Creating your Perfect Writing Space

Dr Amy Birch, Centre for Research Staff Development

Over WriteFest 2018, I have hosted a number of Shut Up and Write! sessions where researchers have space, time, and peace to write. I have been delighted with the number of people I have met and the engagement they have brought into the sessions. Often our discussions in our short or long breaks from writing have focused around recreating the Shut Up and Write! experience in their own workspaces, so I decided to write a blog this week that could summarize all the tips we have discussed for creating the perfect writing environment.

However, as a serial procrastinator, I have found I will use any excuse not to write. This meant that even with all the things I know about creating the perfect environment for my writing, I still decided that I needed to find the perfect images of clean vs. messy writing spaces before I could start writing this blog! It was pure serendipity that I happened upon this great vlog that summarized most of what I was going to write, albeit with more references, and better narration and production quality.

I hope you enjoy – as the title suggests, this is intended to help you create the best study space; however, the same rules (and distractions) apply to creating your perfect writing environment. This is an American vlog, so here are some more UK friendly links to standing desks in a range of sizes. Did anyone say Black Friday deals?

Thomas Frank has created lots of vlogs to (his words) help you be more productive – check them out on his Youtube channel. You can check out the study spaces gallery here, and get a free version of Cold Turkey Writer here.

Creating your Perfect Writing Playlist

Everyone has a different opinion about the best type of music (or no music at all) to listen to when writing or studying. In this week’s vlog (video blog), Dr Victoria Williamson shares her evidence-based top tips for creating the perfect writing playlist.

Dr Williamson is a lecturer in Music Psychology at University of Sheffield, where she leads a research unit studying Music and Wellbeing. More information on her interests and career can be found here. She has created this vlog as part of WriteFest for University of Sheffield.

For more information about how to get involved in WriteFest 2018 at King’s, please check out our website.

What’s your Writing Place?

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, CRSD

Photo source: http://sarawookey.com/dance-in-museums/awareness-through-movement-reading-wellcome-collection/

Writing well can be a tough task, no matter how seasoned a writer you may be. Good writing often comes from stumbling across the perfect formula for you, in which all the conditions to foster creativity are right. For many writers, the place where they write feeds into that formula.

I realised early on in my PhD that my formula involves inconsistency. I would have a productive day at a library or cafe and rush back the next day expecting similar results, only to have a miserable day that would conclude with me having strung together a few feeble sentences of my thesis. So I now alternate between libraries, cafes, and my living room couch, finding that the constant rotation in setting drives my writing.

As part of WriteFest 2018, we’re putting on Shut up and Write! retreats throughout November, which are a great opportunity to escape your usual surroundings and access protected time and space to work on your papers, chapters, and grant applications. If you can’t make it to King’s this month and are based in London, you can still make progress on your writing in one of the many quirky and interesting locations around the city.

Check out some of my favourite writing spots in London:

  • The British Library Reading Rooms – If you are looking for silence, these reading rooms are an oasis within the busy clamour of the Euston and King’s Cross area in which the library is based.   
  •  The National Art Library at the V&A – Situated in the V&A museum, gain inspiration from the chandeliers and beautiful views of the John Madejski Garden as you write.  
  • The Wellcome Collection Reading Room – a mixed bag of vintage arm chairs, sofas, a winding staircase complete with floor cushions and a ringing telephone that tells you the history of medicine when you answer it. When you need a break, have a wander through the free exhibitions downstairs.
  • The Barbican – Brutalist architecture, dim lighting, and ample seating and socket plugs. I find the creative vibe inherent to the Barbican often jumpstarts my own creative process.
  • Parks – Take your laptop or notebook and settle down on a bench in one of London’s numerous parks. Admittedly this might only be an option in warmer weather, but the scenic views go a long way in unclogging my ideas and thoughts.
  • Look Mum No Hands! – Doubling over as a café/bar and bike repair shop, this venue is a great spot to immerse yourself among other writers and freelancers busily tapping away on their laptops, with caffeine and baked treats to fuel you.

Finally, open yourself up to the possibility of writing anywhere, even when you’re not planning on it. Fragments of my thesis, sentences, and even whole paragraphs uncover themselves in unexpected moments when I’m on the tube or eating dinner, and the ‘Notes’ app on my phone is a handy way to quickly record them before they’re gone. Venture into some of the locations in this post and see if you can discover the right writing place for you this Academic Writing Month!

Join us for WriteFest 2018

November is Academic Writing Month, an academic write-a-thon that happens every year, inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but catering to the specific needs of academic writers. Originally hosted by ‘PhD2Published’, the global academic community has now taken up the annual challenge to support each other to pledge their writing projects, record progress, and share thousands of writing tips via the #AcWriMo hashtag.

WriteFest 2018 (#AcWriFest18) was developed by colleagues in University of Sheffield, and this year King’s College London is contributing to this campaign with activities aimed at research staff and postgraduate research students. We are delighted to be working with colleagues across King’s and beyond, including Centre for Doctoral Studies, Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, Research Design Service, University of Derby, University of Sheffield, and Wellcome Trust. Our aim is to bring together people from across the university to recognise and celebrate writing.

Drawing on the format of the very popular Shut Up and Write! retreats, WriteFest 2018 has some added bitesize workshops, a guide to crafting your own ideal writing soundtrack, a creative writing element, and a KEATS module with curated discussions. We encourage all academics, research staff, and research students to join us and write!

The festival aims to provide protected time and space for writing to help you to:

 

 

How can you get involved?

  • Join the discussion on KEATS and twitter
    • Consider what you are hoping to achieve by the end of November
    • Share your goals and log your progress
    • Consider the support you will need to achieve your goals
    • Support your peers and celebrate your progress

Writing a Strong Application for the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

Written by Dr Elizabeth Morrow, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Department of Political Economy

Like any written assignment, it is essential to start work early on your Leverhulme ECF application to put your best foot forward.  Applying for the ECF is a multi-stage process.  At first instance, you need to identify a mentor within the department who can support your application.  I was lucky enough for my mentor – John Meadowcroft – to be someone who I had co-authored with and who was therefore familiar with my work.  My mentor and I met over a month before the KCL internal sort deadline to discuss ideas for my research proposal which helped to refine my thinking, and he provided me with invaluable advice throughout the application process.

Once I had crafted a preliminary proposal I met with Camilla Darling and David Newsome from the Arts and Science Research Office and cannot speak highly enough about the support I received from them: Camilla and David provided me with examples of previous successful ECF applications, suggested other people within the university who I should meet with to discuss my application and shared insights into how my research proposal would fit within the department and university.

Because your proposal will not necessarily be read by experts within your field, it is important that it be interesting and accessible to a lay audience.  After running some of my ideas past my friends and family (both within and outside of academia) I was concerned that the way I had framed my initial proposal was too narrow and academic.  For me, getting the balance right between academic rigor and accessibility was the most difficult part of the application and required multiple iterations.

Once I found out that my proposal had been put forward after the KCL internal sort I had further meetings with the Arts and Science Research Office and my mentor to discuss the preparation of my ECF budget.  Like many early career academics, I had limited experience in designing budgets so the advice I received was very helpful.  I also identified and contacted the referees who would comment on my proposal as part of the application process.  Because academics tend to receive a lot of these requests and are busy, it is important to make the request well in advance of deadline.

I have made a previous unsuccessful application for the Leverhulme ECF and when reflecting about what I did differently this time around I began my application earlier and made greater use of the wonderful resources that we have at KCL.  I was also lucky enough to have a mentor who provided me with excellent advice and a supportive Head of Department.  While the application process is time consuming and with an uncertain outcome, being awarded a Leverhulme ECF is a great opportunity that I feel lucky to have.

Finding the Right Fit: How to Write a Strong Journal Paper

Written by Dr Naho Mirumachi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, King’s College London

As an academic, a good portion of my working hours (and then some) is on writing journal articles, books and book chapters on my research.  At the same time, I also deal with a lot of papers in my role as an associate editor of Water International, an interdisciplinary journal in the subfield of water resources management.  In this blog, I’ll share some of my tips on writing a strong journal article gleaned from experiences on both sides of the academic publishing process, as an author of journal articles as well as editor.

In our journal, the average acceptance rate of the last three years is about 11%.  This might seem like a very low number but it’s because a good number of papers were rejected outright due to fit.  Many of the submissions were considered to be outside of the scope of the journal even before it got sent out for review.  So, as obvious as it may seem, make sure you target the right journal for your paper.  Don’t despair if you get a rejection straight way.  It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the paper is not up to scratch.  However, it may mean that you have not done your homework well enough in figuring out (or even simply, reading on the website) the scope and fit of journal.

When writing a strong paper, it’s important to think about the audience or readership.  Your paper should show how it speaks to the aims and themes of the journal.  In particular, when writing the paper think about how your arguments build on or contradict debates that have gone on in the particular journal.  You might consider speaking to a colleague who may have already published in that journal you are targeting.  Try and get some initial feedback before your submit.

Finding the right home for your paper also means to read widely.  Read different journals, current and past issues to get a sense of the field. Ultimately, a strong publication engages with and importantly, advances scholarship.  There isn’t much magic or short cuts for this: it’s hard graft with the basics of reading, thinking, writing and revising.

Make your Blog Stand Out

Written by Rachel Hall, Guardian Higher Education Network Editor

Imagine going to a party, full of strangers, where everybody is talking over each other. The guests are the best presented versions of themselves: some of them are using their style and flair to win attention, some are full of incredible insight and expertise, and others are telling brazen lies to manipulate their audience.

This is the internet, every day. It’s a multitude of unknown voices, all of which are clamouring for clicks.

If you want your content to stand out, you’re going to have to give people a reason to click. And if you want them to stay, you’re going to have to make it worth their while. If you want them to return, you need to convince them why it’s your voice – not anybody else’s – they should be listening to.

When you’re writing a blogpost to communicate your research or to reflect your views on a topic related to your discipline or even higher education more generally, you’re the expert. So compared to a lot of voices online, you already have something worthwhile to offer.

But imagine you’re at that party, and you’re standing in a dark corner, monologuing about the minutiae of your latest project. Would anybody listen?

Instead, you need to find the angle that grabs people. What concept will people identify with? What appeals to their emotions? What provides them with a fresh way of looking at something they already have some awareness of? What problem are you trying to solve, and how are you going about it?

Once you have this neatly packaged in a title that clearly and succinctly expresses why people should read your blog post, it’s time to think about how to write it.

A blog post isn’t the ideal space to explain something complicated. It’s not great for exploring multiple points, either. Instead, you want a tight angle of focus, and all the arguments in the piece should support that central point. If you want to say something tangential, then write another post.

Because that’s your third goal: to get people returning to you. Make it clear why you’re the authority on this topic, and feel free to draw on any relevant personal experience, whether it comes from your research or everyday life. That’s the human element that helps keep people coming back for more.

After all, when you go back to the same party, you’ll always make a beeline for the familiar face, not the strangers, right?

Interested in reading blog posts from the university community? Join the Guardian’s higher education network for comment, analysis and job opportunities, by and for university professionals. Follow us on Twitter @gdnhighered.

And want to try your hand at writing a blog post to be published on the Guardian website? Feel free to email your pitch to rachel.hall@theguardian.com.

Unblock your Writing

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer, Centre for Research Staff Development 

Have you ever had those days when you sit down at your computer to write a journal article or book chapter only to spend the next few hours transfixed by the glow of a blank Word document, willing the words to come without success? With the advent of the REF and the  importance of a steady publication record in securing a lectureship position, it’s no wonder that writing is often seen as an onerous and daunting rite that can make or break our future in academia. This pressure to produce high quality research outputs makes it tempting to shelve our writing plans for another day and to face the paralysis of writer’s block on the occasions when we do sit down to write.

Studying for a writing-intensive Arts & Humanities PhD, I’ve experienced the blank Word document scenario many times, but have picked up a few strategies along the way that unclog my thoughts and get those words and sentences flowing. Whether you are a seasoned writer who already has a list of publications to your name or are preparing to write your first journal article, considering the tips below can help overcome writer’s block:

Brainstorm in Advance

Doing the thinking about the broad ideas and points that you want to get across in your piece before you sit down to write can kick-start the writing process. Take notes to capture your ideas using arrows, flow charts, stick figure cartoons, holding off using complete sentences until you actually sit down to write.

Who says you Need to Start at the Beginning?

Starting at the beginning of an article or chapter may seem like a logical approach, but it can often be the most challenging. This is especially true if you are a writing perfectionist who inflicts pressure on yourself to produce a faultless article. What sections are you most interested and enthusiastic about? Is it the results, the methods, the recommendations? Start there instead. Once you’ve eased into the flow of writing with the paragraphs that come to you more fluidly, revisit the trickier beginning.

Don’t get Stuck on the Wrong Word

Is there a word or sentence you have written that doesn’t look right? Don’t spend lots of time lingering on it trying to come up with alternative ways of rephrasing it. Highlight it so you can easily identify it later, move on, and return to it in your second draft to make alterations.

Free Write

Set an alarm for five minutes and during this time write anything and everything that comes to mind. If what you’re writing is relevant to the topic you need to write about, great, but even if it is far removed from it, that’s fine too. Getting those unrelated, preoccupying thoughts out on paper can free up the mental space you need to concentrate on writing about your research. This strategy is an excellent warm up and once the five minutes are up it’s often easier to write more freely without inhibition.

Plan When you Write – And Where

Schedule fixed days and times of the week to write and stick to them. If you struggle with concentrating for extended periods of times, make them short, easily surmountable fifteen-twenty minute slots. Try writing at different times of the day until you find a time that’s optimal for you.

When you need to spend more time on your writing, think about where you are most likely to succeed. The sight of my desk at home is often enough to send ripples of anxiety and procrastination through me. If like me, writing from home or your office is counter-productive, check if you can arrange a weekly working-from-home morning or day and venture out into one of the many inspiring spaces around London. Some of my favourite spots to write include the Barbican and the Hoxton Hotel lobby café which are relatively quiet, have free, fast Wi-Fi and lots of laptop sockets. The British Library Reading Rooms are also a fool-proof venue in which to write without noise or interruption.

Try Social Writing

Writing can often feel solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. There are various ‘Write Together’ and ‘Shut-up and Write’ groups on Meetup.com that encourage people to get together and write for an allocated period of time. Being surrounded by other people busily tapping away on their laptops can be a motivating factor to spur on your own writing. The writing is often followed by pub/café socials where you will have the opportunity to share your writing challenges and hear other people’s experiences. The Centre for Research Staff Development will also be running Shup up and Write sessions in the near future so look out for these in our weekly newsletter or email amy.birch@kcl.ac.uk for more details.

I hope these tips boost your writing practice. While it certainly can be challenging at times, writing can also be rewarding and enjoyable and is a fantastic activity to reflect on your research and organise your ideas about it. So settle down and get writing!