Writing Workshops

I’ve been offering a “strategies for suffering-free academic writing” workshop since 2008 for thesis-writing undergraduates and grad students; I’ve offered it at various universities since. Every year there are folks who can’t attend and ask for notes to be made available. Here are the current Powerpoint Slides. Somewhat embarrassingly for me, but perhaps usefully for you, there is also a video recording of the most recent workshop I offered. The first section is on taking an attitude toward your writing and resisting imposter syndrome, the second is on time and guilt management strategy and “units,”the best writing tool I know, and the third does a quick run through some specific tactics for working with writing, including a memo plan for guiding supervisors toward useful feedback. The video tracks a slightly older version of the powerpoint slides. The workshop aims to synthesize a number of approaches to writing that hold the understanding that academic writing may always be somewhat painful, but it does not have to produce so much suffering. I offer concrete practices for working with time and guilt management; beginning the writing process; dealing with anxiety, procrastination, and panic about writing; organizing the material realities of the writing process; knowing when to stop writing; communicating effectively with advisors and others who can give you feedback; setting up support structures for writing.

I mentioned a number of time-management and other books useful for academics and possibly for non-academic writers, too:

Advice for New Faculty Members, by Robert Boice
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, by Neil Fiore
Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, by Mark Forster
The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber
What It Is, by Lynda Barry

Here are some useful links I mention in the presentation. (There are many more besides these, and I welcome you to email me if you have suggestions for additions):

On recasting our relation to our work in terms of our life:
Lifework
The Slow Professor

On procrastination:
“Why Procrastinators Procrastinate”
“Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: The psychological origins of
waiting (… and waiting, and waiting) to work”

“Forget Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.”

On help for finishing a dissertation:
Meetups: http://dissertation.meetup.com/
Supportive message board: http://www.phinished.org/

I also do a related version of this workshop that aims to be useful for anarchists and activists more broadly. I’ve offered this workshop for the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, York OPIRG/Media Co-op, North American Anarchist Studies Network, and at a Democratizing the Media conference in Ottawa. The orientation in this workshop holds that writing is an important way to communicate about, work through, and reflect on our movements and struggles. It is also a vital part of our struggles. The capacity to write with ease, joy, and fluidity is rare: it is crushed in us through formal schooling, bad teachers, and a world that fundamentally doesn’t mind if radicals have a hard time putting our thoughts to paper so that they can be shared. Many of us deal with the challenge of writing by waiting for deadlines to run us down so that we have to produce something, anything – using crises to force ourselves through the panic and boredom writing can induce. Others simply don’t write at all.

Usually, the ways that writing is bad and useless come directly out of the conditions and methods that school has trained us to use. Writing with ease is about class, race, rurality, gender, and more; people raised with money, time, “good” schools, parents who didn’t work nights, and so on tend to read and write more easily, and have more entitlement in their writing. People who write from lived experiences that counters these norms are frequently told, implicitly and explicitly, that they have nothing worthwhile to say, or that they are constitutionally incapable of writing.

When writing is not understood as an important part of our movement work, the people who end up producing writing about anarchist currents and movements are academics and journalists; because they are often not directly engaged in organizing (or are attempting to use their reflections on work they are involved with also for their own academic or journalistic careerism), they document and reflect on our work badly. Successful academic writers have dysfunctions specific to academe, which are carried into attempts at writing that might be relevant or useful to activists, organizers, regular non-academic people, and movements.