcWriMo, retreats, writing accountability meetups and hands-on ‘Shut up and write’ gatherings, either in person or online via social media or web conferencing.

For a large number of doctoral students, though, the tight time frames involved in many of the above activities are problematic. I am a survivor of that highly-frazzled, multi-tasking, socially-absent, time-poor, no-longer-master-of-our-own-time experience: parenting while PhD-ing. PhD parenting was described this way in a recent blog post:

“Whether it is a ‘solid’ work day squeezed into school hours, an important paragraph stopped in its tracks by the needs of a small person, or carefully laid fieldwork or lab plans scuppered by an unexpected dash to the doctor with a sick child, interruptions to schedules are the norm, not the exception. The flexibility of PhD time can be both a blessing as well a curse. Most parents would do anything to avoid having to drag a small child along to a medical appointment or grocery shopping. For a PhD parent fitting these things into your day becomes a breeze. A breeze that is, until you realize that school pick-up is only 45 minutes away and you haven’t written a sentence since 10am.”

In this context, it can be almost impossible to carve out a whole weekend for a bootcamp, or turn up on Twitter at just the right time for #SUAWTues. Instead, we PhD parents need a ‘tribe’ with a whole lot more flexibility and understanding – a place where we can access support, encouragement and accountability whenever we happen to have a few minutes available (without necessarily knowing in advance when this will be!).

Continue reading

Creating and sustaining #MelbWriteUp

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As AcWriMo rolls into its second week, we expect this contribution from two incredibly productive bloggers -Tseen and Jason – will inspire you to arrange your own no-fuss, low cost writing retreat asap!

Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development at La Trobe University. She is one half of the Research Whisperer team.

Jason Murphy works as a communications professional at RMIT University and is a part-time PhD candidate at La Trobe University. He is the founder of #MelbWriteUp.

 

The first #MelbWriteUp started as an experiment, to see if momentum from a 3-day writing retreat at La Trobe University (where Jason is a PhD candidate) could be sustained.

In his own words, here is what #MelbWriteUp is, and what it’s for:

“An initiative of Jason Murphy, but founded on the power of writing socially, #MelbWriteUp is a monthly, intensive, weekend-based writing day that uses the pomodoro method. Researchers at all levels of experience and from many institutions are using #MelbWriteUp to work on book chapters, journal articles, conference presentations and doctoral theses.

Photo:Jason Murphy

While writing is the main focus of our activity, researchers are also using the event to perform any research related activity, such as coding, transcription and data analysis. The day gives you the opportunity to dedicate intense, distraction free focus to your research – and to meet other researchers during the breaks.”

Jason has written about the project twice in the Research Whisperer, from its early days 5 months after beginning (May 2016) and 18 months later (August 2017). Continue reading

Shut up and Write! Weekly writing with coffee and colleagues

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Welcome to our series on writing events. This initiative followed a call for contributions from readers on their practices and experiences as facilitators and participants in writing groups. The result is a fabulous series of posts starting from today. Over coming weeks we feature guest posts from many people and places covering all manner of social writing events including virtual and physical get-togethers, boot camps, writing retreats, writing groups, and café events.

We hope you enjoy the stories we’ve collected so that the love of writing in the company of others will continue to be enriched. For the yet-to-be-converted, maybe you will be inspired to try some of the approaches, tips and suggestions? We begin with a delightful exchange about a cafe writing group from Pam Mort.

Pam has worked in the Learning Centre at UNSW (the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) for over 20 years.  She works in collaboration with academic staff to develop students’ academic literacy and communication skills, develops independent learning resources in the disciplines of engineering and science and co-facilitates a variety of doctoral writing events. Here she describes their café writing event ‘Shut up and Write’.

‘Shut up and Write’ has been running for over two years. The weekly one-hour meeting is advertised in The Learning Centre’s website, on a café noticeboard and during on-campus workshops on thesis writing. I regularly attend and run the meeting, collect contact details of new writers, and maintain an email list for sharing links to resources and upcoming events related to thesis writing.UNSWsuaw 2 Continue reading