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Four crucial steps for hosting a successful write-in

November 15, 2011

Keep writing. Every day. That’s what the experts say.

Maybe you just have time to write a single paragraph. Can you summarize what you wrote yesterday? Can you write a few notes about the next section in your project?

Find your strategy and stick with it. Don’t succumb to Writer’s Block — but if you do, read Seth Godin’s clever piece on Talker’s Block. It helps!

What about your colleagues? How can you help them to write more and better? I tried to do that recently by hosting a write-in. As part of my university’s Promotion Project, I took about 40 academic staff members away for five days of writing.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. The support of the supervisor for each member of staff is essential. I held a meeting with the participants and their bosses — as well as their bosses’ bosses — about six months before the write-in. I explained the concept, described how it fit into the larger project, and asked them to support the participants by protecting their time that week. Expect nothing from these 40 for an entire week — nothing other than writing. Advance notice and dialog with the entire chain of command was essential for our success.
  2. The participants must have clear, explicit goals for the week. Focus is vital, and while counting isn’t the only way to measure success, the most common goal was to finish one article. The participants in our program had all received recent feedback on their research portfolios. They chose one writing project based on that feedback and focused on it all week. Some even sent their articles off to journals before heading home on Friday!
  3. We held our write-in at a country hotel about an hour’s drive outside of Tromsø. It was far enough away to feel just the right level of isolation. But it was close enough that those who absolutely had to attend a daughter’s basketball game or a son’s piano recital were able to do so and then return to their writer’s haven. The hotel has to have good internet connections, comfortable rooms, and good food, such that the participants can devote themselves to their writing. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s well situated for short walks with breathtaking views!
  4. In our planning process, the participants were clear about one thing: If we’re going away to write, don’t fill the days with something else! We had a light program; speakers and participants alike understood that participation was optional. Write for a few hours, and if you need a break, come downstairs and listen to a more experienced writer tell her story. The week started with a pep-talk by a writing coach, Lynn Nygaard. Lynn spent the first two days offering individual coaching sessions and helping everyone understand their own writing processes. Later in the week, there were visits from a few senior faculty, who also shared their experiences and offered the option of individual meetings.

A week of unscheduled time, with all the practical details taken care of by others, and the opportunity to simply write — that’s how we created our write-in.

How will you make yours?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. scottdavidmeyer permalink
    November 15, 2011 23:58

    Wish I could have attended!

  2. Roy Atkinson permalink
    November 25, 2011 15:53

    Great ideas, Curt. Was there any specific focus on how to translate the experiences of this retreat back to the day-to-day environment? Often that’s the hardest part. Thanks!

    • November 25, 2011 21:33

      You ask a crucial question, Roy. And your question highlights one of the things we will do differently next time. We thought some in advance about forming small writing groups of 4-5 members, with the idea that we would use some time during the week to get them to “gel” and then work to have those groups continue after the week ended. But we didn’t do that. So there’s a risk here. But we’re not done yet!

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