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A nudge to write

May 23, 2011

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten — happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” (Brenda Ueland)

Researchers have to write. And people in leadership positions where researchers work have to create the circumstances for writing.

Writing is slow, hard work, and it requires focused time. But how do we find that? How do we devise a space to write in the way Ueland recommends? How do people in leadership clear away the clutter for their researchers to do this hard work?

Brenda Ueland’s book If you want to write, is one of the best guides for those of us who need to get our ideas onto paper.

Not surprisingly, social media can also be used to find inspiration and motivation. I recently saw an amusing and useful time-lapse video of Scott Berkun writing an essay on how to write 1000 words, with commentary by the author.

But what about people in leadership? What can we do to make our universities better places for people to write?

I’m exploring a new answer to this question in a few months here at the University of Tromsø. We are running a project with a group of about 40 women in associate professor positions, trying to create the conditions for them to augment their research portfolios and then apply for promotion to full professor. In October, we’ll take this group away from campus, out of town, for a writing week. It won’t be a week of courses or a new set of distractions. There will be a little coaching — and a lot of writing!

If this works well, maybe we can reach other groups on campus. Yesterday, I read over at Nudge about write-ins at some universities. A write-in is an event over several days in which the circumstances are created for people to write. The university creates the conditions; the participants commit to attend. And they commit to write.

I think write-ins can increase the visibility of this core activity in university life. And I think it’s a creative, positive and inspirational strategy. This is the kind of leadership that gives results.

Who wants to be next?

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