At this very moment I am writing this post, which is about the usefulness of Shutting Up and Writing, during one of the series of SUAW sessions organised for the MQ Higher Education Academy Fellowship pilot program that I coordinate. In short, I am shutting up and writing about how very good it is to have this very workable and productive way of getting down to the very pracademic business of writing.
I’ve known about SUAW for a while now, mostly through academic Twitter and blogs where (very) productive others – the Thesis Whisperer and the Research Whisperers were among the first – post about their regular SUAW café and online sessions, for anybody around who needs to get in a few hours of dedicated writing time. And I’ve observed from afar how successful such sessions can be for time-blocking, for getting writing and related things done, for attending to what still is very much core business for academics and many higher education professionals.
(For those who are wondering why people working in higher education, and academics particularly, have to deliberately and determinedly schedule writing time into the work day, I say yes, I also wonder how we got to this place where an activity that is at the base of the academic and scholarly life and purpose – not to mention, individual and institutional academic performance criteria and measurement – has become something that many of us end up doing on the side, secondary to other activities such as reading emails and sitting in meetings. But digression.)
SUAW asks you to block out time for writing; it asks you to make a commitment to writing; and it asks you to collaborate-in-writing with others in a way that is simultaneously independent and collective. Even the break times are productive (the general structure to SUAW is that you write for 20-25 minute sessions with short breaks in between where you talk to each other) like releasing a tiny pressure valve of the creative tension that’s built up over the previous session of solid writing. Today, one of the HEA SUAW participants has suggested that rather than generally chatting during the break as we have been doing, we instead tell each other what we have done in the last writing time – in short, we are deliberately accountable to ourselves and to each other for how we use (this) precious time for what we need to produce or create. It works, particularly in these sessions where we are close to a deadline.
As coordinator of the pilot HEA project, I can say with what is now evidence-based confidence, that HEA applications, at all Fellowship categories are perfect for SUAW sessions.
Now, the HEA Fellowships are new to Macquarie and I’m not sure if there is a program of its like anywhere else, one where applicants must provide an extended written scholarly reflection of their commitment to teaching, supporting and leading learning, against an international Professional Standards Framework for higher education teaching and learning, as evidenced in their individual professional practice. Even for this pilot group of Macquarie-based HEA applicants who were all nominated by the Faculties and by the PVC L&T for their demonstrated capacity to lead in teaching and learning support and – when the HEA Fellowship program is formally launched in 2018 – to mentor future HEA applicants in their discipline areas and work teams, this has been difficult. Most challenging for every single applicant, academic or professional, regardless of experience, role and job title, has been finding time to sit down (or stand up) and write. The HEA application itself is a writing-heavy thing and in a very particular style . For those who are already struggling to find time and space for their day-to-day writing work, let alone those who don’t have to write regularly for work, scheduling sessions where participants can just hammer out pieces of individual writing together with a shared goal of submitting an application can only be a good thing.
The pilot HEA SUAW sessions have been steadily attended. There haven’t been many people to each but quite honestly, that wasn’t really the goal – it was more to deliberately and explicitly embed writing space and time during the work week that applicants could take advantage of if they were able to.
Or if they let themselves. As the coordinator I can’t tell you how many people have confessed non-attendance at SUAW (you don’t have to tell me– I’ve been there at every session and I already know you couldn’t make it). I’ve begun to see it now, not so much as confession but as genuine regret that people weren’t able to give themselves this time.
I also think now that by setting up regular SUAW sessions and sending out reminders that are (hopefully) gently encouraging rather than expectant or demanding, people have begun to twig that even if they can’t make a set session, they should not only think about carving out some time in their own day to write their Fellowship application, (or anything else really) they should actually Just Do It. Because one of the best things about SUAW is that you can do it anywhere, anytime.
For 2018 HEA Fellowships, I’ve now booked weekly SUAW sessions – same time, day and place, near coffee and in air con – as well as some random ‘pop-up’ SUAW sessions all around campus. If only to provide what is clearly much needed time for just one person to write something of benefit to themselves and the institution, it’s turned out to be professional timespace worth investing in.
For more on the MQ HEA Fellowship program and how to participate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org