Writing gifts: Blogging about academic writing
Peter Elbow once recommended that authors should try to write for non-evaluative audiences; they should experiment donating their writing as precious gifts to readers who would not judge, evaluate or critique, but would merely enjoy the words and ideas1. For academic writers like us — subject ad nauseam to evaluations and tearing apart of our writing – having a venue where we write merely for the pleasure of writing what others enjoy reading is strong medicine. Medicine that can heal the handicap of destructive feedback, nourish the “writing soul”2, prevent abject loneliness during the process, and restore the hope that, yes, we can, in fact, write something others might actually want to read!
Here is the story of how a group of graduate students and faculty at Texas A&M University began heeding Elbow’s advice.
These students and faculty are writing-support volunteers. They (or, I should say, we) provide useful feedback for our peers’ academic writing through a service we call POWER3. Although you would be hard pressed to find more motivated or enthusiastic volunteers, not all of them love to write. But a few, do, and very informally had begun to write their own blogs about graduate student life and academic writing, sharing their posts with close friends, family and, occasionally, with each other. And as these pieces were shared among the POWER group, everyone wanted more: more of the beautiful writing from authors we knew personally, more of the inspiring and moving words that fueled our motivation to keep forging ahead.
So we decided to post our writing, a bit more regularly, on the POWER site. Nothing fancy; just for us; no expectations. At least, initially. As the pieces were posted, authors began to feel the pleasure of receiving a “thank you!” for what they had written, or a note saying “That is exactly what I needed to hear, at this moment!” Merely gratitude and appreciation; no evaluative feedback. We got hooked.
Eventually, to meet our own demand, we had to create an “official” Blog at the POWER website, along with a structured system of weekly postings, and authors signing up to post on a given week, months in advance. We still write for ourselves but, through our own networks, our writing reaches more readers than we ever intended or expected – and the non--evaluative acknowledgements, keep coming in!
Through the POWER Blog, we found a venue for “gifting” our writing to each other, for supporting each other’s work and development as writers, and forpracticing! Yes: the POWER Model of writing we adopt emphasizes practicing writing, so we get a chance to practice both writing and editing. At the start of a long semester, we call for volunteer writers and editors. Folks sign up for a certain week in the semester, and some volunteer as editors for all entries in a particular month. To guide writers on what to write, we structured each week to have a specific theme: (a) The Graduate Student’s Writing Life (perspectives of struggles, victories, lessons learned as a graduate student); (b) Tips and Tools for Writing Productivity and/or Quality (ideas and/or resources to propel writing productivity and quality); (c) Tips and Suggestions to Improve Writing Quality (focused on ways to start an article, thinking about audience, ways to remember grammar rules); (d) Others’ Writing about Writing (i.e., books, blogs, articles, interviews, posts, newsletters); (e) Other (any topic related to academic writing or academic life that doesn’t fit into the other categories). The themes serve merely as guidelines, and authors are free to address other topics, as well.
A simple idea. A modest beginning. A small set of flexible parameters. Together, yeasting a beautiful, unexpected outcome: authors writing for the sheer pleasure of bearing gifts of gentle words garbed in strong encouragement (that extra-strength pain reliever for the soreness of academic life…).
This is our story. What is yours? What strategies have you been using to “gift” your writing to others, for the simple pleasure of giving, supporting, or encouraging? If you have considered starting an academic writing group (or a blog group) and would like feedback on your ideas, please feel free to contact us. Meanwhile, come visit our Blog (http://power.tamu.edu/Blog) – even though we still write mainly for each other, we would welcome your company and (non-evaluative) feedback.
1 Elbow, P. (1998). Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
2 Cameron, J. (1992/2002). The Artist’s Way. 10th Anniv. Edition. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
3 POWER is an acronym standing for Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research.
Patricia Goodson, Ph.D. is a Professor of Health Education and the Director of POWER Services at Texas A&M University (along with Associate Director, Dominique Chlup, Ed.D.).