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As already mentioned (and with Susan posting her experience of it recently), after the Making Writing workshop, Pat, Nancy and myself stayed on in Falmouth for a weekend writing retreat. I was especially interested in seeing whether the approach of writing warm-ups and visualisations could be combined with some focused structuring and writing activities in order to produce writing for ourselves – and the gorgeous Cornwall seemed to be just the right place! (So a thank you to Pedare and especially Caroline Cash for hosting us.)

D:DCIM100DICAMDSCI0493.JPGAlthough some of us had been there for the Friday as well, we started off with (re-)making name tags, really an excuse to see what materials were available to use. I thought it would be very important to have a sort-of ‘break out’ space with making materials in case we would be stuck in our writing endeavours and needed what Gauntlett calls the ‘longer stretch of thoughtfulness’.

Then Pat started us off with a writing warm-up to loosen up our creative juices. I then led an exercise in objective setting – thinking about where you are, want to be, what you want to work on and what the specific objective for the weekend was. I suggested using fish as a visualisation (yes, I feel the time has come where I have been working on the fishscale for too long!), but as always with these things there are no wrong ways of doing this. So when we shared what people had come hoping to achieve, we heard about the full backpack that had accumulated throughout the year and now needed to be unpacked, aired, washed and lightened; the experiences that needed to be put into an academic framework; and the reports that simply need to be written up in order to be able to close the door and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel – and many more. It became quite clear that our initial plans for structuring the weekend would be useless as attendees were at very different stages in their planning/writing, so Nancy, Pat and myself, set everybody a little task to crystalise what they were doing (mainly based around abstracts – writing one for the people who hadn’t done one yet and extending or editing it for the people who had), while we went off to formulate a new game plan.

In the end we split up the larger group into three smaller groups depending on the stages that needed to be tackled: Nancy worked with the people who were already very far in their research and mainly needed to make a decision on the audience for their writing piece(s), Pat worked with the people who were trying to fit experiences (their own and others) into an academic framework and I myself worked with the people who needed to develop a clearer focus – and that Pat’s group ended up with only people whose first name began with a P was purely coincidental!

We came together at different points over the two days to share progress and to break up the tasks – while still keeping large chunks of time in which people could work on their own pieces, either with us in one-on-ones or on their own, dotted around the campus.

It became quite clear that the humble sticky note and large wall space are some of the best tools an academic writer has at her disposal as thoughts were sketched and written, stuck and re-stuck, and linked with arrows all over the place.

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evening in Mylor

As it is important to see writing not just as a solitary activity, but also to appreciate the social aspects, there was some shared time away from the keyboard. On Saturday night we went on a little excursion, taking the train to Falmouth and then the water taxi to Mylor where we had a lovely meal followed by delicious ice cream.

On Sunday we started with another writing warm-up, where Pat got us to draw the journey of the day before, reflecting on our progress, and then draw the shape of our writing project. This was an ideal way to think about (and share with the group) what we had achieved so far, and gave a great starting point as to focusing on goal setting for the second day. In order to explore focus, Pat also did an exercise based on the image of a brick wall (with paper that had little brick walls on it, apparently wrapping paper she had found somewhere!): we were first invited to summarise the paper we were working on in two sentences… then one… then three words… then only one. I found this an incredibly useful exercise (and very hard), which really helps you to focus (and possibly question the focus you thought you had already sorted out!). Thus prepped we were ready for our second day of intense writing, broken up only by food and a little excursion to the Seasalt outlet shop, which is but a short walk away (and really it would have been rude not to go and support the cornish economy…)

Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend. And it also seemed quite productive. while I myself didn’t get much work done on my own writing, that probably would have been too much to ask for, as I was busy facilitating, but from my chats with the others it seems like a lot of progress has been made, and I think that the mix of focused time for work and creative loosening up and sharing activities was just right. All the retreaters have been invited as authors onto this blog, so hopefully we will get to read some updates on their work in due course!

 

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Swanpool beach huts, Falmouth, Cornwall

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‘Shed’ as metaphor for the draft article/paper (courtesy Nancy de Freitas)

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Coastline view from Pendennis Castle peninsula, Cornwall

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Concertina sketch books and reflective mind-map (Susan Ryland)

NancydeFreitas
Professor Nancy de Freitas, AUT University, New Zealand / Editor-in-Chief: Studies in Material Thinking international journal.

During the Falmouth Writing Retreat (12th – 14th July 2013) I had the privilege of working with Nancy de Freitas, whose enthusiasm and wealth of experience was inspirational.

My task for the weekend was to plan an article, titled: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Art, for a new international Journal of Cognitive Humanities. I had already written an abstract based on my presentation at the inaugural Cognitive Futures of the Humanities conference at Bangor University (UK) in April this year. The first task Nancy and I tackled was turning my abstract into a ‘working abstract’ that would provide a structure for my journal article. We spent time discussing what the central focus of the article would be. This was like running a magnifying glass over the material and choosing which area to enlarge and which parts to retain as background information. The process helped me see how I could shift my focus for different audiences. I liked Nancy’s idea of using ‘signals and signposts’ to provide a guiding structure for the article, such as images/diagrams, keywords, titles and subtitles. It was reassuring to know that it was ‘okay’ to use this approach and made me realised that I was still inhibited by the notion that there was a ‘right way’ to do academic writing.

For me, as a predominantly visual thinker (trained in Fine Art Painting/Printmaking) I find images seem to tap into my subconscious. So, as I was reflecting on the weekend’s events I saw connections between my concertina sketchbooks, Nancy’s metaphor of the cobbled-together ‘shed ’ of an article (the stage when you can invite others to comment on your draft version), and Alke’s metaphor of the academic ‘ocean’. As I stood on the jagged Cornish coastline at Pendennis castle, the pitched roofs of Swanpool beach huts came to mind, and I wondered if the Falmouth experience was about building a ‘beach hut’ (as a variation on the ‘shed’ idea) – a temporary shelter, a place where you can keep your essentials (but not your whole thesis!) and a place where you can look out over the (academic) ocean. The ‘beach hut’ article gets you ‘out there’ in the public domain but not overly exposed to extreme weather events (it’s just an article, not a book!).

So, while metaphorically sitting in my beach hut I can view the (academic) ocean, reflect on my research and art practice and do a bit of snack writing. Perfect!

Susan Ryland (University for the Creative Arts)