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A bit more than two years ago, Fiona English and myself were asked by Julia Lockheart, the editor of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, whether we would be interested in guest editing a Special Issue on Genre and Regenring for that publication. A themed workshop and conference, as well as months of editing work later, not one, but two issues are now published (Volume 11: Numbers 1 and 2), by us jokingly referred to as the Chicken and the Egg issue respectively.

This seemed like a good point for us two co-guest-editors to reflect on the process, so here a conversation that we had one September morning, in case you are interested in our thoughts on the process, the idea of using two different forms of editorial (one traditional, one as an abecedary) and whether we would change anything.

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

(This was a typed chat, and I have tried to get rid of typos but have not changed grammar or structure of the unscripted exchange.)

Cover image for the two Special Issues on Genre and Regenring

Alke: So, the two issues are out and I thought it would just be a nice idea if we reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Do you think we achieved what we wanted to do?

Fiona: I’m actually really proud of these two issues. The range and quality of the articles is fantastic – so interesting to read and so well written. The production side too is great. They look and feel good in the hand.

Alke: I agree, as the physical things, the journals worked out really well. Now for me this was one of the surprising things – that I always thought of the journals as a physical entity, but that is not how the publisher saw them, they see them as separate articles… that took me a while to realise. If we had thought about them like this, would we have done anything differently, do you think?

Fiona: Yes I know what you mean. The on-line article as stand-alone access makes the experience quite different. I don’t think we would have done anything differently in this particular case nor do I think we should have. The flow of the physical versions works really well and hopefully people will actually get to see this. However, if we do another thing like this we might think about it differently and provide a different kind of threading to preface each article. Maybe that’s something we could do in any case? If the publisher let us.

Alke: I’m not sure we should volunteer any more work on this, to be honest 😉 And I really like them as a collection – I think this is where the value of this lies, to see the different ways of using genre side by side, in a way. I seem to remember that one of the things we wanted to do at the beginning was give people the confidence to try out more and to take more ownership (shouting about?) the practice they were already doing, almost giving them a theory to be able to justify their playing with genre as a ‘serious’ thing – and I think that this collection does show that off, and hopefully does that.

Fiona: I agree – and I’m certain this has been achieved. I’m glad we pushed some people to write differently while leaving others to their own devices. It means that we have a range of genres which then means that readers can consider the affordances of each as they read. What do you think about setting up a kind of feedback forum? Getting readers’ responses to the different articles with regard to how the genres used impacted on their reading and on their attitude to the ‘knowledge’ being explored/developed.

Alke: I think that would be really interesting – maybe I could ask for that at the end of this blog post and also ask the contributors to add to.

Fiona: Yes great. It could also comprise an element of any seminar/party we might plan for the future.

Alke: I love it! A feedback party instead of a launch!

Fiona: It would be good to get feedback on people’s own attitudes to alternative genres for academic production and how they might be valid in the context of REF!!! And yes, a feedback party –

Alke: I think we might have found our angle for the follow-up event! Now, we also played with genre, not just in our own, separate contributions, but in the two editorials… which in a way are very different…

Fiona: Yes I’ve been thinking of the differences in experience doing them. The essential difference in terms of process is that one is a kind of narrative – it tells a story in a chronological order so to speak. The second works as a kind of glossary – explanation of terms of ref or rather concepts that are explored across the issues – and as such required a different kind of thinking – explanations and definitions rather than narrative. We had to say more about our frames of reference in the second one and more about the journal as a flow in the first. Is that right?

Alke: In a way, yes. I have to admit that I (maybe naively) had thought that the abecedary would be so much easier to do as a format than it actually was. In the end figuring out what to include and what not, and having the constraints of the alphabet was a really interesting challenge!

Fiona: the abecedary was a challenge for sure – but a very interesting one as it forced us to foreground concepts and key issues and to use the alphabetic constraints to think of fresh ways for describing/defining them. In other words, the affordances of each genre ensured that we approached the same information differently and in the process of so doing produced different ways of articulating it. This made us rethink – always a good thing.

Alke:: Exactly. And I am really glad that we decided on taking on that challenge rather than going for something like a conversation (which we had also considered), especially because it made us think about the content more in terms of definitions, rather than just rehashing the narrative in a two-person narrative way!

Fiona: Yes – that’s very true. And it was fun too! Playing around trying to find a way of using all the letters – only one cheat with the X.

Alke: Thinking about it, I think we could have made ‘xerography’ work… the idea of copying stuff, or not, would have worked int the context of gains and losses!

Fiona: xerography – yeah – but then we’d not have had ‘eXpectations’ – though we’d probably have squeezed that in elsewhere. Gains and Losses – yes – that’s true. What do you think these were between the two editorials?

Alke: Well, the first editorial gives much more background info as to how these issues came about, while the abecedary only really mentions the workshop and conference in passing. But they were both really important events. And, as you say, the second one is much more about definitions, being clear about what we are talking about and mean, which is easy to gloss over in a way when you are writing a narrative.

Fiona: Yes I agree. The first one tells the story of how things came about and why and how the journal is organised. It makes an easier read, probably, as a whole because it does what people expect despite the informal tone we use. It is also more effective in profiling the different articles because they are introduced within a narrative structure. This is the story of how we got together and this is the story of how we got the contributions for these special issues and this is the story of how the issues have been organised. The Issue One editorial had to go first – the chicken before the egg otherwise readers would have been totally confused.

Alke: LOL

Fiona: t’ll be interesting to get feedback from the readers/contributors of Issue Two about how they feel about the editorial. They won’t have seen the first one.

Alke: That’s a really good point! I hadn’t even considered that!

Fiona: No nor had I until we started this discussion. (the affordances of a dialogic genre 😉

Alke: 🙂   Would we change it if we had to do it again? Or better: is there anything we would change?

Fiona: That’s a good question. Did we point out in the Egg that we had done a different kind of editorial for the Chicken? I can’t remember. I think we saw them as two sides of the same coin and forgot that not everyone would read everything. Again, back to the thing about single article purchases too!

Alke: let me just check…We do mention it under ‘A is for abstract’ – sort of. Phew!

Fiona: That’s lucky – or rather not lucky – we took it into account. It’s amazing how quickly one (I, that is) forgets what one’s done almost as soon as you turn over onto the next page! I constantly have to keep checking back in things I’ve written to see what I said about something.

Alke: Well, I guess that comes with doing a lot of things. And once they are published, on file, so to speak, you don’t need to keep the details in your head, because you can just check back. but I think it is a really interesting point, that we didn’t just conceive this as a physical journal, but as a double issue, and didn’t really ever saw them as split up!

Fiona: That’s right!

Alke: maybe that means we misjudged our audience?

Fiona: Hum – yes perhaps. Not our audience exactly, but how our audience might read. This is food for thought. What we did with these two Issues could never be done via the on-line single purchase approach. We thought of these issues as if they were a book – a complete thing. That’s indeed what they are. The market forces behind the publishers, though, see/treat everything as stand-alone. It’s the same with modular university degrees. The idea that there is no need for an overall view/story but that things can just exist – contextless and floating out alone. In fact, the publisher’s approach militates against special issues!

Alke: I think you are right. In the book I just wrote they asked for each chapter to have its own separate bibliography so that the chapters could be sold separately (we decided to ignore that request for now…), but that changes the whole argument you can make and splits it into bite-sized chunks.Some things you want to say are bigger than that!

Fiona: Absolutely – this is a problem indeed and one which, in my view, leads to people picking up fag ends as the saying goes. In other words, piecemeal knowledge – knowledge with no context – in other words, not knowledge!

Alke: In fact, I think if at the beginning of this process somebody had told me to edit a collection of separate but related journal articles, I don’t think I would have been up for that! It is that context that makes it interesting and useful!

Fiona: Me neither. The whole pleasure of it was to put together a unified piece of work not lots of separate pieces of work.

Alke: So hopefully people will read both issues and not just pick out the odd article!

Fiona: I do hope so.

Alke: Anyway, anything else we would change?

Fiona: I don’t think so. For me the contributors have done a fantastic job in honing their articles not just in terms of academic content but in style and voice more so than in most other journal articles. I think they also saw themselves as working as part of a whole too. I mean they understood what they were writing to be a contribution to an overall story too. I think we got the range and balance right too across each issue.

Alke: Yes, I agree. I wouldn’t change the content. However – and this totally shows my roots as a designer – if I had realised how easy it was to change the cover image, I would have asked for two different ones: one of the furoshiki laid out, so you could see it whole, and one of it wrapped up, rather than combining those two ‘states’ into one image. but then maybe that would have put too much focus on that one artefact? Anyway, just a tiny thing with hindsight 😉

Fiona: Yes – that would have been good. And I don’t think it would have put too much onto the one piece. I think it would have perfectly represented regenring. But tant pis! They are still beautiful objects these two issues.

 

Find out more about Issue 1 (the Chicken) here.

Find out more about Issue 2 (the Egg) here.

 

If you have read both, one or just parts of these special issues, please comment on this post with some feedback about the above topics or others!

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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.