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Sunday 12 June 2022

2022 Second Session, Week 3

So far we've thought about what kinds of writing we have ahead of us, both required and desired, and about what makes for a good writing experience.  Now let's take some time to reflect on the journey that got us to this point in our writing lives - this week, we can talk about how we were taught about writing - did you have a wonderful elementary teacher at school who made you believe you could write?  Did learning to pass exams and the pressure to achieve As cramp your natural writing style in high school, or did it help you develop the discipline you rely on today?  Did you take a transformative college class at some point?  or was it the refining fire of the PhD which forged your writerly tool kit? (in later weeks, we can explore what that tool kit is in a bit more detail - for now, we're still sitting on our rock or comfy bench or lounging in our hammock reflecting and remembering...)

As ever, do feel free to drop in the conversation whether you're setting goals this session or not - we'd love to hear from you!

GOALS FROM LAST WEEK (and hopefully all birthday-celebrators had or are planning a lot of treats):


  1. Do analytical stuff for last samples and send away
  2. Do figures for old paper
  3. Think about new paper and write any one section, short is ok
  4. Pack up office or parts of office
  5. Finish editorial for association journal
  6. Dinner with another departing colleague

Dame Eleanor Hull 

  1. 4 days work on conference paper
  2. 4 days work on spring undergrad class
  3. get new phone
  4. 4 days weeding or other garden tasks
  5. move stuff back into guest room OR tidy my study

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

  1. Finish two end of the year reports–one on what a productive faculty member I am (which I hate writing), and update on statistics, which is more Excel than me, thankfully;
  2. Mail the darn thank-you notes;
  3. Take the to-be-shredded files to the local shredding day event.

heu mihi

  1. Return to chapter 1: What was I doing again?
  2. House stuff: Deal with plumbing issue (i.e. wait for the plumber), Goodwill trip, technology recycling
  3. Read at least 1/2 of research book
  4. Write letter of recommendation for former student
  5. Have a nice time outside now and again


  1. work no more than 10 hours
  2. make some lists for smaller things that fit under the areas of personal replenishment, reducing next year's pressures and fun/creative stuff.
  3. replenishment: back to basics. Eating plenty of fruit and veg, drinking enough water, a small exercise habit (10 minutes a day of deliberate exercise), a small chore habit (5 minutes of picking up or one of the recurring chores like a load of laundry each day)
  4. pressure reduction: writing out my rough week-by-week for next year (I have to do this to put the workload data for my modules in to the teaching tsar, since we team teach everything so loads are messy and complex...). Send two emails for the Teaching Project which are preying on my mind. And I think that's plenty!
  5. fun/creative: write a letter to a friend/read for an hour at least 3 days/do at least two crochet stripes on the "desert colours" blanket project/play D&D or write another job board game.


  1. The latest stress canary doodle is over on my blog, if anyone is interested. It's been another week of a lot of guilt and clearly annoying some colleagues who did not make any plans for me being out this long, and are taking it rather personally that when I do a couple of hours a day, I don't get everything done (and it was more than the 2 denoted by couple because I am an idiot). A couple of days of feeling better, a couple of bad ones. I didn't realise how much my anticipation of next year depended on having my normal teaching partner back in the skills modules (her absence on maternity leave was the straw that broke this camel's back, I think) until she told me she is resigning and won't be back. She was on a 3 year temporary contract, she is fantastic, she was teaching & scholarship only with the associated high load and in a two-body position where she commuted weekly, and yet she won a research grant and published high quality academic papers AND was a stalwart in teaching AND did a lot of our admissions and schools outreach work, but the Dean refused to extend her contract for 6 months (EVEN THOUGH THERE IS A POST FOR A 6 MONTH TEACHING FELLOW IN HER FIELD BEING ADVERTISED RIGHT NOW), and was 'not able' to discuss any path to permanence even though we are short staffed in her area (in all areas...). So she's quitting for another fixed term post which is at least near her home base, and I ugly-cried about it because it just sums up so many problems. I hope it works out wonderfully for her and her family. I'm going to miss her a lot, personally and professionally. And it's just one more goldfish nibble.

    Anyway, whining aside!

      work no more than 10 hours 16-ish, and Not Sufficient. We do what we can. I practiced saying no, but boy did it take a lot of nagging to get someone OTHER THAN ME to actually address the problems the 'no' caused... but I did do what I'd deemed the week's top priorities - met both of my PhD students and marked all the undergrad dissertations where I was first marker, plus did what was needed to let someone else keeping moving forward in a shared research project. So...

      make some lists for smaller things that fit under the areas of personal replenishment, reducing next year's pressures and fun/creative stuff. nope. I'm having trouble making myself sit down and make lists at the moment, I'm not sure why. The brain squirrels skitter away or start yelling for food and distraction whilst throwing Feels at me. Guess it's just part of the I Am Too Stressed To Function - but it's hard to observe your own brain whilst living in it sometimes!

      replenishment: back to basics. Eating plenty of fruit and veg, drinking enough water, a small exercise habit (10 minutes a day of deliberate exercise), a small chore habit (5 minutes of picking up or one of the recurring chores like a load of laundry each day)
      pressure reduction: writing out my rough week-by-week for next year (I have to do this to put the workload data for my modules in to the teaching tsar, since we team teach everything so loads are messy and complex...). Send two emails for the Teaching Project which are preying on my mind. And I think that's plenty! YES F&V (although there was some late night berry munching to hit a healthy total, there is nothing wrong with late night berries in my book), YES water, YES 10 mins (mostly "gentle", but hey, gentle exercise is still exercise, & I did one more vigorous set last week & hobbled for three days - apparently my body is in full on sulk mode!), only three days for chores (sigh. I look at them and the brain squirrels squeal and slam on the brakes and, well. 3 days was enough that I have clean clothes and clean dishes and disinfected toilets, and the furry one has a clean litter box, so...), YES teaching list (now likely All Wrong due to colleague leaving), YES two emails (they didn't get the response the project wanted, but hey...)

      fun/creative: write a letter to a friend/read for an hour at least 3 days/do at least two crochet stripes on the "desert colours" blanket project/play D&D or write another job board game. NO, TWO days, YES, YES to both playing and starting to develop another little adventure, which will get finished today. I also bought some decent quality water colours and followed a tutorial, and was not entirely unhappy with the results, so ordered a book and some better brushes to do a bit more. I want to write, but my brain doesn't want to cooperate, or rather, I'm using the little capacity I have on marking and work stuff and journalling at the moment, so other sorts of creating seem the way to go.

      1) work no more than 10 hours
      2) make some lists for smaller things that fit under the areas of personal replenishment, reducing next year's pressures and fun/creative stuff.
      3) replenishment: back to basics - keep it up! Eating plenty of fruit and veg, drinking enough water, a small exercise habit (10 minutes a day of deliberate exercise), a small chore habit (5 minutes of picking up or one of the recurring chores like a load of laundry each day), journal daily
      4) pressure reduction: if I have room in the 10 hours, review my honours module and decide what can stay from this year's iteration and what I can easily and quickly refresh (I don't have the resources to change content, but I'm thinking about establishing a better weekly pattern of how we work with the material and what my expectations are of students - it's a partially flipped module, and although most modules have elements of that now, our students tend to HATE it and to flounder around, even in their final year, so I can definitely do more to create a nice reassuring pattern and to write some explanation and to work on a couple of short videos modelling what I expect them to do for the VLE, which might help). STICK to one online meeting a day... social stuff is meant to be good for a person, but I find it extra exhausting at the moment, plus talking to people face to face makes it extra hard to say no!

      5) fun/creative: write a letter to a friend/read for half an hour at least 3 days/do at least two crochet stripes on the "desert colours" blanket project/play D&D or write another job board game/play with watercolours a couple of times.

    3. Lists: I have no idea why (am not particularly stressed) but I too am having a terrible time making lists, setting up calendar pages, doing any of that organizational stuff. I think there are some sort of rabid brain squirrels infesting the attics of the internets, which are probably all connected like those of terraced houses (when at our townhouse I discovered that there were no divisions between houses once you climbed into the attic area I really wanted to write a children's story about kids hiding out up there), so if I have them, you have them, and vv . . . sorry if mine wandered your way!

    4. Whoops, sorry, that was DEH. I thought I was still logged in!

    5. I think a lot - most, if not all - academics have some sort of chronic stress disorder/PTSD type thing going on after two and a half academic years of a pandemic and all the other Big Events that have been going on - living through these "interesting times" takes up a chunk of brain real estate continually, and that is really draining.

    6. Lists are one of my essential tools for managing workload/stress etc - yet when I start getting stressed they become the thing I really can't handle (I guess it is the way it brings home the impossibility of Doing It All). Sometimes I can hack my brain by coming in sideways - writing on a different notepad (like the small gift ones that don't have room for much, or even scrap paper) or writing away from my desk where I can't look at a computer. Is there a sideways way in for you that won't upset the squirrels?

    7. Karen, I think you've hit on my problem---I don't want to face just how long the list of All The Things is, and even writing it out, or triaging items, feels stressful. I would love to just let it all go for the summer, and for a few weeks I have done that, but now I need to relieve stress on my future self by doing some forward planning now!

    8. That's definitely part of the problem - I definitely find it easier to sneak up on the lists by using scrap paper or postits (multiple smaller lists are slightly less awful) or label a page "braindump" and write at all sorts of angles etc., then pick a few things to go on a to do list...

    9. And for lists, never underestimate the joy of writing down something you already did just for the satisfaction of crossing it out! My brain responds very well to lists where some things are checked off immediately, so I do this a lot! It makes the bigger lists easier to handle...

  2. So, the prompt. I'm sure I could ramble on for hours, but I will try & stick to three exemplars.

    When I was 10-11, I had a fantastic teacher who grokked me. Her praise for my creative writing/poetry was sincere and came with constructive criticism, and she was possibly the first teacher I'd had to not call me lazy or careless for writing well but having lousy handwriting, spelling and presentation.

    In secondary school, English as a subject was less enjoyable - there were Single Right Answers to things, which I just don't accept for literature of any kind, and was bad at spotting what they were. I had one particularly memorable teacher around age 14-15, who used to tell me off in front of the class because my homework essays were too long and my short stories were too complex and that I was sloppy - he never set lengths for the assignments, just didn't like it when I turned in long ones! And never that I recall actually explained what was sloppy... (also he made us do a lot of drama which, yuck, especially at that age. And there were right ways to do that, which consisted of according to gender stereotypes and being 'neat' and 'controlled' in ways I didn't understand). And I was always getting hauled up for being untidy, not writing nicely, rushing my work, being careless and lazy (yes, there are long standing reasons why I wonder if I have ADHD/ADD) which at the time I heard as being about my writing sensu lato but now recognise as probably being mostly about everything other than the content. It's no wonder I had a lot of anxiety around the humanities despite how much I loved words and history and literature!

    At university we had no writing classes of any kind - but at least weekly essays taught me to produce work quickly, and through subjects (especially history & philosophy of science) I learnt about building arguments etc. (it wasn't taught directly, but I learn just fine through reading a lot and getting the occasional pointer on what to reflect on). My PhD took some of the pleasure out of writing - my supervisor was the kind of person to point out errors and assume the absence of comment was sufficient to point out what was good, which I entirely understand, but again, no classes and loads of reading. I did get told to read nothing written before 1950 at one point in my final writing up to try and make my writing less "flowery" (I tend to write long, grammatically complex sentences, no surprise to anyone I'm sure), and that was actually useful once I got over the grumps!

  3. Jumping in/catching up - nice to be back! I've always come to writing as a reader first and foremost, and my writing in school really tended to be testing out different voices, and then being streamed into more critical than creative writing - which, looking back on, I rather regret.
    As an undergrad I didn't really get taught academic writing explicitly, though the possibilities of different disciplinary styles was one of the reasons I dropped out of law - never quite felt comfortable in that voice. My Honours and PhD supervisors were constructive in their feedback (I still relay their advice to my students) but it was very much learning by doing rather than studying writing. I do like to read about academic writing, but as always it's translating the theory and good advice into practice that becomes the sticking point.

    Last weeks 'things done':
    -Two sets of marking done (one to go)
    -Feedback to PhD student and associated admin tasks done
    -Contributed to departmental stuff even when tempted to skip
    -2 x yoga, finished or enabled others to finish some house chores that have been dragging out
    -Snow outing!

    This week (short week due to public holiday):
    -Final set of marking completed
    -Get sem 2 unit overview populated, generate syllabi and contact tutors
    -Intentionally write on own stuff each day
    -Contact internal and external people on grant application, get on site and start populating form
    -Do the winter festival things on weekend

    1. Testing different voices seems like a useful approach! As to explicit writing teaching, it often seemed like every teacher expected someone else to have done that already . . . maybe you also found that.

    2. In my UK experience (a few decades ago) there was an assumption that you would pick up writing by osmosis, and that assumes that you read in your field to pick it up... I read all sorts of stuff and tend to pick up voices so my writing is kind of erratic...

    3. In my high school diaries, I can identify when we were reading Faulkner, or Mann, or Emily Dickinson or Plath in English class (I had a phenomenal high school English curriculum) because I start adopting elements of their styles; especially funny are the notes passed between me and my friends when we were studying Dickinson--all of a sudden, everything is dashes! dashes! It was a great learning experience as well as entertaining.

  4. Report and goals first, then I'll come back to the prompt.

    How I did:
    4 days work on conference paper: YES
    4 days work on spring undergrad class: YES
    get new phone: NO
    4 days weeding or other garden tasks: YES (if we count visiting another garden for design ideas!)
    move stuff back into guest room OR tidy my study: NO b/c
    OTHER: clean closet due to seeing a moth. This is a large project that is still in process!

    New goals:
    - 4 days work on conference paper
    - 4 days work on fall grad class
    - get new phone, new driver's license, new transponder
    - 4 days weeding or other garden tasks
    - finish Great Closet Cleaning

    1. I'm not sure they're clothes moths, but it was small, so I don't want to take the chance. Everything is coming out, getting washed, cleaned, or run through the dryer on HOT, then I'll clean the closet itself before putting things back. I have a lot of wool clothes I treasure, so I really don't want to have clothes moths!

  5. How I was taught about writing---in strangely small snatches. As a child I wrote poems, stories, a diary, but I don't remember any explicit training in essay-writing until high school, when I got a D on my first attempt for a teacher I came to love, who finally explained clearly what an expository essay was supposed to do. After that I mostly got A's, and didn't think about writing as a craft till one college instructor suggested that I not link an entire page with semi-colons. I learned the technique of explication de texte in college, and was good at it. I wrote a couple of term papers straight onto the typewriter, and got A's on them, too. Grad school finally presented a real challenge in terms of organizing a complex argument with a lot of secondary material, and I'm not sure I ever really did learn how to do that! I can always produce words, explicate a text, report on what someone else has said, but figuring out an original argument remains difficult.

    1. I had excellent close reading/explication de texte instruction and practice in high school. Honestly, my high school English classes are what got me where I am today! It's no wonder that my primary methodology is close reading....

  6. How did I learn to write? I don’t think I did – I remember nothing of writing instruction anywhere in school, it was just something where someone said “write an essay on X” and I wrote it. Didn’t think about it or worry about or particularly enjoyed it, it was just a thing you do like brushing your teeth… It has always been a tool, not the goal I guess? The one piece of writing I remember enjoying was a high school history project where we had to write a diary of a person in a particular time period. I wrote from the farm dog’s point of view, and it was really good. I cried when he died of old age in the end…
    Both my undergrad degrees were mostly focused on practicals/labs and technical skills so while I know I wrote lots of things (almost everything by hand, computers were few and far between) I recall no formal instruction. My PhD taught me nothing about writing explicitly, and in fact the only paper I wrote where I did every single thing my supervisor told me to and wrote it exactly the way she wanted it and she extensive input in every part of it was rejected for being (slightly paraphrased) “the most painful way possible to write a paper, confused, unclear, repetitious” and the two I wrote on my own were accepted with minor edits…
    I’m pretty good at it now, but that’s more from inevitable repetition and having to write a lot of different things all the time than deliberate practice. I love writing as a team with back and forth between co-authors, I finally have that and I value it immensely. And I really do love getting edits!

    This week’s goals:
    Do analytical stuff for last samples and send away DONE
    Do figures for old paper SOME DONE
    Think about new paper and write any one section, short is ok NOPE
    Pack up office or parts of office PARTLY
    Finish editorial for association journal DONE
    Dinner with another departing colleague DONE

    That was an awful week (mostly interpersonal drama, thanks middle school!), by Wednesday I was ready to set things on fire and run away to an island, but by the weekend things got better again. I did have a wonderful day doing lab work so that was a plus, and got some office stuff sorted and the packing started. Actual birthday was a dead loss, but was followed by some nice days and a movie and lunch out with friends today.

    This week’s goals:
    Pack office, arrange trucking
    Write reference/award letters for three people
    Finish figures for old paper
    Try again with new paper
    Pack up rest of office
    Copy edits for almost published paper
    Help with edits for accepted with minor revisions paper
    Meetings and emails about research money transfers

    1. Look at the three DONE things along with some packing in a week with drama! Excellent! And it sounds like you had a good birthday week, overall, even if the day itself wasn't good.

  7. Thinking about the journey as a writer gives me a sense of different writing genres and how I attached myself to them. When I was 9-10 years old, I had a teacher who included poetry in her curriculum. She became a mentor for me and we are still in contact (thanks to social media for finding each other again). I continued writing poetry until I graduated from college and returned only recently. My early career was writing news releases, speeches, scripts, and articles for a series of nonprofits. I always enjoyed it but chose to do a doctorate so I could write for myself instead. There has certainly been a process, though, of coming to love writing again.

    Right now I have a bunch of tabs open: one for the flash writing class I’m taking, a few for the media literacy continuing ed class that started today, and one for an idea for Tiny Project. It’s exciting to have all of these projects underway today--the trick is finding the focus on the days when that feels overwhelming instead. Figuring out how to do all the things or decide which things to do is what I’m working toward this summer.

    One way of doing this is to list the things I know I am going to do instead of listing the things I wish I could make time for. So, last week’s goals:

    1 get caught up on writing classes: At the moment, yes.
    2 submit an overdue book review (got one done Tuesday): not yet.
    3 write and submit abstract for January conference: yes.
    4 sort out bookmarks for Tiny Project: not yet.

    This week
    1 stay current on writing classes
    2 submit an overdue book review
    3 sort out bookmarks for Tiny Project
    4 continue working on media literacy class
    5 a new one: drink more water

    1. I keep thinking I'm logged in when I'm not. That was me on Daisy's post; must remember to look for the black cat now. Anyway, it's great you're caught up on the writing classes and got your abstract done! And yes, the distance between excitement and overwhelm is sometimes short. It would be nice to be able to stay on the excited side of the line.

  8. My path through writing has been rather crooked, often determined by Circumstances Beyond My Control. I started writing down stories based on my dreams before I was old enough to go to school—my mother had severe depression, so I had to occupy myself; as the youngest, I wanted to be like my older siblings, so I learned to read and write early.

    I didn’t learn how to write for school until seventh grade when I had a social studies course that required weekly written assignments, but which did not involve primary or secondary references. Sources did not come into play until ninth grade, when I had a world history teacher who insisted we cite primary resources for our papers.

    I decided that I really liked doing research, and dedicated myself to it through high school, leaving fiction behind. Unfortunately, I married young (and not well); my ex-husband actively discouraged me from writing fiction. When I put my toe back in the fiction pond, I had lost the facility with which I used to write. I hope to be able to restore that with a lot of hard work.

    Last week’s goals:
    Finish two end of the year reports–one on what a productive faculty member I am (which I hate writing), and update on statistics, which is more Excel than me, thankfullyYes,and no. The statistics are done; I have blocked time out later this week for the “See how wonderful I am” report.
    Mail the darn thank-you notes; Yes, two were mailed, and one which had dropped off my radar was transformed into an e-card.
    Take the to-be-shredded files to the local shredding day event; Yes, two bankers’ boxes were given to the maw of the shredder.

    Also done: Outlined three more nascent blog posts. Trained the intern for about twenty hours. emptied the closet and several drawers of winter wear; cleaned and boxed everything we won’t need in the next few months; aired out and put away the summer clothes.

    Next week’s goals:
    Finish up the loose ends of the training, moving into the revision phase of training.
    Get through a meeting-rich week.
    Finish the “listen to me sing my own praises” report.
    Read a few chapters on women translators.

    I hope everyone is having a lovely week, and is able to float like mist.

    1. Rhetorical question: Why are people so discouraging about writing? Even if few people manage to make a living by writing fiction, it can certainly be an enjoyable hobby and even bring in some money. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing situation. Anyway, you did a lot last week, so yay! I hope the meetings go smoothly.

  9. Hello!

    I'm going to bring up two very minute writing lessons that nonetheless had a great impact on me. First, my dissertation director taught me to avoid the unattached "this"; second, a member of a writing group I was in in grad school browbeat me over topic sentences. I know that these are more specific than this week's prompt demanded, but I do believe that they helped me immensely in improving my writing, and they're the tips that I cling to today (and pass on to my students, overandoverandover...).

    Bigger picture, developing a discipline of writing (which I'm not currently practicing, but whatever) has been tremendously important for me. It started with a novel when I was 23. I was living in a new city, looking for a job and waiting for grad school acceptances/rejections, and decided that, unless I wrote four pages of this novel per day for 6 months, I could never pretend that I was going to be a novelist again. Well, I finished that (200,000-word, unpublishable) novel in 7 months, and yet I also, oddly, dropped the novelist aspiration. But I *loved* writing that novel, even when I hated it, and doing so was tremendously empowering in some weird way.

    Last week:
    1. Return to chapter 1: What was I doing again? - YES, but this is very vague, I admit
    2. House stuff: Deal with plumbing issue (i.e. wait for the plumber) - YES, all fixed
    3. Goodwill trip, technology recycling - YES
    4. Read at least 1/2 of research book - YES
    5. Write letter of recommendation for former student - YES
    6. Have a nice time outside now and again - YES? I think so. The weather has been spectacular for weeks, so I'm sure that I managed some outdoor enjoyment.

    My parents were here for the weekend--partly for my birthday, and partly so that my dad could help me and TM with a big landscaping project. My assumption was that he would help us plan and buy the materials, thereby forcing us to commit, and we'd spend the rest of the summer toiling away. But no! My 75-year-old dad jumped right in and now we have a (low) retaining wall alongside a brand-new 12-foot path and six steps leading up around the side of the garden, all framed in, with risers and everything, and ready for gravel. All that's left is a little more digging (so that the gravel can be deep enough) and then quite a bit of gravel-schlepping. I wish that I could show you all pictures! Suffice to say that the biggest, most stressful home-improvement project on my list is ALMOST done.

    The other Big Stressful Thing is my everloving visa application.... Apparently I need the original of a form that is currently in France, but I might not have signed the form correctly, and I can't get a clear answer on that. My French contact is supposed to send me the form ASAP. But we leave on August 1, our passports are at the embassy in DC, and this is all SO ANNOYING.

    This week:
    1. Finish my part of the proofs of next journal issue
    2. Finish reading academic book & book for pleasure
    3. Content edits of revised article (for journal)
    4. Work on revisions of intro to edited collection
    5. Work through ch. 1 [did this already on Monday] and sketch out where it's going/second part of chapter (which I'm not ready to write)

    1. Topic sentences are so important, and hard to do well!
      Congratulations on getting the garden project so far advanced; that sounds like a big plus for the week. I hope the visa gets sorted soon. Things like that (along with cats) are why I've never gone to a foreign country for sabbatical; I do admire your determination to make it work.