Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 2)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)
The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

As mentioned in Part 1, I did a quick survey of various long-time members of the first #suaw crew I started with.

This first crew met every Friday morning at about 9am at Pearson & Murphy’s cafe in Melbourne, taking over the big wooden table.

Many of them still do, and I try to join them every few weeks to get my collegial fix. The fact that I occasionally turn up and face a table full of many people I don’t know makes me both happy and nostalgic. The organic nature of the #suaw sessions is their strength, and I miss seeing various colleagues regularly whose jobs and roles have changed. So, I sent them some questions about their #suaw experience.

Some respondents chose to follow my survey questions closely, while others provided narratives with their own formats.

Because of the great answers and different voices that came back, I wanted to present them in full here.

Voila Part 2! 

Kate Warren

2011: PhD researcher (Monash University) 
2016: Research Assistant / Sessional Teaching Associate in Art History, Monash University

A friend and fellow PhD student told me about #suaw initially, and suggested we give it a try. She’d heard about it through the Thesis Whisperer blog.

I have to admit that I was sceptical at first. I was certain that there was no way I’d be able to concentrate – let alone write productively – in a busy, noisy cafe. Thankfully, I can say that I was completely wrong.

#suaw became an essential outing for me as I wrote my PhD. Having a dedicated time-slot where you know that you have to be focussed for a few hours was a great motivator. Even if I felt like I was having an unproductive week, I knew I always had #suaw. A few solid hours work on a Friday morning always felt like a real achievement, and often set me up for the week ahead.

Best thing about #suaw, and the Pearson & Murphy’s experience in particular?

#suaw really helped my productivity and confidence in writing my thesis, and the best part has been establishing a network of like-minded researchers, even if they are often in completely different fields.

Through #suaw, I answered questions that I didn’t even know that I had! I’ve learnt so much about writing, funding, applying for grants, and research tools and resources over the time I’ve been attending. Much of this is to do with the particularly committed crew at RMIT’s #suaw. I think what makes the RMIT #suaw work so well is that it is relaxed, with no expectation of having to RSVP your attendance, or send apologies. Yet, at the same time, it has a dedicated core group of participants, so you know there will always be someone there when you do attend. A dash of cheesy 1980s music doesn’t hurt either (Belinda Carlisle, anyone?).

Do you still #suaw + how?

I’ve been a bit absent at #suaw in the last six months as I got to the pointy end of my PhD. But I’m looking forward to getting back to P&M more regularly now that I’ve submitted and am trying to write up some papers.

My friend Holly and I often arrange our own mini-#suaw sessions at local libraries or cafes, and last year we were able to convince our faculty at Monash University to establish an inaugural Thesis Bootcamp session for postgraduates.

Having now got through the PhD journey (almost – examiners’ reports pending!), I can see how valuable it is for students to develop multiple tools, modes, and spaces for writing.

Yes, sometimes you need the quiet focus of being alone at home. Other times? The peer-pressure of writing in a group, in public, is the perfect way to nut out that tricky paragraph, or to get some fresh ideas on the page.

Amie O’Shea (@AmieOShea)

2011: PhD researcher (La Trobe University) 
2016: Research Fellow, Deakin University

#suaw gave me a community of writers.

I met people writing novels, screenplays, assignments, theses, grant applications, ethics applications, and all sorts of other things. The shared connection was that we were all there, committed to writing our words. I didn’t think I would be able to concentrate, sitting in a busy table at a cafe surrounded by people I didn’t know. It was surprising how quickly I was able to tune everything out, spurred on by everyone else’s diligence when my own had run out.

I was a committed regular #suaw attendee right from the first time I bravely approached the group at the back table at P&Ms. Later, when I got pregnant, early morning sickness kept me away for a few months, but then I was back again every week. When I was very pregnant and couldn’t carry my laptop, I switched to ‘shut up and edit’, bringing printed copies of my work and a pencil.

Now, I #suaw with virtual company, joining in via Twitter to get my fix. Often, there is a toddler sleeping upstairs. The coffee isn’t as good, and I miss the chats with interesting people in the breaks between pomodoros, but I’ll take what I can get.

Tseen flagged earlier the cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary nature of the P&Ms #suaw sessions. I would add whatever you call different academic levels! It was nice not being bunched in with other anxious students, and I appreciated the chance for peer support from people who had much more experience than I did. Networking and developing relationships outside your immediate field – these are all opportunities there for students who join in.

Jonathan O’Donnell (@jod999)

2011: Senior Advisor – Research development, RMIT University / Research Whisperer
2016: Senior Advisor – Research development, RMIT University / Research Whisperer / Masters candidate on Research Crowdfunding (RMIT University) 

I use the time at Friday morning #suaw to produce my Research Whisperer blog posts. I find that I can rough out a post in one session and finish it in the next. I’ve written 65 posts since 10 June 2011. At about 1,250 words per post, that is approximately 80,000 words. Not all of them were written at #suaw, but the vast majority were. That makes me happy.

I love the way that #suaw gets me out of my office and away from email. It boxes up my Research Whisperer time, puts a ribbon on it, and gives it to me every single Friday morning. An hour and a half of precious, precious time.

As Jason Downs said in Part 1, claiming our space at Pearson & Murphy’s cafe feels really good. I think it was Pat Thomson who pointed out that we are generally comfortable reading in public, but writing is usually a private activity. Writing at P&Ms gives me a bit of that uber-geek feel. I like it.

So, if you want to take my #suaw time away from me, you are going to have to kill me first, and tear it from my cold, dead fingers. I have my Friday morning #suaw time embedded in my workplan, so that I can keep developing the Research Whisperer with Tseen. Four different managers have been convinced that it is a very good use of my time.

Quinn Eades

2011: Writer / PhD researcher (La Trobe University) / Sessional lecturer 
2016: Writer / Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Foundation Studies, La Trobe University / Joint Managing Editor, Writing from Below

“I worked out pretty quickly that I could write around 1,000 words in three Pomodoros. I then realised that if I wrote 1,000 words a week, I would have way more words than I needed at the end of 3 years. So (hospital stays and sick children aside), that’s what I did.

I read and made notes and did lots of thinking from Monday to Thursday, and on Friday I went to a café with other PhD students, academics, and writers, and wrote.” (Being whispered through a PhD)

There are academic papers dedicated to the benefits of #suaw, and writing groups more generally, and the way I’ve seen the sessions at their most effective is when they’re cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary. Perhaps I should also add ‘cross-stages’ too, as Amie described how valuable it was to be within a diverse group that brought different levels of experience and expertise to the table.

Connections formed within regular #suaw groups often grow into friendships and new collaborations, and stronger networks that have the power to change institutional research cultures. This is no grandiose claim – the highly flexible and portable nature of #suaw groups means that it has a rhizomatic quality and spreads with ease from established nodes.

A perfect example of this is the creation and establishment of the online #SUWTues network that includes the Twitter accounts @SUWTues @SUWTUK and @SUWTNA. Anyone can take part in these sessions, from anywhere. It’s a dedicated, friendly crew – you should check them out.

At their heart, these supportive social and intellectual #suaw relationships make the doing of research and its writing up a positive experience. This makes you want to do more of it, and that’s something with no downside.

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