By Claire Aitchison
The editors of this blog have long been keen advocates for doctoral writers to come together to do, and share, their writing – whether that be in regular small writing groups, or in writing retreats, boot camps or the like. Over the years we’ve had numerous conversations about running and attending such groups and written here and elsewhere on the subject.
Not only have we frequently facilitated such groups, as academics and personally, we continue to be convinced of their benefits for getting writing done, for learning about writing and for developing valuable networks. In fact, Susan Carter and I first met back in 2011 when I was lucky enough to join her on her annual writing retreat. You can read about this wonderful week-long event that continues to be held in New Zealand biennially. In addition, Cally and I have written and presented about writing in groups.
Given our enthusiasm for these kinds of writing practices, it is curious that, to date, we have given them so little space in this blog. We’d like to make amends – and hence this post, which is also a call for blog proposals.
We know that writing groups of all kinds are popular, and that our friends, colleagues and students are actively engaged in facilitating and promoting such events on and off campus, in virtual and physical spaces, both large and small, in a wide variety of countries and institutions. However, despite the great number of events taking place annually, we know of relatively few venues for learning from the accumulating knowledge: too often we are just too busy to stop, reflect and share.
Thus, much of the accumulated expertise is at risk of being lost – by calling for blog posts from our readers we hope to build a shared community of practice to learn from each other. We’d be interested in personal and professional experiences and reflections – for example, from doctoral students, academic developers, language and literacy developers, researchers and supervisors. How do you organise and facilitate social writing events? How do you maintain student interest to participate long term? How do you persuade management to resource such events? Have you found different kinds of events work for different stages of candidature? Who are your target audience? What have you learned to do – and to avoid? Tell us why you think they work so well? Tell us about useful research or how you run writing groups, retreats, bootcamps and the like.
Writing events: commonalities and differences
There’s extraordinary variety in how groups are organised and facilitated; however, whatever the model, mode, size or location, there is a growing interest in social writing activities as higher education institutions, individuals and educators recognise the benefits .
The primary purpose for joining or facilitating events such as boot camps, ‘Shut up and write’, and retreats is to increase writing productivity in a ‘space’ shared with others. A sense of community develops through the common endeavour to make writing happen; in their forums they rarely share or discuss their output in a formal way.
Other writing communities come together with the aim of improving the quality of writing. The primary purpose for joining or facilitating this kind of community is to improve writing through discussing and critiquing the work of the members. Typically these participants come together in small groups that meet regularly (eg fortnightly), where they build trusting relationships while developing writing know-how through continuous cycles of feedback and review.
The joy of social writing events
I have had the privilege of facilitating an amazing number and variety of social writing events, from small groups to large boot camps, from highly structured intensives with workshops and facilitated feedback to very relaxed, unstructured events. Some have been held in empty school classrooms, some in luxurious off-campus accommodation where participants can relax together building collaborations and friendships late into the night. As I reflect on the joy of writing as a shared practice, I savour many happy memories including:
- Playing Researcher Trivial Pursuits at the end-of-retreat dinner
- Writing groups with fortnightly bake-offs
- Writing group annual Christmas dinners with writing-related ‘prizes’
- Participants emotional with relief at having broken the writing drought
- End of event gratitude expressed through heartfelt gift exchanges
- ‘Shut up and Write’ celebrations when participants submit/graduate
- Bootcampers being won over by the fun of motivational games and rewards
- A writing group that held ‘theorist lunches’
- Deep and enduring friendships and collaborations
- A weekend beach house writing retreat run by doctoral students
- And, of course, SOME AMAZINGLY GREAT WRITING
Writing and sharing in the company of others has so many rewards – we’d love to build a collection of your stories, resources, programmes and practices.
Please email before throughout July-September if you’d like to contribute.
Aitchison, C. and C. Guerin, Eds. (2014). Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond: Innovations in Practice and Theory. London, Routledge.
Grant, B.M. (2006). Writing in the company of other women: Exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education, 31(4), 483–495.
Kornhaber, R., Cross, M., Betihavas V. & Bridgman H. (2016): The benefits and challenges of academic writing retreats: an integrative review, Higher Education Research & Development, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2016.1144572 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1144572