Whether this is your first week in a graduate program or you are a seasoned grad student, we welcome you.
The Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) offers a wide range of services to grad students: from one-to-one tutoring and coaching to workshops and English conversation café. However, in this brief post, I’ll focus on just two of the services we offer: our Brightspace self-enrolling resource hub, called CAC Online, and our weekly Grad Writing Room.
CAC Online in Brightspace
We’ve created an online version of the CAC that you can access 24/7. Our CAC Online Brightspace is self-enrolling—once you are signed into UVic Brightspace, go to “Discover” in the top menu and find “CAC online.” Once you are in the site, explore multimodal material about all types of academic communication plus resources just for graduate students on how read critically, write strategically, present effectively, and publish your work.
Grad Writing Room
Writing can be a lonely enterprise. Would you like quiet companionship as you think and write? Sometimes, just sitting next to other students who are also on the graduate school journey can make you feel part of a community. Our weekly grad writing room makes the solitary act social. We’re all in this together!
On Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., meet other grad students at the CAC grad writing room. Bring your laptop or pen and paper. We’ll work on our individual writing projects alone, but we’ll be together for solidarity. A CAC tutor will be available for consultation from 1 to 2 p.m. No registration required.
We’re located in the McPherson Library. Walk down the main hallway and turn right just after Classroom 130; we’re at the end of the Learning Commons. On the map you’ll see CAC staff members’ offices marked with hearts. Can’t wait to meet you!
Tip of the day: Did you know the CAC now offers appointments in time management? When making an appointment (first, create an account), select the schedule, “Time Management + more.”
Welcome new graduate students and welcome back returning students!
Writing is a big part of your work as a graduate student. Frequently we write alone, and that can feel isolating. Now that we are keeping our physical distance from one another, this sense of isolation can be profound. A great way to break out of isolation and kick-start your writing is to connect with your peers and write together and/or share your writing. Wendy Belcher, editor, teacher, and the author of Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, is a proponent of making your writing social, whether through involvement in a writing group or with a writing partner. Writing with others can allay writer’s block and other forms of anxiety, make you more productive, and help you feel connected to others.
If you’d like to start your own writing group, The Thesis Whisperer has some tips on how to start your own “Shut up and write” group (you can modify to create online or socially distanced meetings). Another resource—this one developed here at UVic—is The Thesis Writing Starter Kit, which can also be modified for online meetings.
If starting a writing group isn’t your thing, or if you simply want a pre-made writing group, why not join our virtual writing room on Wednesday afternoons? It’s a great way to set and accomplish small goals while writing in the (virtual) company of others. No registration required, just drop in on Wednesday afternoons between 2 and 4 p.m. (September 9-December 4). You can come in for all or part of the session. A tutor from the Centre for Academic Communication will be there to answer any questions and facilitate.
“Isolation is killing.” (Thomson & Kamler, 2016, p. 50)
Writing a thesis can feel isolating. Even if you are traveling the grad school journey with a cohort, you may get out of sync with others or feel different from the group. One way to break out of isolation and kick-start your writing is to connect with your peers and either write together and/or share your writing. Wendy Belcher, editor, teacher, and the author of Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, is a proponent of making your writing social and collaborative, whether through involvement in a writing group or with a writing partner. Writing with others can allay writer’s block and other forms of anxiety, make you more productive, and help you feel connected to others.
Following are some ideas to get you started in creating a sense of writing community:
The Centre for Academic Communication: Working with a tutor at the CAC can help you deal with writing challenges that you don’t necessarily want to bring to your supervisor. You can book a 50-minute session once a week (2 X 25 minute sessions, back to back), working with the same tutor for continuity or trying out different tutors. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about our face-to-face and online tutoring.
Every Friday from 10-1, the Centre for Academic Communication hosts a “writing room” for graduate students in Library 151B. It’s a quiet space where you can write alongside other graduate students.
Blogging about your experience can help you feel less isolated on your journey and, according to Thomson and Kamler (2016), is an important part of performing your “scholarly identity” (see pp. 116-121). As a UVic student, you can use the Online Academic Community to start a free WordPress blog with technical support from the experts at Technology Integrated Learning, UVic. If you don’t want to start your own blog but would like to share your story, get in touch with me at email@example.com and we can talk about getting your story up on the Graduate Student Writers’ Community blog.
You may not relish the idea of connecting with a writing partner, writing group, or writing tutor. Have you considered reading academic blogs on topics relevant to you? Reading academic blogs can make you feel connected to the wider community of academic writers, graduate students, and researchers. A few recommended blogs follow; please let me know if you have a favourite one you’d like to add:
The Thesis Whisperer. From the blog: “The Thesis Whisperer is a blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis and is edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University.” Mewburn and guest writers from across the world post about every possible topic related to writing a dissertation. Her approach is humanizing, playful, and encouraging.
Patter. From the blog: “Patter is Pat Thomson, Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham.” Thomson blogs often on scholarly writing, writing a dissertation, publishing, and writing or research problems and solutions. Her posts are organic—springing from what is happening in her busy life as an academic.
Explorations of Style| A blog about academic writing. From the blog: “Explorations of Style offers readers an ongoing discussion of the challenges of academic writing. The ability to formulate and clarify our thoughts is central to the academic enterprise; this blog discusses strategies to improve the process of expressing our research in writing.” Dr. Rachael Cayley, from the University of Toronto, covers many topics of interest to dissertation and other academic writers in a down-to-earth style. The blog appears to be inactive now, but there are some great classic posts about reverse outlining, paragraphing, and transitions.
Do you have a recommendation about how to “make writing social”? Send your ideas and resources to Madeline at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is adapted from a page written by Madeline Walker in the Dissertation Writers Resource on this blog; last updated November 22, 2018
For a chance to win a prize, enter our blog post contest about how the University of Victoria’s extraordinary environment matters to your writing.
Describe where you love to write, take a picture of yourself in that location, and share with us how the amazing environment at the University of Victoria and its environs inspire your writing.
Or, describe who helps you write: a writing group, counsellor, tutor, librarian, instructor, supervisor, or friend? Tell us how this relationship matters to you and your writing and include a photo of yourself and whoever makes UVic an extraordinary environment for you and your writing.
Submit your entries (blog post plus photo) to email@example.com by 11:59 p.m., February 28, 2018 for a chance to win one of three prizes:
First prize: $100 gift certificate at UVic Bookstore
Second and third prizes: $50 gift certificates at UVic Bookstore
Winning entries will be published on the Graduate Student Writers’ Community blog.
Writing is a journey. It is an emotional, physical, and psychological journey graduate students have to be willing to take to get to that state of academic fulfillment. For many of us, it is one of the most difficult journeys to take, and we rarely experience true contentment with the final product, but still we press on. My life, like writing, is a journey, and a constant reference point of why I should write. After travelling thousands of miles with two toddlers to do my PhD, it is a journey I am now fully committed to whether I am ready or not! Writing my dissertation in a timely manner is the journey I must take that justifies uprooting my family to pursue a degree. I am among the myriad students who experience this crippling fear of giving up everything to move to another province or country to pursue higher education. But this blog post does not dwell on the challenges, rather on how to overcome these and move beyond the typical excuses of “why I can’t write” to actually writing. It looks at how we can carve out spaces in our very busy lives to meet the demands of writing as a graduate student and ultimately accomplish our goals.
On my journey as a writer, PhD candidate, tutor, and instructor, I have learned a few lessons, albeit not necessarily from academic scholars, that have supported my writing.
The first lesson I have learned is that we all need a supportive community of writers. We need colleagues who are experiencing similar challenges and successes to support us. I have two supportive communities for my writing. First, I meet monthly with a group of international students to share our graduate experiences including writing. Many of us within the group struggle to balance family and writing demands for projects, conferences, and journals. In these sessions, we share tips, sources, and strategies that are useful in helping us to achieve our writing targets for the month. The Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) is one resource we continually refer to as a strong support for our writing. This group is most useful in encouraging me to stay on track and reminds me I am not alone–which is key to graduate work that can be so isolating.
Another supportive writing community is the “Shut up and Write” sessions co-created by Linda Edworthy and myself. This is a concept originating from the San Francisco Bay area in which graduate students are encouraged to meet for two hours each week to simply write. Five minutes are allotted after each 25-minute writing session to engage your fellow writers in discussion. These intense writing sessions have been incredibly useful in getting me to really zone in on my research topic, build on original ideas, and synthesize content.
The second lesson that I have learned is to be fearless with your writing. Take risks–it will strengthen you as a writer. Surprisingly this revelation came from my older son whom I watch adapt to a new way of life in a different country with such zest and openness. While he struggled a bit with contextual differences and communicating, it never stopped him. He wakes up each day just as enthusiastic as the day before to learn and try new things, and soon I see him blossom into this confident, sociable, and thriving student. At this point, I think to myself, why not approach my writing with the same level of enthusiasm and fearlessness? So what if I fail at it sometimes? So what if I write an entire draft and someone says, “I don’t get it”? What does this mean for me? It means it is not a critique of me as a person, but my writing. It means I will have to be open to criticism and suggestions if I truly intend to grow as a writer. I will face rejection from journals and other institutions, but it is no excuse not to write. It is by writing that I will hone my skills. The moral of this, we should not burden ourselves with the thought of being perfect writers at all times. If you have a story or point of view to share, go ahead and share it. Your work is important, and your writing is your avenue to do that. Feeding into your fear will not only deprive you of the benefits of sharing your work, but your colleagues who would have profited from your insights. Many of my colleagues in my home country thought I was a bit crazy to move my family over 3000 miles to pursue a PhD. It may have been a crazy thought, but if there is one thing I have learned from this journey, it is you have to be willing to take risks. It was quite risky asking my husband to give up his flourishing career for five years to support my educational pursuits and most certainly risky moving with my two young sons not knowing how they will adjust to life in another country. But what is a journey without some risks? The same principle applies to writing; we have to take risks sometimes, put our writing out there for others to see what we are doing and not let our fears of the unknown cripple us. Often, we are so petrified at the thought of sharing our writing with others, we fail even to begin the process.
Writing this blog is certainly one way I am conquering my fear of sharing my writing. Here I am sharing my failures and triumphs with my own writing. I am hoping this will encourage you to break free from your own writing shackles.
Finally, I would say one of the most important lessons I have learned is to avoid the trap of complacency. While it has been difficult balancing family, school, and work, I have learned and am still learning that it is important to set aside time to write daily and commit to it. I have never missed one of the writing meetings with any of the groups. This commitment allows me to get some writing done, which is critical to my growth as a graduate student. I have also learned to be intentional about my writing and set goals so I am motivated to do so and not become complacent. I realize that the optimum time for me to write is at 10 pm when everyone is in bed. Hence, my goal each night is to commit at least 2 hours of writing to either my research or any publication I may be working on. Having these set targets force me to get the writing done, even when I would rather sleep. My constant reminder is that my journey is not mine alone, but that of my family as well.
Whatever your journey may be, you have to carve your own path to academic writing success. It does take work, but as is proven by many before us, it is achievable. While these are some of the strategies I use, there is a multiplicity of support systems for graduate students’ writing. It is important to find what works for you and commit yourself to doing it.
I am from the beautiful and welcoming island, Jamaica. I attained both my Bachelor in Education (Language & Literature) and Masters in Education (Language & Literacy) at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. I have been a teacher of English and Literature for 14 years and Lecturer for over 6 years. I am currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction with special interests in language and literacy. My research focuses on four Jamaican adolescent boys’ (from low income families) almost exclusive use of Jamaican Creole (JC) and the impact on their academic success in a selected school in Jamaica, a country that only recognizes English as its official language in spite of the fact that 92% of the population experience great difficulty speaking it and the same percentage are fluent JC speakers.
When Kate Turner’s husband got an academic job in Bogota, she knew she would need some help finishing her dissertation. Writing a dissertation is challenging in familiar surroundings with supportive colleagues, but accomplishing this goal in an unfamiliar city with few local contacts is even more difficult. Help, however, was closer than she imagined. When Kate heard that her friend, Daniel, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, had committed to daily writing with another friend, Marieka, she asked to join them. Daniel and Marieka called their initiative “DiMoWriMo,” short for “dissertation to monograph writing month.” Taking their inspiration from novel writing month every November (https://nanowrimo.org/ ), Daniel and Marieka’s goal was to turn their recently completed dissertations into books. Kate’s final goal was slightly different from Daniel’s and Marieka’s, but her objective—to write a lot every day—was the same.
The three writers entered a period of intense productivity.
Here’s how it worked: Daniel, Marieka, and Kate committed to write or revise 1,000 words per day for a month, posting daily word counts on Facebook and Twitter and keeping a record in Google Sheets. On Fridays, they chatted on Skype. The penalty for not reaching the goal? A $50 donation to an organization you don’t agree with.
Kate was part of the DiMoWriMo group for January and February 2016, and during that time she wrote and revised 55,000 words. Yes, you read the number correctly: 55,000 words! Kate reflected that “writing a thesis is really hard and can feel isolating and disempowering. You are flooded with this bulk of information. It can be helpful to know how others are going through it and deal with it in a practical way.” She credits goal setting, daily writing, frequent sharing, and friendly competitiveness for her stellar productivity.
Kate finished her article-based dissertation at the University of Manitoba, and is now a SSHRC post-doc student at the School of Environmental Studies at UVic. She is working on a study about rural development and food heritage on the Pacific Coast of Colombia under supervisor Ana María Peredo. Continuing to commit to regular writing with friends, Kate uses this method to keep her accountable for her academic writing goals. Although the rules may have relaxed a little since the initial group was formed (for example, writers may write several days a week rather than every day), the key idea persists—if we harness the power of social accountability, we are likely to be more productive and feel more supported than if we write in isolation.
As November approaches, perhaps you are thinking of ramping up your writing to meet a goal. Check out Academic Writing Month, a month-long web-based writing event held every November for all academic writers. You can join in a supportive network, declare your goals, share your progress, and post results—all the while learning tips and strategies from other writers.
If you would like to start your own web-based writing group, here are a few tips from Kate to get going:
Groups of three to six people work best.
Set daily or weekly goals in words or hours.
Use social media and/or Google Groups to connect daily or weekly and post achievements publicly.
Agree on a penalty (that hurts!) for goals not met.
Encourage each other: Finding ways to support others will have a positive effect on your own productivity—for example, share any useful resources you find.
Keep things moving—even on low energy days you can work on less demanding tasks related to the project, such as preparing appendices or references.
At the end of each session, plan your writing for the next day.
If a web-based writing group doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps you would prefer to join a facilitated group where people meet face to face: check out the Thesis Completion Group facilitated by Counselling at UVic.
Many of us worry about our writing. We are apprehensive about an unfamiliar topic, or we are afraid of what others will think of our work. We anticipate getting things wrong. We exaggerate criticism and fear failure. We are overwhelmed by uncertainty and obsess over details that are outside of our control.
When I worked as a writing tutor and graduate student at UVic, I often lived in denial of these fears. I like writing, I told myself. I enjoy it. But all too often, I found myself making excuses not to write: I had other work to do, or I needed to finish a few more books before completing a thesis chapter. I struggled to be honest with myself, but these were symptoms of a simple problem: I was terrified of my thesis.
Anxiety like this is a natural emotion. It is characterized by uneasiness, tension, and pessimism. The causes of anxiety are somewhat subjective, but there are some common patterns. Anxiety is often preceded by negative events followed by an expectation of continued difficulty or future disaster.
Fortunately, there are therapeutic activities and treatments for anxiety, and if writing anxiety is a special case of such worry, similar strategies can help writers as well. For example, psychologists often treat anxiety disorders with cognitive behavioural therapy or exposure therapy. CBT involves identifying our negative thoughts and focusing on positive or realistic thinking instead, while exposure therapy is a way to progressively familiarize ourselves with what worries us.
Similarly, it helps to be honest about our writing anxiety and to spend time getting comfortable with the writing process. For example, consider that writing assignment that you dread. Perhaps it is for a demanding instructor or it is on a subject or topic you do not like. Or perhaps the sheer amount of work you still have left is overwhelming. It is all too easy to push these thoughts into the back of our minds and turn to Netflix or Facebook and focus our attention elsewhere.
But this won’t help for long. We can’t ignore what we are afraid of forever. And in my experience, I can’t really forget about writing that I have to do unless I am writing. It was only in this honesty that I’d realize that my worries were often exaggerated.
So the solution here is to write. Of course, this is easier said than done. But it is important to write even when we feel that we cannot or do not want to. The more we write, the less writing will worry us. It does not matter exactly what writing you do, as long as you write. With that in mind, here are three suggestions that helped make my writing experiences more positive—even therapeutic.
First: try to focus on what you can control. We often are so preoccupied with the end product that we will not put pen to paper until we think we have the end product in sight. But that is never how writing works. The only way to know what you will write is to write. Do not obsess over what is outside your control. Do not obsess over the end product before the end. Set yourself achievable goals. Focus on the next step—the one you can complete right now: whether this is one paragraph, or one page, or one section, or one chapter. Either way, the only way to accomplish anything is through incremental steps. Do what you can. You can’t do what you can’t, so don’t worry in advance about what you haven’t managed yet.
Second: make yourself vulnerable. Let others know what your worries are. Talk to people. Write with people. Share your writing with readers who aren’t grading you. There are many people who can help you and who will read your writing for the sake of helping you. This might be a close friend or a classmate. It might be someone at the Centre for Academic Communication.
Again, we all worry about writing. All the time. You are normal. You are not alone.
But then, there are times where being alone will help. Too often, we think writing is just for school or work, and we are often trained to think we are wasting time unless we are writing for someone or to accomplish something, and then we wind up getting nothing done. So my third suggestion is write things you don’t have to write. Sometimes, these can turn into parts of papers that you have to write. After all, it is hard to like what you write if you don’t like writing it. So remember to make time to write for you. You don’t always have to write. But don’t write only what you have to write. Remember to make time to write for you.
Of course, I cannot guarantee that following this advice will make your anxiety go away, but it might help you diagnose and understand its causes. The good news is that once we better understand our anxiety, we can predict or expect it. We can reduce it. We can manage it. But it may be unrealistic to think that we can eliminate anxiety altogether.
After all, anxiety is a difficult problem. But I think almost any solution to it will involve a conversation. This blog post is my contribution to this conversation and an invitation for you to face up to your worries in your own writing as well.
Jonathan is a UVic alumnus and former tutor at the Centre for Academic Communication. He is currently Writing Centre Associate at Royal Roads University.
Technically, I’ve only concluded the first two terms, but I have yet to grow out of the undergraduate mindset of April signaling the end of a school year. Now that it is May, I have had the chance to reflect on the many types of writing that I completed since September. In this blog post, I hope some of my reflections may be of relevance to incoming graduate students, especially clinical psychology students.
Many types of writing
There are many types of writing to learn in graduate school. In the first year, there is a great demand on time: the course load is high, you must learn psychological tests, get familiar with the research in your advisor’s lab, and write literature reviews. This can distract from other types of writing, especially mastering the writing of assessment reports and scholarship applications. Yet both these types of writings are essential for long-term success as a clinical psychology student and deserve dedication of time and effort. During the first two semesters, I allocated little time to learn these skills, and becoming more proficient at both is one of my goals for the summer months. I have found plenty of resources in the library about both types of writing. This site has a lot of specific suggestions for proposal writing that I adopted for writing my tri-council scholarship application.
Extensive feedback from your advisor
If your advisor is anything like mine, you might be surprised and even feel a bit startled the first time you open a review paper or a research proposal with feedback. The many comment boxes may be unnerving, but they are actually great news. (At least, that is the perspective I have chosen.) First, they indicate that the advisor took time to read the text closely. In other words, your advisor cares about the work you do. Second, the comments are useful. I recognize that this might not always be the case, especially for “senior” students who have committee members who may provide conflicting suggestions or students who have developed a sufficient foundation in the area and their informed opinions differ from their advisors’. As a first-year student, I have always found adopting the suggestions improves my research. Third, the advisor may provide grammatical corrections and editorial comments. This brings me to my third realization.
Compensatory strategies for being a non-native English speaker work
As a non-native English speaker, I believe I spend more time revising than peers who are native English speakers. This habit partly stems from a lack of feedback on papers submitted during my undergraduate years. Not knowing why I received a better grade on one paper than another encouraged my neurotic and perfectionist tendencies – I just kept revising until a deadline. This is not necessarily a bad habit; it helped me improve the clarity and conciseness of my writing. As Gillian wrote in a post a few months ago, good punctuation and grammar requires practice. But in reality, as a graduate student there is little time for extensive rewriting. When time permits, I now try to read a style guide or visit the CAC experts who can efficiently point out recurrent grammatical errors I make. Also, simply incorporating the comments my advisor provides on my work improves the quality more than trying to revise on my own and it saves time! When revising, I now stop at the point of diminishing returns. A great law…
Experiment with writing
Since I had to do a lot of writing this past year, I experimented with systems of organization and writing settings to see how to become more productive. I finally started using a citation manager. Since I do my work both on a Mac and a PC I use Zotero; it syncs the information seamlessly. There are many other citation tools. You can find a nice comparison chart for what suits your needs here. Some people enjoy writing in groups, finding the presence of others to keep them accountable. Writing in a group did keep me from browsing online shopping sites and checking emails, but I also felt awkward. I tried writing in cafes, but the noise was distracting and the cost of snacks adds up quickly. Ultimately, I found that home is the best place for me to work – I can drink my weight in coffee and tea for free, and there is silence.
Somewhat surprising to myself, I find that my confidence in writing increased after the first year and the writing process is easier. I am looking forward to writing the introduction to my thesis over the summer. Anyway, happy writing!
Cindy Quan is a Master’s candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include the intersection of culture and mental health as well as risks and protective factors in vulnerable families. When not working, she loves spending her time playing racquet sports, travelling and cooking.
Having a full time job and writing a thesis is not easy. Actually, this is an understatement because sometimes the task appears utterly impossible. Work projects alone require your undivided attention, and at the end of the day, there is not much intellectual power left to read about your topic, organize your thoughts, and more importantly, to weave those thoughts into the paragraphs, sections, and chapters of a thesis. The most important factor in writing a thesis is consistency, and having a full-time job, and (occasionally) a life, makes it too hard to maintain that consistency. You might manage to make a breakthrough on a weekend or during “holidays,” but as soon as you spend a whole week on the work roller coaster, you find yourself back at square one, detached from your thesis, needing to review stuff that is now weeks old.
This is where I kept finding myself for two years trying to finish my MA thesis while working at the CAC. As an EAL Specialist, I knew in theory how to go through the writing process and how to break down writing tasks into smaller chunks in order to make incremental progress. I did not, however, find the place, time, or the motivation to put what I knew into practice.
But things changed in the summer of 2016, when I started to go to Write Club, a group writing initiative started by Stephen Ross in the English Department for faculty and graduate students to write together. The ad for Write Club described it as “a no-pressure, no distraction setting for getting that pesky writing done,” and it encouraged bringing any writing project because “No one cares what you write, so long as you write.” This simple, crisp, and forthright invitation was all I needed to start building a simple, crisp, and forthright habit: to carve two hours out of my workday (by going to work a couple hours earlier) and writing about four paragraphs during that time. It was as simple as that, and I wrote my thesis (the whole 50,000 words) in the same rhythm, two hours a day, four paragraphs at a time. Of course, on some days, I spent my two hours reading, planning, and revising, but I tried to keep the same habit rain or shine. In the fall, when I got busier at work and could not go to Write Club regularly, I still kept my two hour routine early in the morning or after work in the evening. It was surprisingly easier to keep the momentum once I got into a groove, and I actually worked for much more than two hours during Christmas holidays and as I got closer to the finish line. Write Club helped me finish my thesis, and as someone who had tried to start writing groups at the CAC as part of my role, I went back to Stephen to ask him about the reasons for Write Club’s success.
My main question for Stephen was how he managed to spark interest and keep people going to Write Club. I had tried to do the same, and I had noticed that the initial enthusiasm would dissipate rather soon. He reassured me that it is part of the nature of such initiatives to “bloom and fade” somewhat quickly, and that it is fine. To increase persistence, Stephen believed that you should “go slow burn”: “You don’t need to go for huge numbers to make a big show and a big deal out of it.” This was true. It was somehow the simplicity of the idea that attracted me and kept me going. He said that it was just him in the beginning and then he decided to send out an invitation to faculty and graduate students. “I never advertised it outside English or to undergraduates.” This allowed him to keep it easy and simple, and that helped with consistency.
One other way to keep it simple was to limit the activities and functions of the group. The invitation simply said “come and write.” I asked if there was any sharing of writing or plans to give feedback. “Very informally,” Stephen said. “Once Adrienne [Dr. Adrienne Williams Boyarin, an Associate professor in English] had a question about her paper, and we made her deliver her paper. It became a discussion.” But it seemed that for the most part, Write Club was just about being there and quietly beavering away. “The emphasis was on not disturbing other people. I did not want anybody to hijack the session,” said Stephen. I agreed. The idea was to provide encouragement and motivation by showing that we are all in it together. I remember being there, and as I got tired, I would look at others writing and would feel that I was not alone, and that helped me continue. Stephen confirmed this: “It is somehow like physical education. You need a workout partner. For writing, it is kind of the same principle.” They key is to know that someone is doing the same thing you are doing. He thinks that you do not even have to be in the same room to do this. You can have a “writing appointment” with someone and write at the same time. “Not everybody likes to write around other people. It is weird for them, and that’s fine. For me it is all about accountability.” He continued with his delightful frankness, “Like many academics, I am driven by shame. If I create conditions for myself, I don’t want to embarrass myself.” I definitely felt that sense of accountability. Knowing that other members would show up to the writing session every morning gave me not only the motivation to commit to my writing, but also a sense of being watched by kind, yet panoptic co-writers, and this kept me leaving home a couple hours earlier every day even when I really didn’t feel like it.
It is not all about being kept in check though. “Equally it is about support,” Stephen said. “We are all suffering. Writing is not easy for anyone. Anyone who tells you it is easy, then they are not writing good stuff!” He was also straightforward in admitting the hardships: “some days were just so terrible, and I wanted the students to know that.” He showed it as a way of “modelling” for student participants because he thinks we must accept that blocks are part of writing. Yet there are solutions. He thinks that taking a break and coming back later can work, as “the brain cooks up the solution” when you go about your day doing other stuff. “Go have lunch or go for a walk and think about something else. At some point, you will have an ‘aha moment.’ Create space for those.”
Creativity and productivity come with a healthy balance: “Write for three hours a day max, and then do other things. The window of productivity is relatively tiny.” This makes Write Club perfect because in those two hours “you can prime the pump.” Longer periods of work “lead to frustration. Because you are working too hard. Not smart. You shouldn’t be writing for more than three hours per day. You do that, and your brain quality and quantity falls down.” Stephen said that he wrote a book and several journal articles during the summer with the same routine of 2-3 hours per day, and he still managed to lead a normal life: “I pick up my kid from school, go for a run, etc., and if I have an idea while doing these, I would dictate it into my phone for later.” I think this is clever, healthy, and reasonable, and he agrees: “this is actually the kind of life an academic should lead.”
I thank Stephen for his time and leave his office, with a little bit more hope and motivation for my future academic writing projects. The power of group writing is immense, and Write Club proved that by helping me and others accomplish important writing projects. I hope there are more programs like this across the campus to help graduate students get their writing done. Maybe all we need is an uncomplicated plan and a healthy balance of accountability and support.