Friday, May 20, 2016

Write Place, Write Time

The Thesis and Dissertation office has received some queries about our Write Place, Write Time office sponsored writing group (click here for a short article on the group courtesy of NIU Today). I thought that it might be beneficial to use this week's blog to explain the writing group in a little more detail.

Once a month -- the second Thursday of every month to be exact, from 6pm to 9pm -- our office has reserved a space -- the Dissertation room located on the fourth floor of Founder's Library  -- for graduate students to sit in a quiet space and write their thesis or dissertation. I emphasize write because that is the primary purpose of the group.

I am a non-traditional graduate student with an overloaded schedule comprised of family and work obligations. As a consequence, it is difficult for me to find the time -- not to mention a quiet space -- at home to write. When I do manage to eke out an hour here or there, it is not uncommon for outside distractions to find their way into my head -- I am thinking about making school lunches for the next day, errands I have to run, chores that need to be finished, bills that have to be paid, etc. All of the sudden, those become my primary focus and no writing gets done.

The beauty about Write Place, Write Time is that there are no outside distractions. I let my kids know well in advance that on the second Thursday of every month there will be a three hour period when they will not be able to get in touch with me because I need that time to work. I don't use these three hours for research, data analysis, or worrying about how to format my dissertation according to the office guidelines. I just focus on writing.

Once I walk into the room, I set down my bags and turn off my phone -- well, I silence the ringer because I have kids and I need to be reachable in case of an emergency, but I place it on the table screen down so that I am not easily distracted. I write my rough drafts out by hand, so the next thing I do is take out my composition book and a pencil. I devote the first ten to fifteen minutes to reviewing content that I have already written, taking the time to do minimal proofreading, but mostly this is to remind myself where I left off. Before coming into the room, I've done my reading, I've made notes on relevant research, and most importantly, I know what comes next in the chapter. When necessary, I make sure that all of my notes and primary texts are spread out in front of me for quick and easy reference. Once all of that is taken care of, I start writing.

Within the first twenty minutes, I am composing new material for whatever chapter on which I am working. I work hard for an hour and break for a quick snack or dinner -- there are no fridges in the room and since I have a pretty strict diet, I typically pack something in tupperware for a quick meal. After a twenty minute dinner break, I write for another hour or so, and then I use the remaining time to go over all of the new material before packing up and calling it a night. Thus far, there have only been two sessions of Write Place, Write Time and I've managed to write one new chapter and finish revising a second. And these are not perfect chapters. Far from it. They are horrible first drafts that I know are in dire need of future correction. The important thing is: they are done. By the way, I should mention that if you have a chapter written but need the time to do a rewrite after corrections suggested by your committee, Write Place, Write Time is the ideal venue.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I do my best to be courteous. This means that I make the time to acknowledge everyone else in the room. However, we are all there to write. This means that socializing is not the priority. This is the unspoken agreement. If I do need to speak with someone in depth about something, we step out, go downstairs to the basement of the library, and grab a coffee -- yes, there is a coffee bar in the library if you need some late night caffeine, though I am not sure how late they are open. Even then I keep it to a minimum because I set aside time in my unbelievably busy schedule to write. I will not get this opportunity again -- at least, not until the next meeting.

Even though office staff participates in these writing group sessions, we aren't really there to help with questions about forms, thesis guidelines, or concerns about how to suppress a page number or set up Tables and Figures -- watch for upcoming presentations and workshops on these topics -- or to proofread people's work -- feel free to drop by Adams Hall, room 104 during office hours as we will be open all summer. If a question does come up, we will do our best to answer it; however, our task is to help keep everyone on task by ensuring a distraction free zone.

Anecdotal evidence and statistical data reflect that the most common reason many graduate students do not complete their graduate program is: they never found the time to write their thesis or dissertation. Write Place, Write Time has been set up to try to alleviate this problem. We want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed.

If you're still not sure if Write Place, Write Time is for you, please feel free to raise your concerns on our Facebook group page; send an email to the office; post a comment on this blog; better yet, drop in during the next session -- we meet on June 9.

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