Writing Chunks

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This morning I had a Skype call with a US-based co-author. She was spending a week writing on an island near Goteborg, Sweden with another co-author. She called it ‘bliss’.

We’re so lucky to have Newcastle University’s H&SS faculty support our own ECR Writing Retreat. As it is soon upon us, I wanted to help set the scene for a great session.

Here is a link to the always enlightening Pat Thomson’s blog ‘patter’ on academic writing. She explains that she finds it helpful to aim to write in ‘chunks’ rather than targeting a number of words or pages.

How many ‘chunks’ away are you from finishing that section? Completing a draft? How many ‘chunks’ will you write today? This week?

At the beginning and end of each day of the retreat, we discuss goals and progress. How many writing chunks further can we get?

Plans are afoot to resume the ECR Writing Club’s regular sessions once the marking period ends —  we can’t wait to get back into the writing groove — chunks at a time!

Photo by mauro paillex on Unsplash

Seven months on…

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This invited blog post is courtesy of one of our regular writing club participants (SJA):

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The ECR writing club is now seven months old! Whilst I’ve not made it to every single writing session, since its official inception at the start of the academic year, I now make it my mission to be at writing club each week! Here are four reasons why…

First, the clearing of the diary (as teaching allows) for one day a week has been an important shift in focus for me. Rather than waiting for writing time to magically present itself (and passively wondering why it rarely does) or dipping in and out of research between commitments, this forces me to set aside quality writing time and crucially to make more productive use of that time.

Second, a day away from the office, particularly when we meet in a different building – even if only metres away from NUBS – creates an important physical distance from the (multiple!) demands of other aspects of our roles. This clears space for more focused thinking about research.

Third, for someone who has struggled to set achievable research goals, the practice of sharing plans for the day and reviewing these at the end is helping me to be (more) realistic in setting and meeting short-term targets.

Finally, the prospect of catching up with lovely peers during the (well-deserved) 5 minute, 15 minute and lunchtime breaks – and of course the ritual of heading to ‘Bait’ for a gourmet sandwich at lunchtime – is a helpful writing incentive if not THE main motivational highlight! This aspect has not gone unnoticed from our friends and family… to the extent that partners of several writing group members have affectionately dubbed the group: Eating Club! We know they’re only jealous… and clearly they have good reason to be! (Special thanks again to the wonderful Fiona Whitehurst and June Landless for the tea and coffee supplies for the Flavia machine which keep us well watered and happily tapping away on our laptops throughout the day!)

Despite the slight room temperature issues we have experienced on occasion (which helped us to feel at home (!) but thankfully seem to be sorted) and the inevitability of arriving back to pressing emails, writing club has provided me with a focused, supportive and motivational writing environment, impetus to move forward with research each week and a great excuse for a gourmet jalapeno tuna melt!

 

News: Residential Writing Retreat

 

For Semester 2 we changed the Writing Club meetings to Monday to accommodate our teaching schedules and finding a way of maintaining our practice has been a real benefit.

We were also successful in our bid for MOS Strategic Innovation Fund enabling us to organise a Residential Writing Retreat in the Northumberland countryside for Early Career Academics in early July.

Here is an excerpt from our bid explaining the value of Writing Retreats.

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Following numerous positive experiences of the NUBS Early Career Researcher Writing Club (co-founded by three MOS ECR members), we believe a useful addition to our professional development and fostering the research culture would be to run a residential writing retreat that follows the same guidelines as the Writing Club. The main purpose of the club is to advance the research output, which is one of the core strategic goals at NUBS, as the institution is committed to research-led practices.

The ECR Writing Club provides a supportive community and a structured writing practice. Our routine includes sharing our writing goals for the day and follows the Pomodoro Technique to maintain focus and motivation. As the club is of an inclusive character, the invitation to take part is extended to a wider group of NUBS colleagues seeking a quiet and dedicated time and space to progress academic writing projects.

Increasingly the practice of offering academic writing retreats is shown to provide personal, professional and organisational benefits.

The five key elements of writing retreats conducive to increasing publication output were protected time and space; community of practice; development of academic writing competence; intra-personal benefits and organisational investment. Participants involved achieved greater publication outputs, particularly when provided ongoing support (Kornhaber et al. 2016).

Institutions encouraging writing retreats in practice include Bath, Sheffield and Warwick Universities, to provide supportive communities of practice free from other commitments and distractions. Variants include adopting a neo-liberal approach to quantify productivity and performance against projected outputs (https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com). Our ECR Writing Club is committed to setting goals at the beginning of the writing sessions and then reflecting at the end of the day how these goals have been achieved.

This will be valuable to MOS and NUBS colleagues in terms of advancing the existing research culture and support the development of published work, tying with the research aims of the School and research communities to produce high-quality research output, aimed at 3* and 4* ABS publications. Finally, such activities contribute to stronger social cohesiveness within the school. Positive working culture is an important institutional objective for NUBS and such activities directly contribute to it.

References
Kornhaber et al. (2016) The benefits and challenges of academic writing retreats: an integrative review. Journal of Higher Education Research and Development. 25 (6): 1210-1227. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1144572

https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/writing-retreats-academic-indulgence-or-scholarly-necessity/

If you are not satisfied with your membership after a trial period, you can finish it at no associated costs. Well, I am keeping my membership card.

Our trial period of four Fridays has come to an end and this is now a first Friday after more than a month that I have not spent in the writing club. I have to admit that I missed our little club today. We hope it will become a weekly gathering, but we are still waiting on rooms to get confirmed and in the transition period of September the club will take place twice – on the 15th and 29th.

As I was thus writing at home today, this got me thinking about the value of such get-togethers. The set-up we’ve agreed on  – working for 25′ or 45′, having a break and then repeating with the pattern until we drop dead in the afternoon 😉 –  works particularly well because it creates continuity and opportunity to focus. In the times of scattered attention, fragmented information and (too)many devices, the ability to maintain a focus is not to be taken for granted. Chats, emails, notifications and random noises can constantly break up our working concentration in an office, especially when one works in an open space which is often the case nowadays. The right to “switch off” and concentrate on a task at hand is not a given, which is why such initiatives are all the more welcome and appreciated. Writing requires a continuity of the thought process, to build up on ideas and create a narrative. The nature of the activity is thus oh-so-well aligned with the format of our club.

But there is a different side to it, too. Writing is a lonesome endeavour and after hours of staring at the screen, the social animal kicks in.It usually happens to me around 15 o’clock if I work from home and I found it hard to get out of the restless moment, when silence around me feels heavy. Where is a friendly face to glance at and exchange a couple of words, knowing that you will “get each other” and offer some collegial support or crack a joke? At writing club, this drop does not appear. Tea or coffee and moments of social interaction that are built in, keep you going.

Therefore – I shall hope for continuity both in our writing process and our club sessions.

 

 

SFDs and Procrastination — Improving your writing practice — Book your places

I just read this *mid-procrastination* and wanted to share it before closing the browser tab, stopping the editing-while-writing, and resuming the crafting of my own SFD.

If you’d like to know what a SFD is, and when and why it’s useful, click below:

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/phd-thesis-writing-it-and-art-procrastination

http://engl210-picetti.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/Lamott_Bird+by+Bird.pdf

How are you finding your writing practice developing? Do you work better anonymously or in the trenches with fellow scribes?

If you’re not sure, our next and final writing club session of the Four Fridays Pilot is taking place tomorrow. We encourage you to give it a try.

Two further dates are now confirmed for Friday 15th and 29th September.

Please book your space using the doodle poll:

https://beta.doodle.com/poll/fbckx7dwg6mbqg4r 

 

Finding a working rhythm

We are midway through the ECR Writing Club Pilot and members are finding it worthwhile to carve out a dedicated space and time for academic writing every week among like-minded colleagues.

To this end, we have agreed to try and continue the collaborative sessions every Friday throughout Semester 1 and aim to develop further ideas to encourage a supportive research environment.

If you would like to get involved, please reserve a place using the doodle poll (see previous posts for the link).

What’s the experience like?

The view from the ECR Writing Club windows

The group aims to do 7 pomodoro sessions interspersed by 5 minute breaks usually with shared snacks. We take a longer break for lunch.

  • We begin at 9am by discussing our writing aims for the day, and start the first silent pomodoro session.
  • Week 1, we started using 25 minute pomodoros and changed gears to try 45 minute sessions post-lunch.
  • Week 2 we experimented again (longer 45 minute sessions in the morning, and 25 minute focused bursts in the afternoon), which seemed to work well, depending on the task you are trying to achieve.
  • Around 4pm we finish by discussing our day’s progress, reflecting on what worked and what we could improve.

***Finally, we appreciate having access to the coffee and tea machine during the short breaks and would like to thank Fiona Whitehurst and June at Newcastle University Business School and the Newcastle University Organisational Development Team at the Core for their tokens of support.

Thanks to the Organisational Development Team for the literal tokens of support

Academic sustenance – coffee and tea supplied by Newcastle University Business School

 

 

 

 

Personal reflections on our first gathering

Friday was our first get together of the ECR writing club and my first experience of participating in something like this.

Gathered in a nice room in The Core building we had a great view, comfortable chairs and everyone had brought along sustenance. There was access to a kitchen and coffee machine (you need 1p to use it!) in the breakout space just outside of the room. We began the day by sharing our writing goals, which interestingly all varied in content and scope. My own objective was to complete 50% of a conference presentation. In order to minimise distractions we all agreed to switch off phones and turn push notifications to silent. Then, guided by Laurence’s schedule of several Pomodoros, we were off.

I found the Pomodoro technique really effective. Intensive bursts of free writing peppered with short breaks seemed to provide the right balance between work/break I needed to motivate and sustain my productivity. Free from distraction and encouraged by the company of colleagues spurred us on. By the end of the day and to my great surprise I had realised my goal! Hooray! I could not have achieved the same outcome working alone at home, the library or back in the office. Whilst this in itself was valuable the other major benefit was spending time with peers and nurturing a sense of camaraderie. During the breaks I learned new things about everyone and for me this was the unexpected and wonderful bonus of the ECR writing club. I look forward to the next one and hopefully welcoming more newcomers to what I know will continue to be a very friendly and supportive peer group.

More details on the Summer Writing Club

As you know we will be trialling the ECR Writing Club over the next 4 Fridays. Here’s some more information about it:

 

Schedule: Fridays between 9am to 4pm (followed by a drink in town for those interested).

Venue: Room 2.23, The Core, Science Central

Goal of the club: to provide a supportive environment for ECRs to engage in writing away from their office

Outline of the day: long stretches of writing broken up by lunch and breaks. To help us structure the day, we will use the Pomodoro technique https://goo.gl/GJP1Xp

What to bring: your laptop and some snacks to share

 

Finally, here’s more information on academic writing clubs if you are not familiar with them: https://patthomson.net/2015/03/19/4033/

If you are interested in joining us, remember to book your place (see previous post).

Four Fridays: The Venue – Book your places

Hi Everyone

Thanks for sharing an interest in establishing a dedicated time and place for NUBS ECRs to progress their research writing.

Venue information: Room 2.23, The Core, Science Central

Adjacent to the silent work space is a break out room where refreshments can be consumed away from your writing area

To share the admin burden, we’ve set up a self-booking system using Doodle Poll so that you can reserve your space on the dates that you are able to attend

Please follow the link below:

https://doodle.com/poll/fbckx7dwg6mbqg4r

Please note that the room capacity is limited to 18

Even if you cannot make this Four Fridays pilot but are interested in being part of the writing club in future, please let us know in the comments section at the end of the Doodle Poll!

Thanks!