Retreating for writing

Last week I was on a writing retreat in Hobart with 15 colleagues from across UTas. What a great privilege. I helped an economics researcher tighten up an abstract on macroeconomic simulation models and then had the introduction to a piece I’m working on constructively critiqued by academics from health care and police studies. I sat in a room and wrote beside a research fellow working on cardiovascular physiology, a lecturer in zoology writing about the reproductive habits of blue-tongue lizards, a phytoplankton taxonomist (!) working on salmon aquaculture, and a gallery director who has been turning his dissertation on house and home into a book. How’s that for variety! 

I want to reflect on five key things I’ll take away from this week…

  1. Getting feedback from people outside your discipline can be tremendously helpful. These are smart people who are skilled writers who will see your unnecessary jargon and call you on it.
  2. I have a habit for long sentences that I need to kick. They serve a purpose sometimes, but most of the time they can be cut in half very easily, without losing anything important. Shorter sentences are punchier and help the reader. Long sentences are hard to read. There are certainly masterful writes who can knock out long, beautiful sentences that work, but I’m usually not one of them.
  3. Lazy writing and editing is actually inconsiderate. If you are writing something for someone to read, you need to respect that audience enough to guide them helpfully through your piece. 
  4. Quarantine more time for writing. I’m not going to lie. I smuggled tweets and some select emails out last week, but usually in contained bursts. Work related to teaching and all the administrivia that flows on from the teaching can be consuming. It doesn’t have to be though. I need to set aside at least two days each week where I don’t respond to or look at certain emails and where I don’t log into the online learning environment. I also want to help colleagues foster a quarantine around their research. Perhaps a good way to do that is through a writing circle where every fortnight or month or so, we meet to share a page or a paragraph we’re having trouble with or need feedback on, just to keep the research conversation going.
  5. I need to rely less on jargon. Again, this is about being considerate. Even when writing for a particular discipline, I find myself falling into the habit of using words and phrases that make total sense to me, but don’t always make sense to others. In other words, write more plainly. Plain writing can also be poetic and eloquent.

A big thanks to Sally Knowles from ECU for being our external facilitator. It has been a productive week, and I hope I get the chance to do something similar again soon.

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