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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!

 

After our December workshops had gone down quite well, Falmouth University invited Pat and myself back to this time put together a whole day as part of the Writing in Creative Practice series – Making Writing.

We started off with making name tags in order to explore the materials available for reflective bookmaking – and I don’t think we ever had as many feathers to use before!

Pat then started us off with an extended Writing Warm-up, which we used to explore writing on different textures ending up with writing about both objects and photographs. Again, a very rich experience to loosen us up (we didn’t really need to warm up as the weather was absolutely fantastic!).

Nancy de Freitas then shared her expertise of coming to writing from a material studies background, talking about Writing and Materiality (Falmouth_workshop2) – starting us off with blue sky thinking, introducing the importance of having a working abstract when doing any sort of research project, the usefulness of questions to prompt where you are going, the utilisation of images in both abstract ‘writing’ and planning structure as well as the differences between personal and academic writing (yes, there should be one!).

What I particularly loved was her use of the image of a shed to illustrate what a working draft of a piece of writing is like – yes, it might feel cobbled together (and the shed on the image she showed us really was…), but the important thing is that it is holding together! in a way this is the point when writing goes from a solitary to a social activity – now you can show it to somebody else, because it has enough structure to make sense. And from now on it can be worked on, carefully turning the precarious shed into a house with foundations, a solid structure, a roof that doesn’t leak, maybe even a conservatory… No, she didn’t actually mention conservatories, that is just what I was thinking, she did however go on to talk about the importance of editing as a social practice, because writing should work for the ‘other person’ – the reader! (An important fact that my students often don’t seem to be aware of.)

Nancy also shared some interesting thoughts on active documentation, and how that can be used to get students to think about structure and editing.

After lunch Oliver West took over sharing with us his journey of how he developed the Footnotes project out of his own struggle with writing as a dyslexic student and then practcioner. This is based around taking notes on a simple folded grid – allowing visuals to be recorded, annotated and then reordered. And of course we got to have a go – and I saw Nancy’s shed make an appearance on not just my grid!

I ended the official program with a gallop through the visual anaolgies and metaphors I use in order to engage my students with writing and particularly academic practice. Using the ‘mini’ quilt’ developed for the recent School of Education conference as a starting point, I introduced the framing of Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle and then really briefly talked about The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, The Butterfly Challenge, ways of using objects, reflective bookmaking and poetic inquiry, The Dress-up Doll of Formality, visualising introduction/main body and conclusion of an essay as stages in journy planning, The Fishscale of Academicness, The Button Connection and The Winning Hand of Independence. And while I am not convinced all of them made sense with only a few sentences to explain them, I believe the gist of it came across – and I had some interesting feedback at the end of the session.

We ended with a discussion round wondering whether approaches are different for practitioners and teachers, people who see themselves as more comfortable with words rather than images – and how we can make sure to cater for different learning styles of out students.

It was a fantastic day full of interesting sharing, and some fabulous reflective books were made that will hopefully inspire things to come – and I hope that we can do it again sometime. (And then we immediately did with a Writing Retreat the following two days, about which I will blog soon!)

Today’s Writing in Creative Practice workshop led by Nancy de Freitas was a masterclass in how to combine a lot of information with plenty of discussion and trying out, while still fostering a relaxing atmosphere. Honestly, the only person running around like mad and a bit frazzled was myself (but then I had to worry about the caterers – not that they didn’t do a fantastic job again!).

The idea was to this time focus on our own writing rather than our students’, and specifically on that mysterious beast: writing for publication.

People were so eager to get started that everybody was present fairly soon after we opened registration (i.e. when the coffee had arrived), so we for once had the time to go around the room and introduce ourselves and talk a little about why we were there.

Nancy then started us off with an introductory lecture that very clearly set out the process of writing for academic publication – the thinking processes that go into finding focus, the putting together of a (working) abstract, the writing itself, the editing process, the rewriting of the abstract this time for publication, the submission – and what happened afterwards, i.e. some stages of the review process. As editor of Studies in Material Thinking she was able to share some valuable insights from ‘the other side’ of the submission process (and I wish somebody had told me about all this when I was starting out in academia).

Our first little exercise used Rowena Murray’s Ten Prompts for planning a paper – and we all got some time to have a go, and then discuss the usefulness of having prompts like this. The following conversation showed that while not all questions were helpful in all contexts, the activity of sitting down and thinking with focus about the writing we were about to embark on was seen as helpful all round. Nancy also introduced us to Robert Brown’s Eight Questions and her own provocations, which include the requirement of putting forward not just writing, but also pictures. During our conversation we also found out that one of the group used a similar method for getting started in her writing – imagining she was going to the pub and having a conversation about her writing with somebody there (apparently this Pub Method is helped by actually going to the pub during a break in the writing…).

We talked about a number of ways to get started with writing and developing projects, my favourite probably the term of ‘Snack Writing’ – little writing tasks that are done regularly to put together a portfolio/file of little pieces of writing that can then help develop/be the starting point of something bigger. This could be reviews of own or other’s work or free-writing exercises, for example. I already do this with my students – setting them regular tasks to get them writing regularly – so now having a good term (Snack Writing) is great to get across to them that these tasks are meant to be non-threatening.

After a lovely buffet lunch, I did a session on thinking about different ways that writing can be published. I tied it into the Fishscale activity that I do with my students (and if you are a regular reader of this blog you will know what this is about, if you are not, search Fishscale as a Category) and shared my own experiences with a particularly frustrating article, where I made the (all too common) mistake of trying to adapt an article written for one journal and rejected for submission to another journal and ended up with what must have read as a confused mixture of data. (I now call this the Frankenfish phenomenon, after Frankenstein’s monster. Beware of the Frankenfish and always carefully tailor your writing to the journal you are submitting to!) I also made delegates design some fish representing the different ways of presenting work (hopefully I will be able to put some of them up on here soon).

Nancy took over again, and we talked some more about clarifying our practice – for example thinking about the concept, context, focus and methods of your research… and then swapping them around – what happens if you see your methods as your concept or your context as you focus? Again there was a great discussion with people starting to think about how to tailor the same research for different journals/audiences and possibly also how to mine a PhD for publications.

We ended by analysing two abstracts and discussing their strengths and weaknesses – and in extension talked about the review process a bit more. Nancy shared the form the review report at Studies in Material Thinking takes, which was again really useful.

Overall I found it to be an enjoyable and informative day – and can’t wait to do it all again, only with a bit more time, at the forthcoming Writing Retreat in Falmouth (there are still places left… sign up here!)

A special thank you to the Higher Education Academy and the Institue of Applied Creative Thinking (I-ACT) at Staffordshire University for funding this event!

dsc_ 78On 2nd July 2013, Staffordshire University will be hosting another one-day workshop in the Writing in Creative Practice series. Since starting this series, which developed out of the work of the Writing-PAD network and has been supported by the Higher Education Academy, we have mostly shared best practice and allowed some space for exploration to link to engaging our students in writing for Higher Education in the creative disciplines. To find out more about what we have been doing, explore this blog, particularly the ‘workshop’ category.

This up-coming workshop will focus not on students’ but on our writing, and how we can turn it into writing for academic publication. Therefore it is aimed at members of staff who want to publish in this very specific context for the first time (or just more); it would also be suitable for post-graduate students within art, media and design.

dsc_ 309Nancy de Freitas, Associate Professor at AUT University, New Zealand and Editor-In-Chief of Studies in Material Thinking, will share her expertise of writing in the context of material thinking practices, introducing workshop participants to methods and insights on good structure, clear writing and elegant style when talking about research, processes, images, objects and spaces. There might also be the opportunity to discuss the genre of academic writing – and review this as currency within the creative, studio-based disciplines. This day is meant as a day of starting points, sharing tips to get (academic) writing projects on the go. It would be helpful if participants come with a particular writing project in mind.

The attendance of this workshop is free of charge to all those interested in the workshop topic, with preference being given to staff working in HE institutions and HE in FE colleges from across the UK. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, but travel expenses will not be covered.

For more information or to book a place, please get in touch with Alke Groppel-Wegener (tactileacademia[at]gmail.com).

And, if you are interested in following this up with a more immersive experience where you can actually get some writing done, check out the related Pedare Weekend Writing Retreat  at Falmouth University.