Academic Writing Month 2019: Showing up for ourselves and each other (RED team)

The 'Wall of Achievement' at the Bundoora retreat 2019 

November is a time where tiny ducklings scurry about, hot days arrive and are extinguished by cool showers, and the campus takes on that unique rhythm we call 'exam time'.

For researchers of all kinds, November is also Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo for short. This is a month-long festival of academic writing where researchers of all kinds commit to making progress on our research goals. #AcWriMo is an event that has a long history of being tended to by researchers, and it is celebrated across Australia and internationally.

Since 2013 the RED team have been the caretakers of  #LTUAcWriMo activities for La Trobe researchers. We hold a month-long, multi-campus and online program that hopes to enable and encourage academic writing: with events, blog posts, workshops, retreats, and conversation on social platforms all through the month. La Trobe is a university, so in a sense every month is academic writing month! But each November we invite our colleagues to commit to particular writing goals, and try to create the right momentum and conditions for communities of writers to gather and cheer each other on.

In this post we - RED team members Tseen, Jeanette, Dan, and Jamie - wanted to take a moment to reflect on our highlights from #LTUAcWriMo 2019. Each of us has zoomed in on an event or activity that really spoke to us as research educators and as academic writers ourselves. We'd also love to know how your AcWriMo went! Let us know in the comments or on our social channels.

Tseen's reflections:

The highlight of Academic Writing Month for me was the All-campus 'Shut up and write' (SUAW) on Thurs 14 November.

For those of us in Bundoora, it was held in the VizLab (Library Research Commons), and we had colleagues from Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, and Shepparton joining us.

I always enjoy SUAW but there was a special vibe in the air with everyone gathering for this one! The writing sprints were hosted in turns by variously located colleagues over the morning.

Lots of writing got done, #LTUAcWriMo goals were progressed, and (hopefully) everyone had nice snacks.

This was but one of many opportunities to be had for writing together through the month, and it reminded me of the gift we can always readily share: being supportive by just being there. During our final tweetchat on Fri 29 Nov, participants expressed versions of this feeling and signalled that this was one of the crucial things they learned during AcWriMo. Michelle Cimoli said, “I can get stuff done. I also learned about the human side / social practice of writing. Attending #SUAW & the writing retreat, has helped me see that I am part of a great community.” Jamie commented, “I learned how much I benefit from the herd. From being with other writers”.

For me, when trying to meet my goals, the whole month was an excellent opportunity to remind myself that I’m not alone with my writing angst and that progress is better made with companionship.

Jeanette’s reflections

For many of us the moment of handing our writing over to someone else for feedback can be a daunting prospect.  You know it is good for you really, and it will improve your writing but it can be … emotional.

With this in mind I would have to say that the highlight of #LTUAcWriMo for me this year was the workshop provided by Dr Vijay Mallan who was visiting the RED team from the University of Otago. Vijay offered workshops at both Bundoora and Bendigo campuses.

Vijay’s workshop Giving and receiving feedback on academic writing: Using feedback to grow as a researcher invited us to think about feedback on writing, both giving and receiving.  The room of researchers included supervisors, graduate researchers and other researchers who were all engaged with both giving and receiving feedback as thesis writers or as journal article reviewers and writers.

By inviting us to think about both giving and receiving feedback it brought to the fore the reciprocity and ethics of feedback on writing. While feedback is the word we use, Vijay reminded us to think about the purpose of feedback being to identify the gap between the draft and the desired performance, so that our feedback should actually feedforward to the next iteration of the text.

Including practical strategies, conceptual approaches and plenty of humour Vijay left us with this empowering reframing that “feedback is an invitation to think differently”

Dan's reflections: 

My contributions to #ACWRIMO 2019 had a kind of beautiful circularity, commencing with a book launch (7 November), and concluding with a bespoke workshop on how to turn a thesis into a book (27 November). Quite appropriate for a month dedicated to the fostering of academic writing!

Both topics are also linked because the book that was launched started life as a doctoral thesis itself. Written by our Education colleague Dr Margaret Robertson, Power and Doctoral Supervision Teams (Routledge 2019) explores the intricacies of the graduate research supervision experience from both the candidate and supervisor points of view. The challenge of writing about doctoral supervision as a doctoral research topic (under supervision) was well canvassed by Margaret, who talked about the intricacies of power in supervision relationships, and the benefits that accrue from working collaboratively.

Power also had an on-stage role in the thesis to book workshop which closed AcWriMo here at La Trobe. In this workshop academic book writing could be understood as an act of scholarly empowerment: a way of bringing life to stories untold. More pragmatically, power also emerged in the expert panel discussion (With Black Inc. Managing Editor Julia Carlomagno, independent publicist Jacinta di Mase, and professors Clare Wright and Robin Room), where strategies for engaging with publishers and working out agreeable contracts emerged. Participants left this workshop empowered with new knowledge about how the publishing process works, and what stories they were intending to tell through their future academic books. 

Jamie's reflections: 

Every year #AcWriMo is punctuated with retreats for our La Trobe research community.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word 'retreat' in many ways, but I reckon the one that rings truest to our gatherings is this: "a period of time used to pray and study quietly, or to think carefully, away from normal activities and duties."

I went to two retreats this year in Bundoora and Bendigo. Each of these was a really moving experience. For me they are magic spaces where I can stretch myself to see what is possible; what can I get done when other writers are there to give me courage?

Writing retreats are opportunities to be away from the ordinary routines of work. They give writers a chance to sink down into writing, to be taken care of in body and mind, and to be with other writers who have also committed themselves to getting words on a page.

Yet retreats are openings of space and time that only work if we show up and do the work. For many of us, doing the work at a writing retreat involves rescheduling commitments, asking someone else to pick up the kids or make dinner. It involves blocking time out of our calendars and guarding it fiercely. It may involve getting back in touch with a long neglected project or facing up to the hardest bit of the article. For many of us, retreating involves remembering how difficult writing can be. Sometimes we are in our flow and the writing just pours out of us (one of our writers wrote 17,000 words this year!). Other times we are we inch forward word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page.

Due to the generosity and commitment of our colleagues across La Trobe, this year we were able to host a retreat on every La Trobe campus. Thank you to our colleagues at Albury-Wodonga, Mildura, Shepparton, Bundoora and Bendigo for holding space for research communities at your place. Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved we had 12 retreat days, and took care of more than 80 of La Trobe's writers.

To everyone who participated in #LTUAcWriMo this year: thank you. Thank you for showing up for yourself, and for each other.