Program gives faculty the ‘write’ stuff

Thanks to a new Research Western program, faculty members have an opportunity to ‘un-block’ and improve upon their academic writing.

Led by Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Emily Abrams Ansari and Classical Studies professor Kelly Olson, the Faculty Writing Support Program recently introduced a series of initiatives to support and encourage faculty members in their research-writing endeavours.

“This was something missing at Western. We have a very strong structure of support for obtaining research funding. Research Western does amazing work in that. But I thought, perhaps, we were lacking in support for the actual research and writing process and the many challenges that come with that,” Ansari said.

“Over the years, I’ve read a lot about the psychology of writing – partly from my own experiences and being interested in improving my processes and how I can be more efficient, more successful in my writing. I could see my colleagues could benefit from such advice and support and I could also see the kinds of programs being offered at other universities were actually very easy and cheap to run.”

Ansari considered things like drop-in writing sessions and retreats, which require a room and the willingness of people to show up, she added. She contacted Olson who had previously shared some of her struggles with academic writing. Together, they agreed Western faculty would benefit from having an organized support program.

And that was it.

Research Western was enthusiastic when Ansari and Olson approached them and have “generously funded” the program in the past year.

“We began the program back in June with the first one-day retreat. Then, because that was successful, we set up a more substantial program for this year which involves two different workshops on issues pertaining to challenges with writing,” Ansari noted.

Last week, a workshop session dealt with writing blocks and procrastination and how to overcome such challenges.

One regular initiative, in addition to retreats, is weekly drop-in writing sessions.

“It can really help to have something in your schedule that is fixed – a scheduled writing time, especially with all the competing demands on faculty’s time. If everything fails over the course of the week in terms of your writing, you know you have that one window,” Ansari said.

“To be able to show up and write alongside your colleagues, it’s a very supportive atmosphere. Everyone is focused on their task, so one feels uninclined to be distracted with email and all the other stuff one can easily get caught up in when one is trying to write.”

The retreats are a full day of writing for faculty who want to participate, she added. The group will take over a classroom and, after briefly setting goals at the beginning of the day, will write the entire day alongside each other. Research Western provides lunch.

“The feedback we’ve received from our colleagues who have attended is that it is enormously helpful to set aside everything for a day and just show up and have this supportive space to focus on your writing,” Ansari noted.

For more information and workshop and retreat days, visit the Faculty Writing Support Program website.