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Writing Groups and Diss Camps: Staying Motivated Over the Summer

Dissertation writing can be an isolating and trying experience. As academics we are conditioned to believe that we should toil away in isolation while producing our masterpiece. While this method may work for many people, it does not work for me. I am someone who needs a community of peers to both support and be supported by. I like to bounce ideas off of other brilliant minds, and providing feedback to others often helps to get my own ideas flowing. I have found the summer to be a particularly difficult time to stay focused on the progress of my project. With a long stretch of relatively empty days ahead of me, and the lack of a structured daily routine of teaching, meetings, and lectures I find myself not using my time as productively as I should. In an attempt to counter that lack of productivity a colleague of mine and I decided to put together a summer dissertation camp for our department. This is as much for us as it is for our peers. Having a community of people to remind you that you are not alone and that other people are experiencing similar writing struggles can be extremely helpful.

I believe having a somewhat formalized group will keep people committed to the program. We are going to meet once a week 10am-6pm. Our program is modeled after many similar writing camps from institutions around the country. Our goals are:

  • Provide 10 weeks of intensive writing designed specifically for students in the English PhD program
  • Describe and provide practice in strategies that facilitate drafting and completing a large document
  • Assist with developing and enacting a sound, productive writing schedule
  • Help create a supportive writing community to reduce anxiety and feelings of isolation induced during the dissertation process

We offer a quiet place to write, a structured writing schedule, and short workshops led by faculty members to help demystify the dissertation process. The following is a list of  some of the workshops we have planned:

  • Goal setting and writing strategies
  • English dissertation research strategies
  • How to write a prospectus
  • How to write a literature review
  • Basic dissertation structure and expectations
  • Moving on: overcoming writer's block and other writing struggles

Having departmental support to put this program together has been helpful, but it is not necessary. I suggest you build your community however you can. Get an accountability buddy, create a writing group with peers in your cohort, or find colleagues outside of your department or institution to collaborate with to help you get writing done. You do not need to go it alone. What are some tips or suggestions you have for completing a dissertation?

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