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…
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