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Pros and cons of writing retreat & writer’s group Rowena Murray University of Strathclyde

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Presentation on theme: "Pros and cons of writing retreat & writer’s group Rowena Murray University of Strathclyde"— Presentation transcript:

1 Pros and cons of writing retreat & writer’s group Rowena Murray University of Strathclyde

2 Underpinning principles Writing is a social act that benefits from discussion with peers who also write. Feedback is helpful throughout the writing process. Working in a group can motivate writers to initiate and progress writing projects. Goal-setting and monitoring help writers create and meet deadlines. ‘Snack’ and binge writing …

3 Invent your own principles Start with these principles. Discuss: add/cut/revise/invent. Make group’s purpose explicit. Don’t wait for general agreement. Develop consensus as you go along. Allow for participants’ differences. Agree the structure for meetings.

4 Writing Retreat

5 Features of structured retreat 2 or 5 days off-campus residential all writing in same room non-surveillance without /internet/mobile peer discussions of work-in-progress

6 Discussion Writing Break Writing Lunch Discussion Writing Break Writing ‘Writing sandwich’

7 Strengths of the structured approach ‘The structured, focused nature means you can’t just bow out’. ‘I achieved more in that one weekend than I had for the months prior to that’. The facilitator ‘kept order’ and ‘ensured [we] remained focused’.

8 Changing writing practices ‘I am actually more disciplined when it comes to writing practice’. ‘I now have a more realistic sense of what I can achieve in a given time’. ‘Change is slow, especially when it comes from deep-seated anxieties’. ‘Retreat has encouraged me to prioritise writing and recognise it as part of my job’.

9 Sustaining change: ‘repeat retreat’ ‘If I had three or four retreats a year I would never ask for study leave’. ‘When people buy into… or see that additionality, then they can accept quite easily the guided, directional nature of retreat’. ‘I think it’s important in terms of underlining the importance that the department puts on research and publication’.

10 Using containment theory Retreat contains anxieties associated with writing. It holds writing as the primary task. It prevents anti-task activities. Previous anti-task activities become times to refresh, discuss and give/receive feedback.

11 6 participants’ outputs March 2008 retreat 1.Revised paper for submission to journal + wrote 5,000 words of book chapter 2.Completed conference paper and journal article + half of second chapter of thesis 3.Revised article (following reviewers’ comments) + completed 80% of dissertation by pulling documents together

12 Outputs (cont.) 4.Drafted book chapter, received feedback from group and revised + wrote 2 conference posters + results section of a journal article 5.Completed journal article + 1st draft of another paper + conference poster + 80% of another poster + outline for next journal article word assignment 6.Wrote first draft of methodology chapter of thesis (10,000 words)

13 What are the pros of writing retreat? Prioritises writing. Leads to achievements and outputs. Develops discipline of writing. Provides emotional containment.

14 What are the cons? Activities are not replicated in workplace and personal settings. Cost. ‘Catch up’ pressure on return to campus. Not addressing problem of lack of time and space for writing in workplaces.

15 References Grant, B (2006) Writing in the company of other women: Exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education, 31(4), Moore, S (2003) Writers’ retreat for academics: exploring and increasing the motivation to write, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(3): Murray, R & Cunningham, E (2011) Managing researcher development: ‘drastic transition?, Studies in Higher Education Murray, R & Newton, M (2009) Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream?, Higher Education Research and Development, 28(5):

16 Writing warm up What writing [for publication, or for your thesis, book, proposal or project] have you done, and what would you like to do [in the long, medium and short term]? 5 minutes ’ writing In sentences Private writing -- no one will read it To discuss in pairs/groups

17 Writer’s Group

18 Purposes of writers’ group Making time to write. Getting writing into workplace settings. Providing pre-peer review. Taking the sting out of peer review.

19 Features of writer’s group Self-selecting Mixture of disciplines Active/intending writers Writing (SU)/peer reviewing (TCD) 90 minutes, twice a month Starting with 5-minute warm up + 10-minute discussion of writing goal for 90-minute slot Ending with review of achievements, setting new goals

20 What is a writing sub-goal? Specific content to be covered. Specific length -- number of words. Specific time -- number of hours or minutes required to do the writing task. What can you write at writers’ group? What can you write between meetings?

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22 What writers say about making time to write ‘… by the end of the [writers’ group] meeting, I had thought of so many things that I need to do that I began to panic about when to do them all…. I was a bit envious when most of the others spoke of how they intended to set aside some time during the working day. That unfortunately is a bit of a luxury as far as I am concerned’.

23 What writers say about obstacles to writing ‘There are many obstacles to the writing process. These include priorities of work and home life, inappropriate conditions for writing and the inability to get started. The greatest difficulty for me personally is in overcoming the need to have the essay or paper fully researched, planned and a framework set out prior to starting to write’.

24 What writers say about pre-peer review ‘At the very early stages of the writing process, the step between an idea for a paper and the actual publication is enormous. However, as the topic and themes are developed, target dates are set and initial drafts are subjected to peer review, the enormous step is transformed into a series of more gradual steps interspersed with landings or stages for review and reflection. The whole process becomes more manageable’.

25 What writers say about peer review ‘So what of the confidence that is necessary to produce a paper for publication? Here we have a problem of committing ideas and views to paper and exposing them to a wide audience. Furthermore, that audience will include people who have extensive knowledge of the subject of the paper and may disagree with the views expressed’.

26 What writers say about learning to write for publication ‘I was very unsure of the writing process and was very nervous about committing to paper…. I can remember the way in which my approach to writing changed as I read some of the theory on writing and adopted some of the ideas. I am now more confident of the structure and approach to writing an academic paper. However, I still have a long way to go’.

27 What are the pros of writer’s group? Makes real time for writing on campus. Makes connections between writers. Builds research- and writing-oriented relationships between academics. Cuts across disciplinary boundaries. Makes visible what writers do, so writers can learn from each other.

28 What are the cons? It is easily dislodged by other tasks. There can be clashes and unmet needs. It can get ‘old’. Extra-departmental is marginal. Makes visible what writers do, so they may be intimidated by each other.

29 Writers learn from each other 10 ways not to prioritise writing 1. Open your first thing and don’t quit. 2. Keep your writing goals quite general. 3. Don’t talk about your writing-in-progress. 4. Only seek feedback when you have a complete draft. 5. Don’t write unless you know exactly what you want to say.

30 … more ways not to prioritise writing 6. Wait till you’re really ready to write. 7. Don’t bother defining sub-goals -- you know what you want to do. 8. Don’t bother with the 5-minute warm up for writing -- just start writing. 9. Only ever write in large chunks of time. 10. Try and find more time for writing.

31 References Carnell, E, MacDonald, J, McCallum, B & Scott, M (2008) Passion and Politics: Academics Reflect on Writing for Publication. London: Institute of Education. Murray, R (2002) Writing development for lecturers moving from further to higher education: A case study, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 26(3): Murray, R (2009) Writing for Academic Journals, 2nd edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw- Hill.

32 Time: the final frontier Academics must write for publication, but find it difficult to make time to do so. Even when ‘permission’ is given for writing in the workplace, other tasks have priority. Even when skills and behaviours are developed, they are difficult to sustain (Murray & Newton, 2008).

33 The Exercise Consultation 1-to-1 motivational interview Aims to change priorities Aligns priorities with personal values Widely used in health promotion Uses goal setting, balancing advantages and disadvantages of different courses of action and social support to initiate behaviour change.

34 The Writing Consultation 1-to-1 interviews, pairs of academics Focused on writing goals Reviewing barriers to achieving goals Developing strategies for overcoming them Mutual peer support Proved workable with academics in informal trials (e.g. at end of retreat) Published journal article

35 Aims of the Nuffield study To implement and evaluate the writing consultation To answer 2 questions: 1.Does taking part in a writing consultation initiate change in writing behaviour leading to prioritisation of writing? 2.Does it increase motivation to write?

36 Methods 14 (>13) academics who attended either/both writer’s group & writer’s retreat. Met every 2 weeks in pairs for period of 8 weeks (time commitment of 4 hours). Used the Writing Consultation template. 30-minute interviews by external researcher. Ethical approval from the University. Interviews transcribed verbatim and checked. Analysis for core constructs: stages of change, decisional balance, goal setting, social support.

37 Findings: stages of change & decisional balance Both seen as useful at 1st meeting, but repetitive at subsequent meetings, as position of writing was unlikely to change in such a short period. Decisional balance useful for discussing pros and cons of writing and not writing: ‘a good outlet for discussion on the position of writing’; ‘helpful to strengthen my values and beliefs about writing’.

38 Findings: goal setting & social support Setting and monitoring goals with others generated sense of achievement: ‘being able to meet these goals put [me] in a better place, and that has a knock-on effect’; ‘lost that constant feeling of low grade failure’. Useful to discuss barriers to achieving goals and ways of overcoming them. Main reported benefit was social support: ‘you know that the fears you have … you are not alone’.

39 Compare this with productive writers’ attributions 4 categories of attribution: collaboration, passion/curiosity, research skills, time management. ‘Time management was found to have three sub-categories: elimination of distractions, scheduled time to write, and social deadlines’ (p. 53).

40 Note the importance of dedicated writing time ‘All of the surveyed authors are extremely busy with institutional duties, meetings with graduate students, teaching classes, responding to s from colleagues and students around the country, and, of course, maintaining a personal life at home. Thus, to produce academic work they must isolate themselves and block out distractions’ (Mayrath, 2008).

41 Note the key ability of productive writers ‘I think the key to academic productivity is the ability to ignore, screen out, and avoid distractions’ (author quoted in Mayrath, 2008: 51).

42 Conclusions to this study: behaviour change Behaviour change leads to prioritising writing. Writing consultation raises awareness of importance of goal setting for writing in the time that we have. Study revealed limited awareness that unrealistic goals lead to failure. Setting goals and achieving them feels good and is highly motivating. Writing goals are more likely to be achieved away from academics’ offices.

43 Issues Those in a structured supervision process reported less behaviour change. A small minority see the approach as managerialist. The concept of behaviour change initially seemed alien, as did the stages of change model. Some confusion of ‘goals’ and ‘actions’. This confusion and perception of repetition suggest concepts are not yet fully adopted. Is having a ‘therapeutic’ effect what it’s for -- is that enough?

44 The advance-retreat model Advance in writing may require retreat from other activities. Retreat from other activities is associated with productivity. Writing happens ‘in retreat’, in different times and spaces, from other activities. (Murray & Moore, 2006)

45 References Bandura, A (1997) Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman. Loughlan, C & Mutrie, N (1995) Conducting an exercise consultation: guidelines for health professionals, Journal of the Institute of Health Education, 33: Mayrath, M (2008) Attributions of productive authors in educational psychology journals, Educational Psychology Review, 20: Miller, WR & Rollnick, S (2002) Motivational interviewing: Preparing People for Change, 2nd edn. London: Guildford Press

46 References Murray, R & Moore, S (2006) The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw- Hill. Murray, R & Newton, M (2008) Facilitating writing for publication, Physiotherapy, 94: Murray, R, Thow, M, Moore, S & Murphy, M (2008) The writing consultation: Developing academic writing practices, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32(2):

47 Acknowledgements The British Academy funded research on writing retreats run at Strathclyde University in The Nuffield Foundation funded two projects: (1) writers’ practices 1 year on from a Writing for Publication course (2005) and (2) evaluation of the Writing Consultation (2009).


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