What actually happens at Write Club?

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.


Last week I wrote about our new Doctoral College initiative to support PGR and ECR writing – Write Club. I talked about our aims and objectives, and the importance of talking about writing and building an engaged community. But what actually happens at Write Club?

Write Clubs so far have been led by myself and Dr. Sally Flint, who is a writer, poet, tutor and editor Riptide journal and Canto poetry. We start with a creative writing task – based on Sally’s work, and the session she deliver for us Creative Approaches to Writing Your Thesis. The aim is to write freely for 5 minutes – in response to an image or object that we provide – and without judgement.

These creative writing tasks are a great way to warm-up those synapses for writing, and to think storytelling, imagery and prose. When 5 minutes are up, we ask the group to share their aims and goals for the session. Sharing goals is an integral part of Write Club. It can help focus your writing time, act as a commitment to a task, and make sure you are working towards something achievable.

And then we do some (academic) writing.

Although we knowingly stole the idea for Write Club from Dr. Sarah Dyer in Geography [link], we are currently following a slightly different model. Sarah’s group uses long, intensive writing periods – as in Rowena Murray’s writing retreats [link]– whereas we alternate  between writing for half an hour, and stopping for 10 minutes of discussion. Approaching writing in short bursts is ‘borrowed’ from another colleague Dr. Siobhan O’Dwyer in the Medical School. Siobhan is the founder of the international twitter community/write club Shut Up and Write Tuesdays, which uses the podormo technique to structure writing time in to 25 minute blocks. We combined SUWT’s shorter bursts with Murray’s discussion breaks to create the initial format for Write Club.

There are two important things to point out.

Firstly, we take the concept of writing quite loosely. It could be writing new prose, editing, reading, thinking – anything that moves the work forward.Secondly, the format and model for Write Club is developing. We are working PGRs and ECRs to continually reflect on and develop the writing space and support we are providing, to make sure it matches the needs of our PGRs and ECRs. That’s why we value the feedback of attendees so highly – and it has been great to see so many engaging with us on feedback forms, by email, and on twitter. On top of feedback, it has been great to hear about the achievements that have come out of Write Club so far. Our resident baker Edward Mills completed the abstract for this upgrade document in our first session.

So there you have it – a brief snapshot of Write Club. Why not join us on 18th January? PGRs can book through My Career Zone, ECRs through Trent!

Do you want to start-up your own writing group, or facilitate one of our Write Clubs? We already have a Shut Up and Write Tuesday group that meeting every Tuesday in the Old Library Computer Cluster! We are happy to provide support and training to anyone interested, so please get in touch with my on k.preece@exeter.ac.uk!

The first rule about Write Club is…

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros and sewing.

Over the summer, we decided to start a Write Club.

What on earth is a ‘Write Club’? Well, the first rule of Write Club is…only kidding.

Write Club is an initiative in the Doctoral College that provides time and space of our PGRs and ECRs to get together and write. Once a month we fill our training rooms with tea, coffee, and the sound of 10-15 PGRs and ECRs tapping away at their computers and talking about writing.

Write Club aims to address a very specific need. We need, as an institution, to support our PGRs, our ECRs, and our academics with their writing. Although we don’t like to admit it, writing is hard. We all struggle with it – whether you are a newly-minted PGR or a Professor with decades of publication experience. But the problem is we write is silos – alone at home, or in our offices, with an endless supply of coffee and frequent frustrated sighs. We struggle to ‘get the best words in the best order’ (to paraphrase Coleridge), and we internalise rather than talk about that struggle. And although I don’t have photographic evidence to prove it, I suspect we are all at some point sat, in our offices, struggling with writing.

Write Club aims to change that.

We got the idea from our lovely colleagues in Geography, where Dr. Sarah Dyer started a Write Club after attending a writing retreat led by Dr. Rowena Murray. When we were asked to expand our writing support in the Doctoral College, we picked Sarah’s brains and stole (with her permission) both the name and the concept of offering a regular space for our researchers to get together and write.

The community aspect of Write Club is central to what we are trying to achieve. Part of the aim of the suite of initiatives we are working on is to build a culture and community of practice where we share our experiences of writing. We want to challenge and intervene in the culture of writing alone in our offices. The group doesn’t exist simply to ‘get writing done’ – although we hope it helps! We want to develop an engaged and vibrant writing culture at the University, which exists alongside our evolving research culture.

These aims aren’t just based on our own experiences as researchers and writers – there’s lots of research out there on the benefits of talking about writing. I’ve already referenced Rowena Murray who has done extensive research in this area, and I also recommend Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler’s monograph Helping Doctoral Students Write (2014), which has some helpful discussions about the social practice of writing.

One of the joyful things about our first Write Club was that one of our PGRs Edward Mills baked tiffin for us. The introduction of baked goods brought a friendliness and collegiality to our first meeting – it relaxed the room, put us on more open terms, and created a sense of shared space and ownership. That’s what I, as a developer, want for this group. So it looks like I better get baking. And who knows – it may even get me ready for Bake Off 2018…

Want to know more about Write Club? This is the first in a series of posts by Researcher Development Manager Kelly Preece that highlights and reflects on the evolution of a writing support framework in the Doctoral College.

PGRs and ECRs can book on to future sessions on My Career Zone and Trent respectively.