Written by Chloe Blackwell, PhD researcher, Social and Policy Studies
This January, I attended the Lboro Writing Gym’s second writing bootcamp. The bootcamp spanned across three days (9:30-15:30), with 3 writing sessions in the morning and 2 writing sessions in the afternoon. After the morning writing sessions and lunch, bootcamp attendees went for a walk around campus; we kept a pace which was too fast to sing but not too fast to talk! I personally get so much from attending writing groups and bootcamps. And I am not alone; people pay a lot of money to attend writing retreats! But what is the appeal? Writing is certainly a solitary activity in some fundamental ways; much of the writing you produce, especially in the early stages, feels very private and, ultimately, no matter how many drafts you show to a colleague, no one is going to construct your writing for you. Yes, writing can be a secluded activity, but you can certainly develop your skills through collective writing.
Immediately, the most noticeable benefit of attending the Writing Gym bootcamp is that it lends you a space away from distraction. Much of this is psychological rather than physical. Your laptop, containing all those emails and other works-in-progress beckoning for your attention, still comes with you. What is different, however, is that you have allocated 3 solid days to accomplishing something (a new section of a chapter or a summary document for supervisors, for example); you have allowed yourself the space to hone in on one goal and you are intent, with the cheerleading of others, on achieving it. And it’s surprising how much more likely you are to achieve your writing goals when you attend a bootcamp.
In part, this is thanks to another benefit of the Writing Gym bootcamp: structure. Before you attend, you are sent a schedule and you know what to expect. Writing sessions are timed, as well as breaks. Timing your writing is a good habit to pick up because, firstly, it encourages you to spend that time wisely (no distractions!) and to keep pushing through when you may not want to; and secondly, it can be really encouraging when you realise how much you can write in just 40 minutes. Timing breaks is equally important, and it’s not just to make sure that you get back to work on time.
The Writing Gym bootcamp is therefore also about something else: healthy working. There are numerous health problems associated with work which is desk-based and high-pressure. Scheduling regular breaks, something promoted by the Writing Gym, ensures that you take a break. You’re not allowed to check emails or use the time to do another task. You are to get up, move around and grab a snack or some coffee. Taking a walk after lunch, another daily activity at bootcamp, was also highly beneficial for tackling the afternoon lull which is likely to happen after eating. Walking was an activity which really made me reassess my way of working and to consider the improvements I could make for the sake of my physical and mental health. The health benefits, as well as those listed above are just a few examples, but they all arise from the collective nature of writing groups.
We often come up with all sorts of reasons why we ‘can’t write yet’ and writing becomes something that we keep putting off until the right moment. If you can relate to these sentiments, consider attending a writing group, a bootcamp or just setting up some space to write alongside a friend. Get into the habit of writing; write to disseminate or write to figure something out. You can always write! Aside from writing bootcamps, the organisers behind Lboro Writing Gym run a weekly 2-hour writing group for all PGRs every Monday morning from 10am-12noon (check here for the latest room information). Attending these sessions is the ideal way to get into the regular habit of writing and you will find that you use the skills and advice you’ve picked up, even when you’re working alone. No matter what stage you’re at, organisers and attendees at the Writing Gym will encourage you to start and push you to keep going. If all else fails, there tends to be some cake somewhere!