Writing in company, with discipline (2)

This post, as the heading suggests, is the second part of a series and it picks up some of the more technical aspects of  Shut Up and Write (SU&W), as well as things we’ve learned along the way.

In part 1, I said that research writing is not the same as creative writing. In fact, Shut Up and Write  is something of a misnomer, because it implies that that’s all that can be done at a SU&W meeting, but Shut Up and Do Anything You Need to Do to Further Your Research is a real mouthful and SU&DAYNDFYR just doesn’t work as an acronym. 🙂 As well as actually writing content for a thesis/dissertation, journal article or book (chapter), tasks that lend themselves to the SU&W format include:

  • reading and making notes
  • entering research data into a database
  • coding research data for analysis
  • finding references
  • editing your writing
  • tidying your office so you can locate a missing article or book (this only works for on-line meetings, of course)

All of these are tasks that for one reason or another people find difficult to settle down to do, and doing them with people who will hold you accountable and provide you with company and light relief every 25 minutes can make them more bearable for a longer period of time. SU&Wers have also found that participating even once a week helps to motivate them to ‘write’ every day.

As far as the more technical/mechanical aspects of hosting are concerned, we have found that:

  • On-line SU&W works best if there are 3-5 people involved, although I do it with just two of us as well. If there are more than 5 people in an Adobe Connect room the breaks take too long or some people don’t get to speak, whereas if you have a larger group face to face, you can break into smaller groups.
  • Adobe Connect is great because you can both see and hear other participants, which makes people who are geographically isolated feel more connected, but real-time video hogs bandwidth and I regularly do groups where we pause videos or individual participants pause video from their end because they have slow connections, and where some people participate by typing because they don’t have a microphone or are in a place where talking doesn’t work for them (eg a shared office). I once facilitated a group from a computer that didn’t have a microphone (or camera) and I would not willingly repeat the experience. Skype audio conferences would also work, as would Skype video, of course, but that costs money for groups.
  • It is good to get up and move around during the breaks. Walking on the spot in front of the computer is fine. One of the participants in a research writing boot camp introduced us to using hand weights and exercise balls as a way of adding variety, while andisal says:
  • If you plan to work for more than three ‘pomodoros’, you need a longer break at some stage. If I am doing a set of four, I tend to put a 10 minute break in after the second. During the CSU Research Writing Bootcamps run by Cassily Charles and Lisa McLean, we discovered that for a whole afternoon or whole day of writing, especially in summer, a 15 minute break every third pomodoro helped refresh people and enabled them to keep doing useful work longer.
  • Regular SU&Wers develop a sense of camaraderie, even though they haven’t met face to face – it was wonderful to meet people IRL at CSU DocFest who had previously only been faces on a screen and voices through speakers. Everyone was really excited about this.
  • It doesn’t matter that people in the group are working in entirely different fields. You can still get benefit from the support of others, and also learn from each other. The Tuesday night group has someone researching teaching children to swim, someone looking at an information technology project and someone researching a television producer, as well as me, working on the Gospel of Thomas. It’s fun learning a bit about different things and we still know things about the general research enterprise which apply across all fields. On Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, a Doctor of Business Administration student joins us from Switzerland and the other day he was able to reassure me that I was reading the right nuance from some German articles that I had been reading.
  • Face to face SU&W can work for research writing. There is a very active group on the Wagga campus every Friday and Inger Mewburn also uses face to face SU&W. It just didn’t work well for our Albury cohort.
  • You can do “mixed mode” SU&W – some people together in the one place and others attending via internet. If you have more than one or two on-liners, though, it is important to have an on-line host as well as a host in the room or the on-liners tend to get missed out. It is very difficult to keep track of both the computer screen and conversation in the room around you.

Shut Up & Write doesn’t work for everyone, and doesn’t work for every stage of research writing, but it’s certainly worth giving it a go!!

The material in this post and the previous one are based on an invited presentation that I did at CSU’s inaugural DocFest held at Wagga Campus of CSU 23-25 June 2014. It was conceptualised and organised by Cassily Charles, the Academic Writing Coordinator, HDR students and Lisa McLean, Research and Graduate Studies Officer, School of Education. People were able to participate either at Wagga campus, or on line through Adobe Connect and to hear from a wide range of people about a wide range of issues related to research writing and the enterprise of being a Higher Degree Research student. It was a fantastic experience.



2 thoughts on “Writing in company, with discipline (2)

  1. Hi Judy, when I first heard of SU&W I was horrified because I always work better when thinking aloud. So I’m trying to get a group together that I’m going to call “Write Out Loud.” Similar principle, but involves forming pairs and paying attention to each other in turn. Sure, you’re only going to get half as much time concentrating on your own work – but I find that on the occasions I do organise a time swap I get heaps more done that I ever do on my own.
    PS. Come read my blog at http://www.cathrynmccormack.com.au

  2. Catherine, you could think out loud in company as long as you don’t need an audience. During the writing process we often mute microphones so that the loud typists don’t distract those who need silence. 🙂

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