Browsing the blog archives for November, 2012

750words as Writing Therapist: An interview by Charlotte Frost
Posted by atarrant

750w: So, what can I do for you today Charlotte?

Charlotte: Well, 750words, I’d like your help in writing about how I use 750words as a sort of writing therapist.

750w: Ummmm, a what now? A ‘writing therapist’ do you think you might have lived in the US too long?

Charlotte: Ha ha very funny – and you’ve just alienated all the US members of the PhD2Published community! Besides, regardless of where I live (or whether I say aluminium or aluminium), I know this writing therapy thing works. All I need is a computer, an internet connection and a muddled brain – this last one is easiest to come by.

750w: Go on…

Charlotte: I discovered 750words last year during AcBoWriMo (now AcWriMo). James Smith, a contributor to PhD2Published mentioned it and I tried it out a few times. I really liked several of the features. For a start, there’s the interface. When you write using 750words – which is a web-based writing application – all you have is a white screen. There are no formatting options or spell-check, and all you see as you type is the name 750words (bottom left) and the time and your word count (bottom right). And when I say it’s web-based I mean that you don’t download any software or anything, you just go the website and type, and all your entries are safely stored in a fluffy cloud in the sky – that’s how cloud computing works, right?

750w: Sure! Why not…

So anyway, these two features alone had me very interested. Many writers rave about the benefits of a stripped back aesthetic where all you can do is write and all you can see is writing. But the fact none of this writing is being stored in my own computer, for me at least, adds a beneficial lack of commitment. Not only am I stripped of the task of naming my document and thereby assigning it to some area of my work before it’s fully formed or ready to be categorised, but I can treat it as more of a rough working space. There’s something about not having to directly take responsibility for the work in terms of naming or storing it that is very freeing. And as a result, I’m often a lot more daring in what I try out in 750words. It’s like, I don’t know, taking some kind of a holiday from my own computer and thereby from my normal writing life. It’s very liberating.

750w: Right, so you get a bit drunk and promiscuous with your writing in 750words, is that what you’re saying?

Charlotte: Er, that’s not quite how I’d put it but OK. Although that’s certainly not all that happens. What I find is that it’s also quite a confidence-building tool. If you’ve ever battled with yourself all day for just 300 academically precise words, it’s great to know you can probably bash out 750 rough ones in about 18 minutes (My personal best according to the stats 750words give you. Another interesting feature by the way that brings out just enough competitive instinct to encourage still more writing.)

750w: But a good therapist would do more than boost your confidence, they’d help you work through specific problems. How do I, er, we, do that?

Charlotte: About a month back I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love as part of a summer binge of reading memoirs. If you don’t know the book, it’s about one writer’s attempts to get over her divorce and find new meaning in life by living in Italy (and eating), India (and praying) and Indonesia (and randomly falling in love). Anyway, early on in the book Gilbert describes a moment of utter despair lying sodden in tears on her bathroom floor as she realised her marriage was over. She explains how in feeling so lost and alone she develops a writerly coping technique. Basically, she writes questions in her note book like: ‘what should I do now’ and discovers is that the answers just sort of come to her. At first the Brit in me bristled at this. I was all: ‘Oh yeah, nice one Gilbert, you’ve clearly happened upon the sensibly minded goddess of automatic writing – not the one the Surrealists used to pen-pray to obviously!’ But then I thought about it logically. She wasn’t saying her pen magically started forming the words on the page, she was saying that the answers just came out that way, which is obvious when you think about the fact she’s a writer; of course she’s going to write her way of all this mess.

750w: But what does this have to do with 750words?

Charlotte: I’m getting to that. Jeez, anyone would think we were being timed here or something. Oh, wait, of course we are.

OK then…

Not long after I read Eat Pray Love I found myself struggling with a section of the book I’m writing. After a few hours of writing it first one way, and then another, I realised I was at an impasse – although I resisted crying on the bathroom floor. I tried reading for a bit to sharpen up my thinking. It didn’t work. I tried calling a friend. She didn’t pick up. So I thought, let’s try this Gilbert thing and let’s see if 750words is a good neutral space for summoning up a writing spirit.

I opened the application and just wrote myself a question. Something like: ‘So, what’s the problem then?’ and I set about answering it. Something like: ‘I’m struggling to write a section about how new materialism and media archaeological approaches help us recognise the way the physical qualities of an archive contribute to the knowledge they hold.’ I continued by asking myself: ‘And why are you telling us this?’ And I went on: ‘Because I need to show how art history as a discipline has had a strong relationship with print that has naturalised certain ways of thinking about art – ways that are best conveyed through print. And what I need to do is argue that with the arrival of digital technologies we have new ways of storing information that contribute new ways of thinking about, say, art.’ As I went on, I discovered that by asking myself a set of very simple questions I could pull the essential ideas out of the knot in my head. On top of that, I discovered that some of what I was writing was perfectly usable. More exciting than that, it was pretty darn good. Having been shaped by the very questions I needed to respond to, the passages I was writing were neatly pre-empting the thoughts of an enquiring reader.

750w: So that’s it then, it’s not hippy stuff, you just find 750words an excellent space in which to unpack your thoughts?

Charlotte: Er yes, OK then, if you want to put it that simply! Now stick that in your cloud and, um, fluff it!

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Your AcWriMo Party Bag!
Posted by Charlotte Frost
With lots of love, Charlotte & Anna & Sam!

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An invitation to Google+ by Daniel Spielmann
Posted by atarrant

(C) Google

Today’s post by +Daniel Spielmann invites you to find out if Google+ could be a useful addition to your Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and provides some tips to get you started. Daniel is a PhD student at the University of Hamburg, Germany, focussing on the use of ePortfolio in the training of peer writing tutors. He is interested in academic writing and digital literacies and in the connection of both.

It is November, the month of #acwrimo and #digiwrimo. Many academics engage in digital writing using Twitter and writing personal blogs but in this post I explain why I am one of a growing number of Google+ users and why I think, for many academics, it is worth checking out, especially if you haven’t given it a try yet.

What is G+ and why is it different to Twitter?

“Personally, I love G+ because people I’m connecting with here help me be ‘who I want to be’ – and faster than I could possibly do on my own.” (+Meri Walker)

On Sept. 20th I took part in the PhD2published Twitter live chat on academic tweeting where I mentioned some of the issues I have with Twitter and compared it to Google+. Some of you may not have heard of G+ or even realize its potential for academic writing and networking.

Well, G+ offers a set of joint services which foster interaction. You can share text messages and comments which – different to Twitter – are not restricted to 140 characters, which allows for a much more natural flow of communication; however, some people interpret the character limit on Twitter as beneficial, because it supposedly forces you to be very precise about your message. For me, that’s not enough. Sometimes there is a fine line between “concise” and “truncated”. Is everything exceeding 140 characters just “intellectual ‘baggage'” as @markhawker / +Mark Hawker tweeted with a smile during the aforementioned chat, or is it rather that not until we cross restrictions like the one imposed on us on Twitter that research and academia become most interesting? How important is the 140 character limit to you?

Another G+ property is that discussions are easier to keep track of, because they are not all over the place as they are on Twitter; following longer discussions is much more convenient and, in fact, from a user perspective the platform seems far more conducive to focussed discussion, rendering it a solid tool for academic exchange.

The observations mentioned – the absence of a character limit and the more traceable organization of conversations – may contribute to the fact that communication on G+ is often perceived as more lively and yielding than on other networks (although you can cross-post from G+ to Twitter, you should keep in mind the two different types of network you are feeding, see also d) below).

When you share pictures or videos on G+ your readers will see them directly in their stream, not just a link to them. Links are not subtracted from your character limit because there is none. Sharing and linking are therefore much more fun, which makes me think G+ is also of great service to the practical application of the “Power Law of Participation” in which Mayfield describes the stages that lead us from a collective intelligence to a collaborative one.

Furthermore, with G+ Hangouts real time video conferences with up to ten people are as easy as pie. The integration of Google Drive (and other Google services, for that matter) allows you to work with others on the same document while ‘hanging out’, which makes it a great tool for collaborative digital text creation as in online writing groups or multi-author writing projects, for example. How can we harvest this potential for #acwrimo and the time after?

Here are some tips to get you started on G+:

a) Build your personal profile. Ask yourself: Why are you on G+ and what do you hope to gain from it? What people do you want to get in touch with and what should they know about you? Fill your profile with information about what you do and what your interests are, don’t leave it blank.

b) Simple but effective: Use the G+ search box to find people and content that match your professional interests. Be creative about search terms, explore.

c) Think about circle management. On G+ you group people you follow into different circles. The circle feature allows you to be very specific about what information you share with whom and it is also very helpful in improving the quality of your G+ stream. Circles will need some time to get used to, but once you discover the potential, you’ll surely get the hang of it. This video helps you get started with circles. I also shared two posts on G+ (1, 2) to help your thinking about circles.

c) Don’t just share any content, share interesting content that fits the professional profile you aim to create of yourself.

d) Don’t just share and be done with it – when try to give it a personal touch by commenting / giving your opinion on what you are sharing. Your readers wonder: What do you think about what you are sharing? Letting people know gives you a much bigger chance of inspiring feedback. Including your personal opinion in your share will also help you to tie your thoughts together when you browse your own stream a few months down the line.

e) Make your postings interesting, show you care about others’ opinions, ask questions.

f) Improve your posts’ readability through structure and use the formatting options in G+: a “_” in front and at the end of a line of text will set everything in between in italics, “*” gives you boldface and “-” strikethrough.

g) You can mention other plussers by typing “+” followed by the name of the plusser you want to refer to. That way, this person will be notified that he or she has been mentioned.

h) Interact with people on their posts, say thanks, leave comments. G+ is not about reading, it’s about interacting. Be positive and inspiring.

It works, if you let it.

Now, after about 16 months with G+, I honestly believe something would be missing if the service were gone for good. Every time I look at my stream, I learn. G+ is what I recommend to social media reluctant colleagues who show the willingness to try at least one single network. It would also have been the ideal tool to have used two years ago when I taught a core seminar on autonomous learning. I promoted the use of Google Wave instead which did serve a purpose pre-G+.

As with any other social network, you have to be active if you want to be able to judge the benefits. No matter if we are talking Facebook, Twitter or G+, you have to engage with others in order to build a network that reliably supplies you with meaningful information. For me, G+ does that in a less stressful manner than other networks. And as with any other network, engagement takes some time; trust is not built in a day. So if you want to give it a try, be serious about it, because the bottom line is: You yourself decide what you get to see in your stream – valuable information or just the ordinary distractions.

For some examples on how G+ connects people, have a look at this posting by +Andrew Baron with lots of thoughts about the use of G+ or  +Melony Ritter inviting support for her 1st grade class learning about geography. If you are a speaker of German, +Stephanie Dreyfuerst’s post could be a good place to post your first G+-comment. Or why not add a G+ post about #acwrimo yourself? What differences do you encounter when sharing your #acwrimo word counts, excerpts, writing prompts, habits, projects, feedback and motivation on G+? What are possible G+ benefits for #acwrimo? Just use the Twitter hashtag in your G+ postings and let’s get the discussions going. The opportunities for interaction on G+ are certainly there for the taking!

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How to be a Hackademic #12 by Charlotte Frost & Jesse Stommel
Posted by atarrant

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost rethink academic life and writing productivity in this on-going series of hints, tips and hacks.

PREPARE. We are professional researchers and being under-prepared is never an excuse. Learn as much as you can about every academic undertaking in advance of tackling it. This sounds obvious but it is easy to forget when you’re stressed about deadlines, doing a good job, and all the other things you’re trying to juggle. It’s not enough to just research the subject you’re writing about, you need to know as much as possible about how to write that article, the audience for it, and the ways it will be evaluated. So think around every task and know that you’ve got it covered from all angles. Feeling stressed and over-stretched? Try out this tip instead.

Want more tips on Hackademic? Click here!

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How to run your own writing retreat for AcWriMo
Posted by atarrant

Today’s guest post for AcWriMo is by Charlie at Urban Writers’ Retreat. She explains the benefits of setting up a writing retreat for getting some academic writing done and explains what you need to consider to set one up.

When you hear the words ‘writing retreat’, people imagine being holed up for weeks at a time in the deepest countryside. That’s all well and good, but most of us don’t have the time or money to do that, never mind the inclination. Well, how about a one-day writing retreat?

You might think that sounds like a day at the office, but it’s not. Going to a new place for a set time where you’re expected to work on one specific piece of work is an entirely different and more productive animal than a regular working day with all its interruptions, distractions, endless to-do lists and procrastination. There’s something about working in quiet companionship with other writers that just… works, and AcWriMo is the perfect time to get a few colleagues or your writing group together to try it.

So. What should you consider if you want to hold your own writing retreat?

Length

If your fellow writers are busy you might choose to do just an evening or morning of writing. 2 hours is really the minimum amount of time to allow to make it worthwhile, but do factor in time for people to settle in at the start. A day is ideal and 10am – 4pm will work nicely without overwhelming writers.

Your venue

It’s possible to write in cafes and other public places, but if you’re doing more than a couple of hours I’d suggest using somebody’s house or another quiet place where you can stay for a long time without feeling awkward or being disturbed. Ban family members from interrupting if you’re at home. Your venue needs to have enough seats and desk/table spaces that people won’t feel too squashed, chairs and power points and be warm enough. Ideally you’ll want somewhere that is pleasant to spend a few hours in, and you’ll definitely want a kettle – a large dining room would work well. If you’d rather hire a venue or are using part of an academic facility, make sure it has everything you need and that the group agrees to any costs.

Food

Writers can bring their own packed lunches, you can order in sandwiches or if you’re at home you could have something that can be reheated in an oven. People will appreciate fruit, cake or biscuits to snack on.

Set expectations

One of the nicest things about a retreat is working around other writers, but you’re here to work. Create a timetable with quiet work times and breaks so that people can catch up and chat. You can either have regular group breaks or leave people to do their own thing and just break together at lunch. Either way, send out an email beforehand so that people know what to expect. You can also cover food and let them know how much money to bring if you’re providing it (ask if anyone has allergies). Remind people about turning phones off, bringing headphones for music and all of the leads, memory sticks, notebooks and research material they need. Encourage people to complete any research beforehand so that they can use this time just for writing.

Goals

Having run writing retreats for 4 years, I can tell you from experience that setting a goal for your writing retreat makes a huge difference to what you achieve. It doesn’t have to be big and involved, although personally I favour having an overall goal for the day and splitting it into sessions. You can do this within 5 minutes on a scrap of paper. Either get people to do this in advance or have a goal-setting session at the start of the day.

Internet

If at all possible, turn it off. For the whole day. It will feel weird because we’re so used to being able to hop online anytime, but you’ll survive. In fact, your writers will thank you when they see their word counts at the end of the day.

The fear

Going to a writing retreat, particularly for the first time, can be intimidating. People worry that they will get stuck and be left sitting staring at a blank page for 8 hours. You can download a few creative exercises from the internet to have handy in case anyone needs to shift mental gears or just think about something else for a few minutes. You can discuss any problems people are having in breaks. It can also feel a bit awkward at first sitting in a room with a bunch of virtual strangers, so take the time to introduce everyone to everybody at the start. The most powerful thing you can do to take control though, is the goal-setting.

Finding writers

If you aren’t a member of a writing group or an academic department you might need to look further afield to find writing buddies. Ask anyone you know if they know anyone who might be interested, any contacts you’ve made through your academic work. Ask people on Facebook or twitter. Ask fiction writers too or friends doing job applications. You don’t need a huge amount of people to run a retreat, though I’d suggest that if you’re doing it with just 2 or 3 people it will work better if you already know each other – just be strict about keeping work times quiet. You can even do a retreat solo but it requires much more will-power. You’ll need to engage the services of a timer (your phone/computer will have one), may need to use a different space than your normal workplace, and it will be absolutely crucial to set goals and switch off the internet.

The main thing though, is not to let the thought of having to organise some big event intimidate you. In its simplest form a writing retreat can be you and a colleague agreeing to work together on a particular day. You pick a place and time, agree break times and spend 5 minutes setting a goal before turning off your laptop’s wifi. And there you go, one rocket-fuelled day of writing is yours. Easy.

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Writing for a non academic audience by Marcia Hughes
Posted by atarrant

Today’s post is about writing for non academic audiences. Marcia Hughes, the post author is one of the founders of the Boulder Group Ltd, a communications consultancy founded in 2007, dedicated to working with universities and higher educational institutions in the delivery of knowledge to wider audiences.

If you’re passionate about communicating your research with as wide a public as possible, then the chances are you’re already presenting your ideas clearly and simply to diverse audiences outside of academic walls. Hopefully, you’re also benefiting from your public engagement.

As a journalist and reporter with the BBC for nearly 15 years, I had to ensure my ideas ‘educated, informed and entertained’ the public. I found it rewarding making programmes for a general audience to absorb and appreciate.  Working mainly for Business and Financial News and Current Affairs, I had to turn quite complex issues into accessible listening and viewing for TV and Radio. I quickly learnt some important steps for engaging a general audience:

  • Developing a clear and simple narrative for the audience to follow
  • Choosing interesting case studies (voices) with relevant human interest or experiences
  • Making sure interviews with experts outlined key themes in a straightforward way
  • Removing any jargon or specialist speak
  • Using simple and concise language and using short sentences

Of course, it wasn’t always plain sailing. At times, appealing to this unknown “general audience” felt like being in the firing line from a group of people with the same “Am I bothered?” attitude as the infamous teenage girl played by Catherine Tate. Reaching out to the world beyond my like-minded BBC peers and financial experts took me out of my comfort zone. It constantly challenged me to think more simply and develop a much more open mindset every time I thought of a new programme idea:  Why am I making this programme; Who am I really trying to reach? What do I want to say?

These questions centre on two key areas: Audiences and Messages. They are as important and relevant to an academic individual writing for ‘non-academics’ as they are to a journalist.  What are the potential audiences are out there for you? What are their needs? What are their interests and values?  What are your key messages? Why does your research matter to them?

The more you ask yourself these sorts of questions, the sharper your focus. The more straightforward your communication, the more likely your research will resonate with a non- academic audience.

At the Boulder Group Ltd we are committed to supporting individual researchers, academic professionals, and post-graduates in their communication with the wider world. Our founding belief is that the knowledge created in our universities and HEIs, and the great ideas of researchers deserve a much bigger audience and greater appreciation.

Our service Researcher AM focuses on Audiences and Messages. It gives one-to-one help in audience engagement and current thinking on public engagement in order to help you define your research’s key audiences and choose the most appropriate means of communicating with that audience.

Contact Marcia: marcia@bouldergroup.co.uk

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How to be a Hackademic #11 by Charlotte Frost & Jesse Stommel
Posted by atarrant

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost rethink academic life and writing productivity in this on-going series of hints, tips and hacks.

HACK YOUR PRODUCTIVITY. There are all sorts of ways you can be extra efficient with your writing time. Setting specific writing times and sticking to them can be very effective in boosting your output, but here are some other hacks: 1) Write first thing when you get up before you have time to be distracted by email or the newspaper. 2) You can even harness your addictions by writing a certain number of words before allowing yourself coffee or tea; 3) Write last thing at night when everything is done and it’s quiet. 4) Use a writing app that helps filter out distraction. After just a few minutes of use, full-screen mode can feel like you’ve gone to writing heaven, and there are many apps that will even pare your screen down to just words on a page relieving you of all that urgent and endless formatting. 5) Write collaboratively with someone in the same document – even at the same time – halving the writing time and stress. What else do you need to do ?

 

 

3 Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom
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Writing Obstacle No. 13 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I really can’t move forward on this writing project.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you cannot write. Perhaps you must wait for a result or further funding or your advisor’s response. If the way is blocked on one project, turn to another. Success correlates with authors who are not monomaniacal but have several writing projects going at once. If bored or frustrated with one, you can switch to the other. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that only full-time dedication to a single project will result in success. If you’re brought to a standstill, work on a grant application, revise an old article, or draft ideas for another article. You should always be moving forward on some front.What else is common writing obstacles ? Click here to find out.

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Writing Obstacle No. 12 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

My childcare responsibilities are preventing me from writing.

Interestingly, students with children are often the best practitioners of the tenets of this chapter. Caregivers simply do not have big blocks of time, so they get used to working in time-bound segments of one to four hours. They cannot make writing their number one priority, so they do not fixate. They cannot stay up all night binge writing and then take care of the baby the next day, so they plan ahead. For those of you who don’t have kids, no, I’m not recommending that you adopt. But if you have friends who are caregivers as well as students, you might want to study how they get it all done. You can learn good lessons from them.

If you are not getting writing done due to childcare responsibilities, you already know the answer: getting others to care for your children several hours a week. Many students would love to have such help, but are far from family and cannot afford to pay someone. Perhaps you might look into a shared childcare arrangement. Find another student who is a care-giver and arrange to trade baby-sitting so that each of you gets a full morning for writing. Or, if what you really need is some sleep or to run errands, exchange for that as well. Just remember to get fifteen minutes of writing done in that time. If none of this is possible, focus on working with the small amounts of time that crop up. Write for half an hour after you put the kids to sleep and before you start cleaning up.

If it’s any comfort, studies differ as to the effect of marriage and dependents on faculty productivity. One study found that female faculty with children have lower tenure and promotion rates, while male faculty with children have higher tenure and promotion rates (National Science Foundation 2004). Another study found that family has little effect on the actual productivity of either female or male faculty (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002). These scholars speculate that the gender gap in publication rates, which has steadily been closing, is not explained by the weight of domestic responsibilities. Rather, this slightly lower rate seems to have more to do with women’s prioritizing of “social change” over advancement and field recognition. This isn’t to imply that male and female faculty experience family responsibilities in the same way. Among men and women with the same publication rates, female faculty did more work around the home and spent fewer hours per week on writing and research than male faculty (ibid.). That is, women were more efficient, producing the same amount of writing in less time.

Besides kid, yourself can also be an obstacle for writing.

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Writing Obstacle No. 11 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m not in the right mood to write.

Many people believe you have to be emotionally ready to write. If you are not in the right mood, they argue, don’t even try getting started because it’s not going to work. Yet, many can testify that it is possible to get in the writing mood. Behavior modification theory shows us that emotion follows action, not the other way around. If you don’t feel like doing something, then start doing it and usually your feelings will follow.

Individuals who procrastinate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don’t feel like doing it, you automatically put it off. Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to activation and success. But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the motivation comes later on. (Burns 1999, 125)

David D. Burns’s book Feeling Good describes many techniques for thinking positively about your life and work so that you can overcome perfectionism and guilty feelings.

You can also use ritual to overcome feeling unready. You can jumpstart the mood for writing by lighting a certain candle, playing a certain song, or doing certain stretches. When someone I know was writing her first book, she started every writing morning by reading a section from the King James Version of the Old Testament. The beauty of the passages always called up a writing response in her. Even on those days when she didn’t much feel like writing, she responded to the ritual. If Pavlov’s dogs can do it, so can you.

So, don’t wait until your feelings catch up with your goals. Just make a plan and follow it.

Maybe this is another difficulties you are facing.

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Successful Academic Writers Pursue Their Passions – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

When students list positive experiences with writing, they often note genuine interest in a topic as a real engine. Successful writers do not write primarily for their professors, their classmates, or their hiring committees. Rather, they focus on the questions that fascinate them.

For example, one of my students was writing about the negative effect of welfare reform on Cambodian women. She drafted and revised her article in record time because she was so angry about the policy’s consequences. A Korean student who grew up in Japan persevered despite several obstacles to publish her research showing that Koreans in Japan labor under legally imposed hardships. A student who wrote about pedigreed dogs and another who wrote about food metaphors always worked steadily because the topics were also life-long hobbies. Other students used their own experiences of ethnicity, gender, or nationality to reinterpret canonical texts, placing the traditional in a completely new light.

The lesson? The world changes quickly, so you are more likely to have positive writing experiences if you follow your deepest interests rather than passing fads. As the authors of The Craft of Research point out, “Nothing will contribute to the quality of your work more than your sense of its worth and your commitment to it” (Booth, Colomb, and Williams 1995, 36).

My model for this is an artist I discovered while doing research on street art in Washington, D.C. I spent a summer walking the inner city photographing everything creative I could find: murals, street games, hair weaving, garbage can musicians, fence art (Belcher 1987). I spent a lot of time in alleys looking at graffiti and I kept coming across the same thing. Huge spray paintings of women’s shoes. Not just life-size, but ten feet across. All of the shoes were portrayed from one side, in profile, and all of them were pumps. I became an expert on the development of this artist whom I never met, soon able to distinguish early pump (when shoes went untitled) from later pump (when shoes appeared with titles like “Black Evening Pump” or “Leopard Skin Pump” and were signed “Ray (c) 1987”). Whenever I found a new one, in yet another out of the way place, I was delighted. Because this artist took his or her idiosyncrasy and pushed it, unafraid to paint feminine footwear across an entire urban landscape. So obsess about things, pursue your passions, do not be bullied. Whatever your pump is, paint it.

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Writing in groups with international co-authors: Part Two by Karen Strickland
Posted by atarrant

In her second post, Karen Strickland outlines the benefits of collaborative writing groups that involve a range of International scholars. She finishes by providing some great tips for International writing that we are sure are perfect for #acwrimo! Karen’s full bio can be read here and you can also follow her on Twitter @strictlykaren

I am currently participating in a collaborative writing group (CWG) as part of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). ISSOTL set up nine CWGs in Spring this year, each led by an experienced author. Group members were invited to apply via the conference website and in April we began planning our articles via an online learning space. In October at the conference itself, we had two days group working time where we revised our draft outlines, developed the theoretical underpinning a bit more and peer reviewed other group outlines as well as had our paper outline reviewed. This process is very different to anything I have experienced before as the co-authors were all strangers to me, and all are from countries other than the UK, therefore cultural views and ideas of the paper topic were coming from very different lenses. At times this could be challenging but ultimately it was rewarding as I found myself viewing things more openly and gaining insight into the worlds of others. The two days we spent in Canada together helped immensely with the group gelling together, and overcoming some of the challenges of communicating with strangers asynchronously.

The benefits of this approach, I think are that we shared a passion for the topic of the paper and the international authorship has ensured that the paper truly addresses the issue from an international perspective.  The potential drawbacks maybe that for the shyer or less mouthy participant, views may be overshadowed, however I found the experience to be collegiate with clear differences of opinion and experiences but an understanding that all may coexist without one being right or wrong.

With mutil-authored papers like this one there are a number of considerations such as what platform to work on, achieving a consistent “voice” and negotiating authorship. We had the online space provided by the McMaster University but agreed to use Dropbox to work on the paper as drafting and version control would be easier using a cloud based platform.  One person has been designated “editor” and will review the paper for clarity of expression and blending the writing to ensure it reads as one paper.

As for authorship, I think it is always wise to discuss this early in any grouping or partnership, as who will be first author and thereafter can be a contentious issue. One of the issues that faced us was that the journal we will be submitting to will adopt the American Psychological Association (APA) referencing system. This means that the final two authors will be et al’d. It is worth bearing in mind all such issues when negotiating authorship and considering each individual’s contribution may be the best and fairest way of deciding with a caveat that order may be reviewed once all the drafting is done.

Our paper is not yet complete but what have I gained from the experience so far? Well, this was a very new approach to writing in groups for me and I now have some fellow co-authors internationally who I know have shared interests. Who knows, perhaps we will write again together?

Tips for international writing:

  1. Agree on a focus and journal early on
  2. Set deadlines
  3. Decide on language and spelling. English is most common but American English or English needs to be agreed
  4. Negotiate contributions: sectioning the article (may need to be done once you have an outline)
  5. Discuss and agree authorship
  6. Select an online platform that allows easy access for all contributors
  7. Set up a discussion site and agree how often each participant should log in to discussion areas
  8. Where possible set aside time for synchronous discussion, either face to face or online via Skype or similar
  9. Select an editor who will pull the article together so that it reads as one article and not a disjointed piece of writing

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Writing Obstacle No. 10 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m afraid of writing because publication is so permanent.

This fear is one that professors often aid and abet. Graduate students in the humanities are often warned not to publish until they are completely ready and in absolute control of their topic. Professors caution that early articles can come back to haunt and embarrass the author. Nevertheless, the benefits of publication outweigh its dangers.

The argument for waiting to publish goes something like the following story, told to me by a friend who is a professor. An assistant professor in the department was up for tenure when hostile committee members dug up the professor’s first article. They proceeded to lambaste the professor with it, calling it a “vulgar tract.” In this case, my friend pointed out, publication had hurt rather than helped.

I asked my friend two simple questions. First, had the professor gotten tenure? My friend had to admit that the professor had. Perhaps the professor told the committee that the article was early work, and that if the later work could develop so far beyond the first article, this boded well for the trajectory of the professor’s career. Apparently, whatever the defense, it won the day. No one expects that scholars are going to have the same theoretical or ideological approach over the course of a lifetime

My second question was, had the professor published the article in a peer-reviewed journal? In fact, the professor had not. The article had been published in a collection of conference papers, where the papers were not properly vetted. That’s why I emphasize that students send their work to peer-reviewed journals only. The review process, however faulty, provides a safety net. If a peer-reviewed journal accepts your article, it probably won’t embarrass you later.

Other professors are more to the point than my friend. “There’s enough bad writing out there, why increase it?” one said. “Most graduate students have nothing worth publishing.” All I can say in response to such critics is that they have not read my students’ articles. Students’ first drafts for the classroom can be rough, but those students willing to do real revisions often produce fascinating, cutting-edge work that many professors would be proud to publish. Certainly, if quality were the only criteria for publication, many a faculty member dedicated to the obtuse would have to recuse him or herself from this debate.

You should set up goals for your writing as well.

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Successful Academic Writers Persist Despite Rejection – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

The writing life is filled with rejection. This is one of the few shared experiences of great writers and terrible writers. A quick read of Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections offers the comfort of knowing that most canonical authors (for instance, Hermann Melville, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf) had their work rejected in the strongest possible terms (Henderson 1998). Jack London received 266 rejection slips in 1899 alone (Kershaw 1997)! The economist George Akerlof received three rejections for a journal article that later won him the Nobel Prize (Gans and Shepherd 1994). Indeed, studies of Nobel Prize winners found that editors had rejected many early versions of their award-winning work (Campanario 1995, 1996). If you write, you will be rejected. This is unavoidable. The important thing is not to let it stop you.

Although it is tempting to let others’ criticism be the measure of your writing or even your own worth, don’t let it be. The business of reviewing is a subjective process rife with bias and carelessness. Work rejected by one journal is often embraced by another. The only difference between much-published authors and unpublished authors is often persistence and not worthiness. Published authors just keep submitting their work. If one journal rejects their article, they send the article to another. They keep a positive attitude. A professor I know has fond memories of her dissertation advisor, who papered his office with his article rejection notices. To see him working away amidst the negative notices of a lifetime, she says, was inspiring and encouraging.

Several of my students have exemplified the usefulness of persistence. In one of my classes, Carrie Petrucci revised her wonderful article arguing for introducing the apology into the criminal justice system. She knew that resistance to her argument would be high, but felt committed to demonstrating that criminal apologies provided some real benefits for victims and perpetrators. So she was very disappointed, but not surprised, when the first journal rejected her article. Petrucci stopped everything she was doing and took two days to make changes based on the comments she had received from the editor and previous readers. She then sent it right back out again to another journal, this time to a social science journal rather than a law journal. After that second journal also rejected her article, she again devoted two days to making changes. Making writing social helped her persevere. “What kept me going through two rejections,” she e-mailed me, “was the fact that I had had several people read it prior to my submitting it to any journal and a handful of those people, who had nothing to gain by it (including yourself), had given me the impression that it was strong. . . . Believe me; I clung to those comments as I got some pretty negative feed- back on rounds one and two.”

So, she sent it out a third time, to an interdisciplinary journal in law and social science. A few months later, she got a message from that journal accepting her article for publication and stating that the reviewers were extremely enthusiastic about the piece. “Congratulations,” the editor exclaimed. “It is quite unusual to have a manuscript accepted without requiring any changes. But yours is a high quality product. Good job.” Her persistence paid off. She later won the first Nathan E. Cohen Doctoral Student Award in Social Welfare in 2002 for this article and then got a job working to improve the criminal justice system (Petrucci 2002).

One of my students told us the story of a friend who was more faint-hearted. When she received a response from a journal, she opened the letter with trepidation. The first paragraph included the sentence: “The reviewers’ reports are in and both agree that your article is severely marred by poor writing.” Upset, she flung the letter aside and spent an hour in bed ruing her decision ever to enter academia. When her husband got home, he picked the letter off the hallway floor, read it, and entered the bedroom saying, “Congratulations, honey! Why didn’t you tell me your article got accepted?” Upon actually reading the letter through, she found that the editors had accepted the article pending major revisions. She hired a copy- editor to work with her on her prose and resubmitted the article. When starting out, harsh criticism can stop you in your tracks, but if you persist, you often find that things are not as bad as they seem at first.

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Collaborative writing groups: Part One by Karen Strickland
Posted by atarrant

It’s November, it’s #acwrimo, it’s that time of year when we academics are looking for best forms of practice when it comes to our academic writing. Karen Strickland, Senior Lecturer & Senior Teaching Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University reflects on her experiences of face to face and online writing groups for providing support and time for writing. You can view her Linked.in profile here and follow her on Twitter (@strictlykaren).

Do you struggle to write on your own, watch deadlines pass you by and never quite get round to turning that thesis or conference paper into an article? Collaborative writing might be just the approach you need. Collaborative writing groups are a useful approach which can help you develop your experience of writing for publication and help you meet deadlines and targets for writing.

Writing groups offer the potential for shared experience of writing together either on the same article as co-author, or as a buddy experience, working alongside each other to develop unique articles. I have been interested in collaborative writing approaches for some time, as I think they are useful approaches which help to develop capability of newer writers and thus develop capacity. There are a number of ways you can write collaboratively such as co-authoring, writing in groups or signing up to a writing workshop or retreat. In this blog post I will share my experiences of a few of these approaches and suggest ways in which you can create opportunities for group writing. I have split these broadly into face to face and online groups.

Earlier this summer a group of staff from Edinburgh Napier attended a three day residential writing retreat.  The retreat was facilitated by David Baume PhD SFSEDA FHEA who is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer. The retreat allowed participants time to focus on preparing articles for publication or papers for conference presentation without the usual interruptions of daily working life. The format was a structured, facilitated retreat with opportunities for peer and facilitator support throughout giving a very supportive and collegiate feel to the event. The facilitator used his experience to guide participants in the peer reviewing and publishing process, from choosing the publication outlet to dealing with reviewer’s comments.

The first morning of the retreat, after a little discussion around the focus of our articles we were challenged to go away and write 500 words by lunchtime. We had to come back and report our progress, so the pressure was on from the start! The focus and setting of goals was crucial to the success of the retreat as we worked though the three days, revising and re-drafting our papers. By the end of the three days the participants all completed advanced drafts of their work. Overall this was a very enjoyable and productive experience.

The legacy of this retreat is that we have also continued to meet on a monthly basis on the first Wednesday of the month on the top floor of the library which has a computer room and easy chairs with uninterrupted views of Edinburgh Castle. This helps to provide on-going time for writing and the chance to meet up and discuss writing and peer review. Peer support really is the key to this writing group.

The value of face to face groups are that you get the immediacy of the group interaction, however you need to set ground rules, such as, how long to set aside for social chat at the beginning and end of the sessions. The social aspect of the writing group is worth emphasising but care needs to be taken not to let this eat into writing time.

It is not always possible to meet face to face, and it also limits the reach so how about online writing groups?

A colleague of mine at Edinburgh Napier University leads an open online writing course which has been offered over the past two summers for individuals who are interested in writing for technology enhanced learning.  This initiative was called WriteTEL and was led by Dr Keith Smyth. This initiative invited writers to plan, draft and review an article for publication, whilst being supported by a member of the WriteTEL team. A series of online webinars were provided, with guest experts who had considerable expertise to share in how to write for publication and get published.

This approach worked really well for individuals who perhaps had recently completed a project or had an idea for an article and just needed some support and guidance along with way. We also had participants from all over the globe. Time zones are an obvious challenge for synchronous webinars but recording the webinars meant that participants who were unable to log in could catch up whenever it was convenient.

What do these approaches have in common?

Goals for writing are set at the outset, for example:

  • Deadlines; short and longer term deadlines with goals along the way
  • Opportunities for review by a critical friend
  • Peer support and sharing expertise

What can you do?

Find colleagues with similar interests and set up your own local group, you don’t have to meet face to face, why not use a blog or twitter like local #acwrimo?

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