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.
How do you organise and facilitate social writing events?
- We advertise through the student academic skills web pages and whenever I meet with research students in orientation programs, lunchtime thesis workshops and so on.
- The venue is a large coffee shop on campus that has large seating booths (6 people plus power points) and large moveable tables and chairs.
- I set up a sign so students can find me.
- If I am going to be absent, I email the group and they usually run it themselves.
How do you maintain student interest to participate long term?
- Social lubrication – I allow time for short informal chit chat as well as short chat about writing issues /strategies at the beginning, middle and end of the sessions.
- Celebrate – we mark milestones reached by group members (usually I bring a cake to share).
- Availability – in addition to attending and writing alongside participants, I am available for individual consultations at other times if requested.
- Relevance – I let the group know of upcoming writing events like boot camp, academic writing month, and Learning Centre workshops for research writers (in person and by email) .
How do you persuade management to resource such events?
- Shut up and write is resource-neutral – It does not cost my department anything as I do this as part of my job.
- The café owner doesn’t mind us taking up a whole table or two as most attendees buy a hot beverage and some also buy breakfast.
Have you found different kinds of events work for different stages of candidature?
This event suits any research writer at any stage of the research writing. Members are all at different writing stages and writing different genres (thesis chapter, journal articles, conference paper, progress reports).
Most attendees are in their 3rd or 4th year of research. I rarely get writers in their first or second year. I think first and second year researchers are not writing as much. Supervisors and other researchers are more likely to be coauthors of articles and conference papers in the early years, so the need for writing support is probably less than when writing the final thesis.
Who are your target audience?
Anyone writing about research from Honours to PhD.
Over the years we have had fluctuating interest. In 2017 I had four regulars (from different disciplines), a couple of semi-regular attendees, and the occasional single visitor/try out person. Attendance varies during the year with more students attending in the two months lead up to the March, August and December thesis submission dates, followed by a decrease in attendance after these months.
What have you learned to do – and to avoid?
I try to be a good role model and not talk when we are supposed to be writing.
To listen and let the group talk as often the students have some clever ideas/ experiences to share about research writing.
I have become a more productive writer as this silent writing time away from my office and emails is helpful for me as well.
Tell us why you think they work so well.
It’s working OK. We have formed ‘light’ friendships and so feel comfortable to share our experiences about writing and feedback on our writing, and sympathise with and motivate each other.
By providing a model experience, students are empowered to run their own writing group at an alternative time and place that is more convenient. For example, one student set up a similar writing group at a different time and location on campus that suits her and her writing buddies in her research group: and two students now continue to meet weekly at another time that suits them with two other thesis writers in their school (or, maybe I chased them way lol ).
Attendees are Native English Speakers or highly proficient English as Second Language Speakers. I would like to see some of the ESL students I know who struggle with writing to participate. I suspect that some non-native writers of English believe formal classes on thesis writing and individual consultations are more useful than meeting just to write. I believe if these writers attended they would find the time spent is productive and, through our conversations, have opportunities to discuss issues that all thesis writers face. For example, in my thesis writing workshops, when students share their writing challenges and strategies (e.g. when stuck for words, deciding how to organise a chapter/section and editing stages), the non-native speakers are often quite surprised to hear that native speakers face the same challenges and use similar strategies.
I’d love to hear how others run or participate in ‘Shut up and Write’ meet ups.