advice · research · saving my sanity · time crunch · writing · you're awesome

Shut up and write!

So, how’s your research going, now that the academic year is in full swing (for academics in North America and Europe, at least)? Good, right? And that grant/scholarship/fellowship application? It’s probably writing itself by now, am I right? ‘Cause now’s the time, isn’t it, before student essays start coming in for marking in earnest, before midterms, and before finals, and before “oh look, it’s December!”
Yes, I know. I’m with you. I’m trying to pressure/convince myself of the same things. You’ll see me wandering the halls muttering things like “no time like the present!” and “what? only one week until SSHRCs are due?” and “how is it only September 26?” in faulty punctuation and capitalization, because who has time to edit one’s mutterings anymore?
And I look at Er and envy her well laid-out plans. Then I look at Aimée, and admire her, too, for having developed good research and writing habits. And then I talk to my friends in the hallways and in the offices. And you know what? They’re having a hard time, too. And then? Then I go to my own office, alone with my Facebook or Twitter. Or I go to the library, on my own, and give people I see studying in groups the stink-eye for disturbing a “quiet space.”
Actually, I don’t. Not really. Not openly. Not a lot. But I do wish I were part of their group, or a group, ‘cause that’s what works for me. Accountability. Camaraderie. Community.
So, I’m taking matters in my own hands, and calling all people in physical or virtual proximity to join me for a recurring Shut Up and Write! session Thursdays 10 am – 1pm. For people at the U of A, you can join me physically, in HC 3-47*. For those not, why not convene your own: make a Facebook group, or a Google Document, or a Google Hangout, or a MeetUp, and organize weekly get-togethers in a café, a library, or some other easily accessible place. You don’t have to go every time; the group will take a life of its own. You also don’t have to be there for the whole time. People can come and go. The point is to create the opportunity for the writing group to emerge, and then it might surprise you how it can take of its own existence.
This, obviously, is not my idea. Bay Area group(s) were formed way back in 2007. Inger Mewburn, curator of The Thesis Whisperer has blogged about her group in Melbourne, Australia last year. Kerry Ann Rockquemore wrote about it in 2010 as one of the ways to be productive over the summer. She also provides many other suggestions for writing, which might be useful for you if this one isn’t. I’m sure many other people shut up and write all over the place, because that’s what works for them. Here in my own department, we used to have a group like this a couple of years ago, and it worked really well.
So, I’m crowd-sourcing my writing opportunities. Because, hey, you’ve got to find what works for you, right? Also, because I want to practice what I’m preaching. I tell my students that to be able to develop your writing skills, you need to write regularly. That essay writing is a skill that can only be attained through practice, and that practice entails daily free-writing and ink-shedding, and other sorts of habit-forming activities. However, I didn’t always heed my own advice, and writing (especially in incipient stages, the ones involving the blank page/document) was paralyzing and anxiety-inducing for me.
Luckily, I was here to read when Aimée was talking about daily writing and how she developed the daily writing habit by using it, and I took her advice. I joined Academic Ladder this summer, and the accountability it demanded of me made me much more productive. They advocate the pomodoro method, and so do other people. All of a sudden, thinking about writing—whether a conference paper, a job letter, or a research proposal—in small chunks of time (45 minutes, but one can start with however long or short suits one) took the anxiety and paralysis out of it. Most importantly, it helped me, too, build that habit, and expect that I produce some writing daily.
Academic Ladder is a paid service ($70 for 4 weeks), and I might try to wean myself off it, and see if I can “maintain the momentum,” like Erin said, or if my good habits can work when I am not directly accountable to someone else. Instead, I hope to find my support among friends, whom I can physically see once a week for this purpose. Will you join us? Or, better yet, will you give us tips of what worked for you? Or warn us of what didn’t and should never again ever be attempted? 

*With many thanks to a certain wonderful person in the admin of my department, who made the booking possible. M M-D, you are awesome!