Monthly Archives: May 2012

What Can You Accomplish in a Week? Part 2

It’s the last day of the UofL Writing Center Dissertation Writing Retreat. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the questions I was pondering was what the participants attending could expect to accomplish in a one-week retreat. Obviously, no one was going to write an entire dissertation. So what would constitute a successful week for the writers? The consultants and Writing Center staff?

As the week is drawing to a close, one thing is clear – the energy and attitude around the entire week has been positive and productive. The commitment of the participants to writing every day and then engaging in individual consultations has been impressive and inspiring. What’s more, the discussions about writing during the group writing workshops – from problems and obstacles to aspirations and solutions – have been enlightening and useful to everyone involved. My sense is that all the participants feel they have had a productive week.

Yet beyond the words written and pages produced, the people involved in the retreat have talked about other things that they have learned or been reminded of during the week.

First, you can’t underestimate the value of having extended, dedicated time for writing. As one writer noted this week, in the busy lives of graduate students where research and writing must be balanced against other demands of work and family, it is easy to think that writing can be squeezed in as one of a number of simultaneous, multitasking obligations. She was reminded, however, how much difference it made to her writing and thinking to simply have a quiet space and extended time to write and focus on writing. Of course that’s not always possible. But several of the writers have mentioned how they plan to continue to block out some time each week in this way to get some writing done, and may very well come back to the Writing Center to do it. (And we welcome them! We have a great space with the best view on campus.) At the same time, we also talked about the benefit of writing on a regular basis, even if it’s only a sentence or two a day, and how that will keep the writing and thinking close by and accumulate pages faster than people realize.

Also, the participants in the retreat have mentioned how useful it has been to receive the ongoing, timely response and feedback that their consultants have given them during the daily writing consultations. It can take a long time to get comments back from dissertation committee members (and I am as guilty as anyone in sometimes having trouble getting drafts back to my students). What the writers this week have talked about is the benefit of being able to talk about their writing while it’s in progress – and to have those conversations focus on the issues of rhetoric and writing. As Don Murray used to say, there is no substitute for being able to show your writing to someone who makes you want to go back and write and revise more. My hope is that these writers will continue to get that kind of response and conversation both from visits to the Writing Center as well as in writing groups they may form.

Finally, there was the benefit of being part of a community of writers. Writing a dissertation – writing anything, really –  can feel like such an isolated and lonely endeavor. This week all the participants in the retreat found themselves in a community of writers. They’ve talked about the benefit of the support that comes from talking with peers about writing issues and getting both suggestions as well as empathy. They found that talking, and often laughing, about writing, even when your field is far removed from writing studies, can be enriching. And they also found that simply being in a room with other people writing can inspire them to continue to put create words.

A good space to write, productive consultations, and a community of writers – from where I stand that’s an incredible week and a testament to the great writers and consultants and staff that made it all possible.

A special thanks to the participants:

Naouel Baili, Tanvir Bhuiyan, Brynn Dombroski, LeAnn Bruce, Alex Cambron, Anis Hamdi, James Leary, Mohammadreza Negahdar, Zdravko Salipur, and Charlos Thompson.

And a thanks to the Writing Center staff:

Ashly, Bender, Robin Blackett, Laura Detmering, Becky Hallman, Jennifer Marciniak, Barrie Olson (who had the idea and did the research to plan the retreat), and, of course, Adam Robinson.

And thanks to Beth Boehm and the School of Graduate Studies for their support for the retreat.

We’re all tired, but very happy. For more on the Dissertation Writing Retreat, see the UofL Writing Center Blog.

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What Can You Accomplish in a Week?

Tomorrow is the start of the first Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University of Louisville Writing Center. This is the first retreat like this we’ve held (and, yes, I absolutely refuse to call it a bootcamp). We’re excited about it and I think we’ve got an intriguing combination of time for writing, mini workshops, eating and relaxing, and individual consultations organized for the ten participants. I’m delighted that it’s going to happen (thanks Barrie, Adam, and Laura) and that we have a range of participants from disciplines as diverse as Engineering,Humanities, Social Work, and the Medical School.

But there is one question that continues dig at me a bit – as it may for the participants who will be coming to the Writing Center tomorrow: What can we really accomplish in a week?

If I think about a good week of writing – make that a great week of writing – I might hammer out a dozen pages or so, and that’s only if I’m really organized and know what I want to do with whatever the project might be. More likely, even on a good week, I get a couple of good days of producing a lot of words, and then I have days in between of making notes, staring at the screen, going back and moving things around, looking again at my notes and the books I’m using, and so on. I certainly don’t think I’m atypical when it comes to academic writers. So, again, given the scope of a dissertation of a few hundred pages, what can we really accomplish in a week?

My thinking at this point – and my hope – is that we might give the participants a jump-start to their writing, some energy to go forward, make even some extra confidence. (That’s why it’s not a bootcamp; we’re about support, not trauma.) More than that, I’m hoping that the combination of writing time and daily consultations might help the writers reframe their writing habits and approaches so that they can work more effectively to finish their dissertations. So it’s not about the pages; it’s about the processes. And I hope they’ll keep coming to the Writing Center (and will tell their friends). To see what happens you can also visit the Writing Center blog during the week.

I’m thinking it will be a great week of writing and talking about writing. Tune in later and I’ll let you know.