Monday, 10 December 2018

More than words: Reflections from La Trobe’s Academic writing month 2018 (James Burford)

The beginning of the 'Creative ways into academic writing' workshop | Photo by James Burford
In this post RED (Research Education and Development) team lecturer James Burford reflects on the activities of the La Trobe Academic Writing Month, which took place in November.

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This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I’m not super good with numbers.

The slide-sweep-click movement that my thumb does on my phone to find my calculator is a familiar one, and you’ll sometimes see me counting out big numbers on my fingers.

Despite my rather humble abilities in the maths department I know that (taken collectively) the La Trobe researchers participating in #LTUAcWriMo this year will have written more than tens of thousands of words. Indeed, some individual writers clocked up word counts in the tens of thousands. Perhaps the total number of words written by #LTUAcWriMo participants numbers in the hundreds of thousands, or maybe even more?

I say all this because it is important to celebrate the often unsimple act of getting words down on a page, which is something that we've spotlighted this month. Words on the page carry forward ideas that are being advanced or extinguished and concepts that are being worked through and wrangled with. We accumulate and fuss over these words and send our articles off to journals, chapters to our supervisors, or book manuscripts to our publishers, and many other places besides.

Writing enough words matters because:
  1. For some of us, writing is one of the most valuable ways in which thinking can occur, and
  2. Writing is important in order to offer others access to the knowledge we produce.
But it would be wrong to suggest that our only (or even that our most significant) accomplishments this Academic Writing Month are related to the quantity of words that were tallied, or the number of manuscripts that were dispatched.

Tweetchats (2 November and 30 November) and hashtag


I saw La Trobe researchers gathering together on twitter to cheer each other on and share tips and advice. I saw researchers making goals and succeeding in them. I saw goals being revised - scaled back or expanded. I also saw researchers who thought carefully about how they wanted to be this month. On Twitter, people used the #LTUAcWriMo hashtag to celebrate each other not just for their outputs but also for scheduling down time, practicing self-care and rewarding themselves for a job well done.

All Campus Shut up & Write: 8 November


I noticed people show up (for themselves and each other) at our All Campus Shut up and Write, which used a video link to unite folk across La Trobe campuses in writing community. In addition to this, every single week of AcWriMo groups of writers formed for a set period of time, had bursts of productivity, socialised and ate snacks with their peers at regular SUAW groups. Hats off to our Mildura colleagues who held their 'shut up and write' sessions every working day of the month! 

RED Writing Retreat: 20-22 November


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A photo of day two of the retreat documenting the 'wall of achievement' | 
Photo by James Burford
    I marvelled as a group of approximately fifty researchers assembled at the John Scott Meeting house to participate in our RED writing retreat. I saw writers who melted into the space, making progress that they didn’t even know was possible. The focus facilitated by three days of uninterrupted writing (in the silent room, the social room or the ‘pomodoro room’) enabled many people to immerse themselves in their world, find their flow and power through their to-do lists. 

    They also took care of themselves with regular breaks, nutritious food, yoga, breathing exercises, shoulder massages, laughter, camaraderie and celebration.

    Creative ways into academic writing workshop: 13 November


    We had flagged to participants that this was no ordinary workshop! As the feature image (above) shows, we started with postcards and other objects on the floor of the John Scott Meeting House. Run by Sarah Houseman and me, the workshop encouraged our research writers to think creatively about their relationship with their work, and their (dis)connections. The work of the workshop was very much in the reflection about types and modes of writerly identity. 

    #LTUAcWriMo Writers’ Panel: 28 November


    I was invited to think and rethink writing collaboration by our three panellists in the La Trobe Writer’s forum: Professor Hylton Menz, Dr John Cox and Dr Kylie Mirmohamadi. Our panellists addressed the theme of writing ‘together’, exploring ways of imagining collaborative writing, what it’s like to forge writing partnerships across cultural difference, and how feminist ethics and friendship can produce not only productive writing relationships, but ones that are full of pleasure, robustness and delight.

    Image may contain: 4 people, including Jamie Burford, people smiling, people sitting, people standing, suit and indoor
    The panellists (L to R): Hylton Menz, Kylie Mirmohamadi, John Cox, and moderator James Burford. 
    #LTUAcWriMo Writers' Panel | Photo by James Burford


    And these are just the parts of #LTUAcWriMo that I was there for! I know heaps of other things happened across campuses, in schools, departments and offices, and online, including the daily SUAWs at Mildura, the Mildura Writing Retreat and the Albury-Wodonga Writing Retreat. 

    Thanks to all of the fab coordinators around La Trobe who put in special effort to make space for writing and our writers.

    While this #LTUAcWriMo was a busy month for me with lots of activities, the overarching impression I am left with is this: this month I saw a community of researchers gather, and it was a special thing to see.

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    Dr James Burford works in the RED team at the La Trobe Graduate Research School. 

    He (increasingly regularly) tweets as @jiaburford.

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