Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing Groups

This last blog before the Christmas break was meant to be a second installment of Dissertations/Theses in the news.

However, I find myself in a rather familiar situation -- prioritizing other work over finishing my dissertation.

I have one last chapter to write -- One. Final. Chapter. And then . . . all I have to concern myself with is reviewing the content with my committee, relying on their feedback as I revise the entire thing, and then submitting all important required graduate school paperwork to defend my dissertation and graduate.

Instead, I am using the little free time that I have grading student papers, making up quizzes, grading quizzes, helping my kids with their homework. . . Okay, that last one does not count. But you know what I mean.

The problem is that it is just too easy to rationalize finishing all of this other work before I focus on my own. And that is when I fall into the all too familiar abyss.

Thus, concerned that I will not use any of the Christmas break to make any progress on this final chapter, I wanted to offer some thoughts about writing groups.

A dissertation/thesis writing group is not some formal gathering of graduate students reading and critiquing each other's work. That is the last thing anyone needs. Besides, you will receive all of the feedback that you need from your director and committee members. Do not let the name "writing group" fool you. This is just three or four people at a coffee shop, a bookstore, a diner, a library, or some other designated meeting space where you can write. Nothing more.

A writing group is a kind of support network. The three or four of you make a formal agreement that once a week -- or once every two weeks, or once a month, whatever your schedule permits -- the writing group will meet at a pre-arranged time at a designated place (and the time and place must be agreed to beforehand and will not be changed for any reason). This time has been set aside from your busy schedule specifically for all of you to write your dissertation/thesis. Not research. Not read sources. Not collect data. But write. Anecdotal evidence and research shows that graduate students prioritize every other aspect of their dissertation/thesis EXCEPT THE WRITING!

Therefore, the second part of the writing group's agreement is that no other distractions are permitted. No texting, no going on Facebook, no checking Twitter feeds, etc. Every member of the writing group keeps the other person on task. WRITE! As Richard Castle's screensaver tells us:

Anecdotal evidence does indicate that writing groups help. Further, the evidence suggests that writing groups are even more effective if the other members of your writing group consists of peers from different fields/departments. This protects individuals from unconsciously evaluating the worth of their own topic in their chosen field to someone else's topic who happens to be in the exact same field. This leads to panic and writer's block, and the next thing you know: another year goes by and, once again, no work done on the dissertation.

You have your topic. You have done the primary reading. You have conducted your experiment/observation. You have your research and data. Now it is time to write.

It still may take a great deal of time to write the entirety of your thesis (see previous post on being a non-traditional student for data on average length of time to complete a dissertation/thesis). At least the support of a regular writing group will help keep you on task.

Feel free to comment on this blog about writing groups. Feel free to share your thoughts about writing groups on our Facebook page. If you want to try and set up a writing group and need help doing so, feel free to contact the office.

Oh . . . and on a related note: There has been some debate in our office about scheduling regular writing days -- perhaps, once a month in our office or in one of the classrooms in the library -- for graduate students who want all of the benefits of a writing group, but cannot seem to put one together. Office sponsored writing days would offer the same benefits -- get together in a quiet, safe space, no distractions allowed, and write. The only difference would be, Thesis and Dissertation office staff would be on hand to help if someone has a question about something in their document. Would you want our office to offer writing days? Would writing days help you plan time in your busy schedule to focus exclusively on writing your dissertation/thesis? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.

See you all in 2016. Have a good break!


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