Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Today’s is the final November Writing Challenge blog post. Well-done to everyone who accepted the Challenge and congratulations on the progress you made. Whether you managed to finish a major piece of work, or just thought about writing a bit more than you normally would, centering the processes of writing and dissemination in academic work is important.

We would like to warmly thank those academic staff and HDR students who generously contributed their reflections on their own writing processes to the November Writing Challenge blog. They are:
For those of you who were pleased with your writing progress, we congratulate you. But even if the Writing Challenge was not the rousing success you had initially hoped it would be, taking the time to think about what happened is still a useful exercise and will enable you to strengthen your approach writing in the future. In this blog post, Paul Silvia, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina and author of ‘How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing’, emphasises the importance of making writing a habitual, automated behavior. While the notion of scheduling writing into each day might seem ‘too obvious’ to the academic who ‘writes in binges born of deadlines and desperation’, most productive writers write regularly, during scheduled times. While the early stages of a structured writing program might be uncomfortable, painful or unevenly successful, eventually, writing will become habitual and ordinary. His view is that with persistence, writing gets better and easier. Certainly, in the face of the significant demands presented by academic work, this is a heartening message.

You might be interested to know how other Challengers fared over the last fortnight. Here is a brief summary of the result we have obtained so far from the Completion survey:

Almost every participant who submitted the survey reported that they had, at least, made some progress with their writing. 80% reported that they had either met their Writing Challenge goals or had made some good progress with their writing. Several challengers noted that it was useful to have writing centered in academic conversations, and that the support of other participating staff was valuable. HDR students highlighted the usefulness of having their supervisor at hand for solid conversations about the directions of their research.
For some participants, the Writing Challenge reminded them of the pleasure of writing. Others noted that they were more consistent with their writing because they had committed to a specific goal and had fashioned a plan of action - keeping track of time spent writing and the number of words written made them more conscious of their writing processes, and, thus, gave them more control. Some found the regular emails and the Red Writing ‘Hood blog encouraged them to push through the fortnight. A number of participants said that setting aside time for writing was absolutely integral to their success and that it would be useful to have time away from other academic pressures to focus exclusively on writing. Of course, disconnecting phones and the internet was leveled as a useful writing technique!
As would be anticipated, participants in the Writing Challenge found maintaining their writing program challenging at some points. Feedback from the survey suggests sickness, the unpredictability of the time needed to analyse data or evidence and to think through ideas, marking of student work and completing ad hoc administrative tasks interfered with regular writing practices. Setting goals that were simply too ambitious was also a problem for some participants.
Participants suggested a variety of services and activities that might support healthy, productive writing practices in the future. These included ongoing Shut Up and Write sessions, holding a writing retreat, the provision of better support for academic staff so that they are relieved of the burdens of administration, an academic writing circle, holding workshops that focus on writing techniques and the provision of individual assistance with editing and planning writing programs. We really appreciate these wonderful suggestions and will be considering their implementation in the future. If you have not had time to do the completion survey yet - please do so by clicking here. Your experiences and comments will assist us to create useful research and writing support programs for 2014.

While today's is the last Writing Challenge blog, Red Writing 'Hood will remain open and alive. We plan to continue to post useful, interesting information about academic research and writing, so subscribe or check back regularly for updates and let your peers and colleagues know we're here. Many participants indicated that they might be interested in submitting a post about their own writing experiences to the blog and we'd love to have you contribute. For more information contact RED Unit Manager Dr Jeanette Fyffe. Here is her email address: J.Fyffe@latrobe.edu.au.

And, finally, we would like to invite you to attend RED Writing 'Hood 'Shut Up and Write', a weekly group writing session which is held on the Bendigo campus on Wednesdays from 10-12 in HHS2 331 and 332, at Bundoora on Thursdays from 9:30am–noon in the Charles La Trobe Lounge and at Albury Wodonga on Thursdays from  9:30–noon in the Conference Room and Fridays from 9:30–noon next to the Library Training Room. All the details you need are available on the RED Unit website.

Happy writing!

Friday, 22 November 2013

La Trobe Writing Challenge - Final day

Hello and congratulations on making it to the FINAL DAY of the November Writing Challenge! We hope participating in the Challenge has been rewarding, that you have had the opportunity to examine and develop your writing habits and to think about the processes that you employ to disseminate the fruits of your research.

Please use this Writing Week completion survey to let us know how you faired over the last fortnight. It's a short one, we promise, and we'll use the data to improve the resources and support services made available to academic staff in the future.

Today's guest blogger, Dr Tracy Fortune, a senior lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy. In her post, Tracy reflects on the importance of writing to her identity as a scholar. She also highlights the value of being supported - and being kept accountable - by the writing groups she participates in.  


Dr Tracy Fortune

More and more, I have come to realise that as an academic, writing is everything.  To be able to write with elegance, style, passion, authority and more, is the yardstick upon which we are judged.  We need to take it seriously.  But more often than not, our writing is attended to when all the other jobs are finished.  Over the last year, I have made a very conscious attempt to put writing much higher up on my list of tasks.  I've had to make a real identity shift to achieve this - it is not enough for me to be a good educator, I need to be a really good communicator of my thoughts, and my contribution, in writing.  In mid 2012 I went on a weeklong academic writing retreat - before I went, I knew that I personally valued writing and I very much wanted to invest in it, to stop making excuses.  I feel confident when I say, I am an academic writer.  As part of this role, I have at least four writing projects on the go at once, and I attend every opportunity I can, to make myself accountable to others in terms of my writing - I go to Shut up and Write - run by RED each week in the Charles Latrobe lounge in the Borchardt library, and I am part of a cross faculty writing group, that meets monthly.  I take every opportunity I can to write about and publish what I do.  It’s almost a full time job.  

Today, you might like to take a squiz at Nilam Ashra-McGrath’s entertaining PhD journey prezi. Like most large research projects, she suggests, her completing her PhD was a roller-coaster ride. Not only did the peaks and troughs of intellectual life take their toll, 'real life' had a habit of intruding and derailing her progress. You can read a blog post about her journey on the 'Thesis Whisperer' website, here. In it, she highlights that although resources supporting the intellectual side of doing a PhD seem to be proliferating, there is only limited support available to sustain the emotional journey. ‘What about the changes in your health, your social life, and your relationships with those closest to you?', she asks.

Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that academics are at a greater risk of suffering from a mental illness than the rest of the population. Associate Professor Nikki Sullivan from Macquarie University argues here that growing pressure on the higher education sector, and resultant workload increases, declining professional autonomy and precarious job security, is eroding cultures of workplace collegiality. This, inevitably, takes a toll on the physical and psychological well-being of university staff.  She suggests that academics turn their ‘thoughts to [their] own contexts and experiences’ and that institutions make workplace ‘health and well-being an organisational priority’. 

Recognising the importance of self care and the care of one’s colleagues, can go some way to ameliorating the excesses of modern academic life. Here, Hamza Bendemra, a doctoral student from the Australian National University, suggests some ways to overcome the isolation of the research and writing process. He centres on the value of making yourself part of scholarly communities and forums, both virtual and actual - just like the one we have established through the La Trobe November Writing Challenge.

That's all from us this week. But tune in again on Monday for a final Writing Challenge post that will reflect on the results of the completion survey and give you a sense of how other challengers travelled on their writing journey.

Have a well-deserved rest this weekend!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day Eight - with a little help from my friends...Peer Power

It is now Week 2, Day 3 of the November Writing Challenge. We hope that your writing program is still going according to plan. How many words are you writing each day? Or do you measure your productivity in the number of hours you spend writing? Keeping track of your progress can be an effective way of measuring your successes and identifying when problems are emerging.

Today’s Writing Challenge guest blogger is Dr Fiona Bird. Fiona is the Head of the Department of Zoology at La Trobe University. She has published internationally on the ecology of marine mudflats, with a particular emphasis on burrowing ghost shrimp.  Her most recent work is in the area of assessment.   In this piece, Fiona highlights the importance of her peer-writing group to being a successful academic writer. Time must be scheduled explicitly for writing; as she explains, structure and support of this nature has made her a more productive writer.



Becoming a better, more productive writer with the help of friends

Fiona Bird

I like to write and I particularly enjoy the gradual reshaping of a piece from its first to final draft. I have written more this year than any other because for the first time ever, I have made time to write. Time for writing doesn’t just appear in your diary, it needs to be planned, booked in advance and committed to. One way is through regular participation in a peer-writing group. I meet once a month by email/phone with two colleagues from other institutions. We commit to a morning of writing by emailing our goals for the session to each other and then meet at lunch time via a phone conference call to discuss our writing progress and any hurdles we experienced. We provide each other with advice and encouragement and celebrate our achievements. We comment on manuscript drafts when requested and challenge each other to try new approaches such as writing more stylistically. I have become a better, more productive writer because of my participation in this peer-writing support group.


Having both early and more developed drafts of your writing read and commented on by your peers can be hugely valuable. While opening up your work to the critical eyes of others early in the writing process can be angst-inducing, it is far better to receive their comments and questions while writing and thinking is still very much in motion and you are not entirely invested in the shape and content of a piece of writing. We suggest that you provide your reader with some cues about what you would like them to provide feedback on, if you’d like their general observations or more specific suggestions and the stage of your research and writing. In her book, ‘Academic Writing Retreats: a facilitator’s guide’, Barbara Grant, provides a really useful framework for the peer-review of drafts – for both the reviewer and the reviewees. She also describes some great writing group activities. You can find her book here. Robert Brown’s ‘Eight Questions’ might also help you to clarify and hone your ideas when you are planning or revising a piece of writing for publication. As Fiona suggests, your peers can be of great support to you during the writing process. The sense of being part of an intellectual community, where every member is striving to make a contribution to knowledge, can be reassuring when the going gets tough or when motivation wanes. 

It would be great to hear any tips you have about the process of peer-review. Post in the comment section below to share.

Good-luck and keep writing hard!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Day Seven - Bird by Bird

Hello and welcome to day seven of the November Writing Challenge! Keep persevering with your writing program. By now you might have noticed some changes in the way you conceptualise your writing processes. Are you writing more than usual? What about the quality of the words you write? Are you feeling more in control of your productivity? Good writers are reflective writers: the Writing Challenge is a great opportunity to turn your critical eye inward and examine what works and what does not work for you when it comes to writing.

Today’s guest blogger is Carina Donaldson. Carina is a PhD student in the History Program and also works in Learning and Teaching at La Trobe. In her piece, Carina reflects on the personal challenges that emerge from being an academic writer. A she suggests, writing and thinking are dynamically intertwined, and recognition of this fact, can be empowering and enriching.      


Writing and Thinking

Carina Donaldson

During my honours year, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, was a prescribed text. Lamott’s was the first book I had ever read about writing or being a writer and in the beginning, I was quietly unconvinced that engagement with such a curiously titled work would advance the progress of my history thesis. Lamott, however, managed to hook me early on when she described how, thirty years earlier, her older brother, who at that time was a boy of only ten, had been wrestling with a report about birds. The report was due the next day, and despite having had three months to complete it, he had only just begun. The enormity of the task ahead had rendered him utterly paralysed and fending off tears. Their father, who himself was a professional writer of some notoriety, had put his arm around his son’s shoulders and had advised him gently to: ‘Just take it bird by bird’. As it turned out, dipping in to this book as I myself shuffled uncertainly through my first weighty academic research and writing project, at points paralysed in the same way that Lamott’s brother had been, was intellectually transformative. Her reflections on being a writer and a teacher of writing were wise and warm, authentic and witty. What resonated with me most was her insistence upon the notion that writing was actually hard. Writing, she counselled, ‘brings with it so much joy, so much challenge’: while there would be days when you would feel you were ‘riding a wave’, others would be marked by ‘frantic boredom’, ‘angry hopelessness’ and the desire to ‘quit forever’. My understanding had, up until that moment, been that writing was something that other people just got on with. Certainly, I had never questioned my own writing processes before. The burden of my own academic perfectionism had at times been devastating and I had felt like I would buckle under pressure of having to untangle the impossible chaos of ideas in my mind and, akin to a drill sergeant, beat them into shining, lucid prose. These anxieties, I had believed, were unique, personal foibles. It was a lonely state of being and, at times, a genuine struggle to retain a sense of composure. Reading Lamott’s Bird by Bird inducted me into a community of writers, of people who held high hopes for the sentences they brought into being, of people who found writing both agonising and enlivening. Now, well into my PhD candidature, I have come to the conclusion that writing is enlivening precisely because of the agony it induces. Writing, for me at least, is not the afterthought, but the intellectual process itself. Writing is thinking, and thinking is hard labour for the mind. Often, until I write, I don’t know what I think. Recognising that writing is actually the journey and the destination, that it is the process of sense-making and idea generation as much as it is the activity that creates the final, submittable thesis, has made me a more mindful scholar. While the act of writing might be hard, perfectly capturing the substance of your research in elegant prose is a profound and abiding pleasure. When those feelings of paralysis threaten to impede progress of my writing, I remind myself of this, and just try to take it one bird at a time. 


How do writing and thinking fit together for you? Do you think of writing as something that happens at the very end of your research process, once your ideas are well developed and solidified? Or, like Carina, are thinking and writing woven into your research process? Where and how does thinking typically happen in your discipline? 

Here's an interesting article by Helen Sword about academic writing, style and tone. She provides some insights into how academic writing can be made interesting and accessible. Thinking critically not just about our content, but about how we communicate it, can have a significant impact on the work we do as academics. 

Remember to use the comments section below to update us on your progress and share your triumphs with our Writing Challenge community.

Happy Writing! 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Welcome to week two of the November Writing Challenge! We hope you enjoyed yesterday’s wonderful sunshine and rewarded your efforts last week with some time off. Today is the beginning of a new week, and thus, it’s the ideal moment to tweak your goals or plan of action. It’s a fresh start, so if things got off a bit slow, jump back aboard the writing train today!

If you have not had a chance yet, please complete this short Writing Challenge update survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/52HKKBXWe’d love to hear how your writing is progressing and how you think we can better support you – both during the Writing Challenge, and into the future.

Today’s guest blogger is Professor Sue Martin. Sue has published prolifically in the fields of nineteenth and twentieth century literature, Victorian literature, feminist theory and cultural studies. Alongside her research work, Sue is also Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. In this piece, Sue reflects upon the ways in which different types of academic work require different orientations to writing. She reminds us that writing is contextually specific and is shaped by the intellectual environments in which we find ourselves, the physical spaces that we write in, the nature of the content that we must communicate and the character of the conversations we hope to take part in. If academia is an increasingly dynamic and complex profession, in turn, modern academic identities must be adaptive and responsive to the new physical and intellectual locations in which we work. 


Professor Sue Martin

It took me some time to encounter the idea that writing might not be central to all academic work. This is because I work, or have mostly worked, in English departments. Academics in the Humanities might sometimes think they have trouble writing, or might struggle for the perfect term, but for many of them thinking is writing: the two come together. I was quite surprised when La Trobe’s Borchardt Library opened a cafĂ© called ‘Writer’s Block’ (a name which I immediately blocked from my mind) because it seemed like such a potential mozz (mozz: Colloquialnoun 1. a hex.–verb (t) 2. to hex.3. to inconvenience; hinder – Macquarie Dictionary) that I thought no researcher would venture near it, let alone eat there. 

University Research Services offer academics across the Faculties assistance with grant writing – with shaping and communicating the content, methodology, and importance of their projects, which is very helpful. 
In my faculty, however, the writing, and the elucidation of the epistemology, the plan, and the concepts in words tends to come more easily than the budgeting and interacting with the on-line budget software. It has been more of a struggle to convince Research Services that just as a professor good at calculations may need assistance with words, a professor good with words may need assistance with calculations.
This is not to suggest that Humanities researchers know how to write grant applications, but their research generally involves and requires a facility with writing. Writing is not their problem. In my own case, I have, sadly, learnt to write a very good grant application (apart from the budget), while unlearning some of the better skills of writing up the sustained research which comes from contemplation and deep study, rather than frenzied and scattered grant and research administration. I am looking forward to going back to some slow writing, for just a little while…


What is a writing voice? And what does yours sound like? Does it change depending on the contexts in which you write? How does the physical place of writing shape your voice? Taking some time to unpack the ways we work can be an enlightening activity.

Have a read of this great little blog post, written by Kylie Budge, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne. She surveys some recent scholarship which suggests that situation and context play a significant role in fostering creative cognition. Also, here's some tips that will help you to create a great home workspace.

You might like to use the Writing Challenge as an opportunity to shake up your writing routine. Come along to RED Writing 'Hood 'Shut Up and Write', a weekly group writing session organised by the RED Unit. 'Shut Up and Write' is held on the Bendigo campus on Wednesdays from 10-12 in HHS2 331 and 332, at Bundoora on Thursdays from 9:30am–noon in the Charles La Trobe Lounge and at Albury Wodonga on Thursdays from  9:30–noon in the Conference Room and Fridays from 9:30–noon next to the Library Training Room. All the details you need are available on the RED Unit website: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/research/red 

Use the comments section below to tell us about where you write best (and, of course, where you write worst!).

Good-luck with week two of the Challenge! Happy writing!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Day Five - the Magic of Mentors

Well, we have reached DAY FIVE of the November Writing Challenge! We hope that the past week has been productive and satisfying. We suggest that mid-challenge you take the time to evaluate your progress: Have you met your targets? What has worked and what has not? Being conscious and reflective will help you to improve your writing processes. If your writing program has not been the tremendous success you had initially hoped it would be, use the weekend to have a day off and recommit ready for next week.  You might like to check in and update us with your mid-Challenge progress and maybe recommit:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/52HKKBX

It is commonplace in academia to collaborate intellectually with other researchers and to seek the input and guidance of senior staff who have particular expertise in your field of study.
Knowledge about the processes by which we shape our research into prose, how we express and structure our ideas, how we draft and edit, is often given little attention by academics whose focus is captured by the content of their research rather than its communication. Writing is, however, what unites us as researchers. Despite the disparate disciplines that we inhabit, as academics, we each share the responsibility to disseminate our findings, to open our work to criticism (and, of course, acclaim) and to mobilise our research so that it contributes to enduring scholarly conversations.

Today’s guest blogger is Professor Hylton Menz, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and leader of the (charmingly named) Lower Extremity and Gait Studies (LEGS) program at La Trobe. Hylton has broad research interests and an enviable record of publication. He has, in fact, published over 160 papers in podiatry, gerontology, rheumatology and biomechanics journals and he is Editor-in-Chief of the 'Journal of Foot and Ankle Research'. In this piece, Hylton shares with us some words of writing wisdom, highlighting the centrality of publishing to the academic enterprise, the place of creativity and flair in scientific writing and the importance of being aware of the variety of dissemination avenues that exist for scientists. It is reassuring to know that even scholars of his calibre suffer from occasional bouts of writer’s block and he is generous enough to share with us what he does when - as he puts it - ‘the muse has left the building’. Hylton’s reflections on writing are informed by his significant experience as a successful researcher and writer; his sage advice reminds us of the value of engaging with other scholars not solely for their specific disciplinary expertise, but for the processes that they employ to write.



Professor Hylton Menz

1.    Writing a paper is not merely the final step in the research process

Writing for publication is often depicted as the final step in the research process. This is undoubtedly true in a chronological sense, as studies have to be designed, ethics obtained, data collected and statistical analysis undertaken before a paper can be written. However, considering academic writing as merely the final stage in a process in some ways diminishes its importance. Research ideas and unpublished data are simply disjointed pieces of a puzzle of very little inherent value until they are assembled into a coherent structure by the writing process. In this context, writing for publication needs to be viewed as the ultimate goal of all the activity that precedes it, as research studies don’t really exist until they have been distilled into a readable form for a scholarly audience.

2.    Scientific writing is formulaic, but still has scope for creativity

Academic writing, at least in the scientific disciplines, has to conform to a fairly rigid set of formatting rules. These rules are there for good reasons, as scientific papers are largely utilitarian documents rather than creative works – the goal being to transmit information clearly rather than inspire passion in the reader. Authors nevertheless have a wide range of grammatical and vocabulary options when formulating a manuscript which can be used to reflect their particular ‘style’, and despite the tight constraints imposed on manuscripts, there is no doubt that some papers achieve their utilitarian goal with a little more flair than others.

3.    Writer’s block is a genuine but avoidable problem

Despite scientific papers being highly structured, the writing process requires more abstract thought than merely filling in the gaps with words, and as such, writer’s block is a genuine problem that academics may be confronted with. Although it rarely reaches the sustained level of paralysis that can afflict creative writers, it is not uncommon for academics to find themselves wasting a much-cherished block of time set aside for writing by labouring over the same introductory sentence several times, and then finding that the inspiration has rapidly dissolved with little to show for it. Rather than becoming despondent about this, it is important to recognise that for a myriad of (largely unknown) reasons, some days are better for writing than others. The best way to deal with this is to reallocate the time for something else and return to the writing later, as no amount of persistence will fill a page if the ‘muse’ has left the building.

4.    Writing for different formats can hone your skills

Although the journal manuscript remains the primary currency of academia, other forms of writing are becoming increasingly important avenues for the dissemination of scholarly material. Writing for blogs or online media platforms such as The Conversation requires a very different approach to a journal article and can be initially quite challenging. However, the skills learned from writing this sort of material, particularly the ability to express complex concepts in a concise manner, are very valuable and can have benefits for the more traditional forms of scholarly writing.


With this in mind, we encourage you to ask your peers to read your work and to provide you with feedback and that when you engage with your academic mentors query them explicitly about the processes that they employ to write. Often, advice of this nature will be incredibly insightful and useful. In fact, the Faculty of Health Science went and did the hard yards for us by asking four of their Professors for their advice on publishing. You can read their 'Collective Research Wisdom' here.
You also might like to take a squiz at this video of Associate Professor Helen Sword talking about academic writing and productivity. If you are getting excited about collaboration, peer review and mentoring you should consider establishing an academic writing group. Here is some useful advice on the subject from Charlotte Front. 
We'd love to hear about the great advice you've received about academic writing from peers and mentors! Post it in the comments section below and share it with the Writing Challenge community.

That's all from us for this week. Have a great weekend and a well deserved rest!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Day Four - Developing a writing habit

Welcome to day four of the November Writing Challenge. We are now well into the Writing Challenge. How are you travelling? Do you feel like you are developing new habits? Are you making real progress? Make sure you keep persevering with your writing program, and celebrate all of your small writing victories.

It is not uncommon for writers, academic and non-academic alike, to hold on to a fastidious set of beliefs about the writing process. We mystify the relationship between our thoughts and the physical act of putting pen to paper or finger tips to keys and generating words. For some, writing occurs only after they have read the contextual literature and have meticulously worked through their ideas. When the words do not flow easily, we often anxiously and hurriedly return to the books or the lab. For others, successful writing can only occur when they feel a particular way; unfortunately, it is often the case that this ‘writerly headspace’ avails itself unpredictably and irregularly.

Beliefs of this nature can be limiting and disempowering and can undermine the intellectual nexus that exists between writing and deep thinking. While we all have high expectations of our research and it would be unrealistic to expect the writing process to be unchallenging, there are common-sense strategies that you can employ to become a more stylish and a more consistent writer.

Today’s guest blogger, Dr Narelle Lemon, is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education. Narelle is an AcWriMo veteran, having had her reflections on 2011 published on the Thesis Whisperer blog. In this piece, she reflects upon the process of learning how to write, reminding us that as much as writing might at times seem intangible, inexplicable and elusive, it is a learned skill, which can be practiced, refined and developed. Certainly, this is a heartening thought.


5 Tips to get you into the regular writing habit 

By Dr Narelle Lemon

I love writing. I enjoy the sharing that comes with writing of exciting research I have been involved with. For me writing is a significant part of my job as an academic. I don’t see it is an extra element, and add on or even an element that is difficult to find time to carry out. I make time to write.

Post my doctoral thesis completion in 2010 I must admit I had to learn how to write. This sounds crazy as writing a thesis is writing. But it was for me, as for many people, a love/hate relationship that in all reality often sat in the latter. In being able to reflect back on those times I have realised that I was learning how to write. Conversations with my supervisors, peers and colleagues often centered around this but I think I didn’t really get it until I had finished, had some down time both cognitively and emotionally and in some respects stepped away. When my energy levels were rejuvenated there was a significant moment for me in moving forward in that I realised writing is a learning process, one that I have to be open to explore, trial, observe, try, and work at. The work of Laurel Richardson assisted me greatly with this as she talks about “just writing”. I call it “blah writing” – I have an idea that I want to share or unpack and I just write about it. I don’t edit as I go and I just let my thinking flow and my fingers type.

I come from a background in the arts, music and visual arts, and in many ways writing itself is an art form. You have to do it to get better at it. So for me writing is something I do every day. I schedule time every day, usually in the morning, and this is paired with mapping out what it is I want to work on – an abstract, structure of a paper, discussion of a particular research question, and so on. I work on research that excites me so a natural curiosity and energy is attached. I want to write about the process, the findings and the recommendations and share this with others. Post doctoral thesis I developed some very handy approaches that in many ways I wished I had accessed while I was writing my thesis, however I don’t think I was ready at that stage. And that is okay, actually very healthy to acknowledge. The writing journey and the doing part, the action, of the writing had to develop over time. This is why I value it so much in my role as an academic.

In my approach to writing I’ve learnt from others and have been inspired by colleagues, who like me, are also trying to figure out how to write, how to write more, and how to continue to enjoy the process. Some of my top five tips for others focusing on writing being a bigger part of their academic life would be:

1.    Enjoy what you are doing – there has to be a level of passion and enthusiasm for your research and writing. It is at times hard to find time to write and hard to develop a flow but by enjoying what you are writing about then there is a positive step forward to juggling the struggle.
2.    Learn from others – watch, ask questions, go to writing workshops, be involved in writing groups like Shut Up and Write Sessions, explore strategies to assist with writing such as the pomodoro technique, participate in great supportive writing initiatives such as Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) in the month of November or the La Trobe November Writing Challenge. Every chance to pick up hints and be active with your writing only assists in forming a regular habit of writing.
3.    Share with others what your goals for writing are – this always helps with accountability plus establishing a supportive community. This could be face to face with colleagues or even in virtual spaces such as Twitter.
4.    Plan – map out your writing and set goals and timelines.
5.    Work out when you write best – think about what time of the day works for you and then lock it into your diary. Make it a part of your academic work life, and even think about the location where you write best. Most importantly give yourself permission to not look at emails or be distracted with other tasks, just honor your writing.


You can follow Narrelle on Twitter @rellypops. She also maintains a wonderful teaching & learning blog, bursting with interesting scholarly musings, which you can find here.

Writing is difficult, and it's useful to know that there is help out there if you are encountering problems. Here, Thesis Whisperer Dr Inger Mewburn, explains how, with concerted effort over the course of writing two theses, she managed to improve her grammer skills. Generously, she also provides links to a number of writing exercise sheets that can help you to hone your own skills. There is also writing support-a-plenty at La Trobe. The Academic Language and Learning Unit, for example, has some great resources on thesis writing for HDR students, which you can check out here. If you know of any particularly useful writing resources, post details in the comments section below.

Happy writing!