I have the rare privilege of being a “research intensive” member of the academic staff at my university. I don’t have any classes to administer and no undergraduates email me asking for extensions. And yet I find that with the thousand and one things that come up from day to day, I struggle to find time to write. Which is a problem as, for me, writing is thinking.
How do I know what I think until I see what I say?
— EM Forster (via @annegalloway)
In June last year, Inger Mewburn, the Thesis Whisperer, posted about a movement called Shut Up and Write which began in San Francisco. My colleague Lindy Osborne was so excited by the idea that she started a chapter at QUT. We have a small but merry band of regulars who come along with a cafe on campus, have a chit-chat, open their laptops and write in silence for multiples of 25 minutes.
It’s the peer pressure that makes Shut Up and Write so effective for me. It’s dedicated firewalled time that’s just for writing. With a few people sitting across the table, all clicking away at their keyboards, it’s easier to stay focussed during the writing time. As Inger noted in her post about Shut Up and Write, the fact that someone across from you is focussed on their writing when your mind is wandering is a powerful trigger to stop daydreaming and make some words.
There are other social conventions that end up playing a role in making Shut Up and Write work, too. If I was sitting in my office, tapping away at my keyboard, it’d be easy for someone to come by and drop in or ring my phone or email. But, sitting at a cafe with a few other people sends a fairly clear social signal that the group isn’t to be interrupted. I’ve had people make eye-contact with me quite regularly at Shut Up and Write but only rarely do people interrupt the group.
I’ve noticed a benefit from doing Shut Up and Write regularly that has crept into my office time. It’s become easier for me to turn off my email program and put my phone on silent and make time at my desk to write and think.
Shut Up and Write is on its way to becoming a practice for me, not just once a week at the cafe with some friends and colleagues, but in my own time, too. If you’d like to join us at Shut Up and Write, get in touch with me (@bjkraal) or Lindy, find the group on Facebook or come along to QUT Kelvin Grove Theatre Cafe on Mondays at 3pm or Artisans on the Yard at QUT Gardens Point on Tuesdays at 3pm or Fridays at 10am.