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Academic Coaching & Writing

V. An Academic, Writing: Overcoming Isolation

Dec 18, 2012 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

Recently, I started showing my undergraduate writers, prior to peer-review, the video put together at MIT, “No One Writes Alone.” Peer-review has always been a challenge in my classes; my students have long seen writing as a product, not a process, let alone a process that involves anyone other than the teacher. Showing this video, with professors talking about how collaborative the writing process should be, encourages students to focus on the process rather than the product.

This is what I teach our undergraduate writers. Why is it so difficult for us as academics to learn these lessons?

Overcoming the Isolation of the Writing Process

Academic writing can be collaborative. You can seek feedback from peers, but this collaboration often takes place after the bulk of the writing has happened. How do you seek help during the brainstorming and planning phase, the research, or when you get stuck? Shifting the focus to the process rather than the product encourages you to seek out others for dialogue and suggestions throughout the writing process.

In my last post, I referred to Helen Sword’s recent presentation, "Habits of Highly Productive Academic Writers". One of the pieces of advice that she gave was to make writing social, writing in groups, rather than writing in isolation. She points to the success of “Shut Up and Write” groups, opportunities for people to get together in a neutral location and write together in a group setting. She addressed how by making writing more social, you provide yourself accountability, motivation, and the opportunity to break the silence around your negative feelings about writing.

Twitter has provided the opportunity for me to make my writing more social. Through a support group of colleagues and peers, and by making my writing public and accessible to an audience immediately, I have been provided with feedback more instantaneously and more constructively than regular academic peer-review. Hashtags like #PhDChat and #ECRchat are ways that I have connected with other academic writers, getting help with research and writing advice. I live in a small town with few like-minded peers at my institution, so Twitter has been a powerfully tool for my productivity as an academic writer.

But 140 characters isn’t always enough. As I struggle to write my first book manuscript on my own, I realized that I need more help. I’m having difficulty finding time to write and the motivation to write. I also have a lot of trouble staying focused and on-topic in my writing (and my research leading up to my writing). Working with an Academic Coaching and Writing Coach and participating in the Virtual Academic Writing Room, I hope that I can overcome the challenges I face in my academic writing.

I tell my First-Year Writing students that every one struggles with writing and that every writer has to work hard on his or her writing, and I share my own struggles with writing, especially in editing my own work. When you focus only on the product, and not the process that went into making the product, you lose the opportunity to truly learn how to be a better writer.

In the last four blog posts I have shared the writing challenges I face: finding time to write, maintaining motivation, breaking the silence about the writing process, and overcoming isolation. In the new year I will share my writing plans for the next several months and my journey as I work with an ACW Coach and participate in the daily Writing Room. I look forward to a highly productive 2013.

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