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Academic Coaching & Writing

XII. An Academic, Writing: Engaging in the Virtual Writing Room

Feb 13, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

I was thrilled when I found out that ACW provides a Virtual Writing Room. Writing works better when you write “together.” Developing a writing group or community creates a system of accountability. But that’s not always possible either because of your location or because of your schedule (or both). That’s the situation I find myself in. All of my colleagues have busy teaching schedules that leave little time to write together.

I’ve committed to being in the Writing Room for one hour on the days that I teach and two hours on the days that I don’t. Every day, when we join the Writing Room, we begin the hour with some stretching or visualization exercises. When the timer starts, we focus for 45 minutes on completing our task or “chunk” for that period. Then we are encouraged to take 10 minutes off to walk around and take a break. After 10 minutes, we either come back to the Writing Room or carry on the rest of the day. We each maintain a goal-setting and accountability document to practice setting SMART goals  and to track our writing progress.

What I’ve Learned in the ACW Virtual Writing Room

So far, I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated the experience. It has made me realize certain things about myself, my writing environment, and my writing habits.

The thing I appreciate the most are the stretching and visualization exercises at the beginning of the hour. Being guided through these short activities by our Writing Room Moderator really helps me to clear my head and focus my ideas on the task at hand. These exercises have brought into sharp relief just how uncomfortable my writing area is. When I am asked to take deep breaths and focus on my body, I suddenly notice how uncomfortable my chair is. Then, when we stretch, I realize how slouched and crouched I am when I write because of how my desk is set up. Now I’ve created a standing desk area and replaced my chair with a stability ball. Writing is now a much more comfortable experience.

During the 45-minute writing period, I find that I have trouble staying focused for the entire time. On days when I work for two consecutive hours, the first 45 minutes are hard; the second 45 minutes are a strain for me to get through. I am a multi-tasker, and it is really challenging for me to not let my mind wander during that second hour. My thoughts drift to the rest of my to-do list: grading, class planning, blog posts. I’m still trying to learn how to quiet my inner voice when I’m trying to focus on my writing. One exercise Nisi (the Writing Room Moderator) has us do is to write down three things that distract us at the beginning of the hour, to acknowledge them, and let them go. I also use my accountability document to record my thoughts and distractions so I can work with my coach on strategies to stay focused.

What has helped me most to stay on track with my writing plan is the built-in accountability. One day last week, a meeting I had before my Writing Room time ran long, and I decided I was going to shift my hours. Not 15 minutes past the time I was supposed to begin writing, the Writing Room Moderator sent me an email asking me where I was and if everything was okay. Knowing that there are people who are expecting me helps to keep me “honest” with my times and my attendance in the Writing Room.

Working with my coach and writing daily in the Writing Room have kept me focused not only on my writing, but on my writing practice as well. I am finding my rhythm and what works well for me, like when I write (mornings are better than later in the day) or where I write (office is better than home). Being able to experiment for a week and then discuss what worked and what didn’t with my coach has allowed me to set up a routine that I can stick to. I appreciate the ACW system of support and accountability as I fine tune my writing practice. I am assembling the building blocks for my continued success as a writer.

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