Writing Boot Camp

It can often feel as a researcher that it might be possible to happily read or gather data for ever, but sitting down and getting words on the page is every bit as vital – and can feel more challenging – than the research itself.  The Postgraduate Research Writing Advisor, Jennifer Boyle, runs a series of writing boot camps for research students throughout the year. These boot camps are an opportunity for research students to get some really focused writing done, in an environment which aims to eliminate distractions and reduce procrastination. The next workshops are on 28th January and 19th February 2016. For more information and to book a place, please contact Jennifer.

Ioulia Kolovou, a PhD student in Creative Writing, participated in a three-day version of the boot camp in July. She wrote about the experience on her blog, and kindly permitted us to reproduce the post here.


boot cap
Reality was lurking just outside the door of the writing boot camp, heavy with portents: a room full of European Union reports, and a table spread with leaflets on EE institutions, agencies, and all sorts of euro-info. At the far end of the picture, right next to the door, a map of ancient China.

The writing boot camp over the last three days, organised by the Student Learning Services of the university, was a much needed escape from the endless news cycle on Greece. I wrote over 8,000 words of new material, finished the first draft of a chapter and the beginning of the next one, and to my great surprise I saw a new character walk into the story and shaking things up a bit. It all went well, very well; way beyond my expectations.

The boot camp took place in a small room in the Annexe of the seventh floor of the library, in an ambience perfectly suitable for concentration: a small room overlooking slate roofs and gables, with good light for looking at the computer screen, and the ultimate tool of productivity, the lack of internet connection. There were fifteen or sixteen of us, in various stages of their PhD writing, but most of them in the writing up stage. In this sense I was one of the ‘youngest’ in the room, being only in my second year (well, the end of it now),  which was pleasant for a change! I work best listening to music: I listened to Handel’s Julius Caesar, Rinaldo, and Orlando, and Lully’s Alceste and Armide. During the entre-acts I went downstairs for a coffee (the cappuccino in the vending machines is surprisingly good – or I was just gagging for coffee!) or I stretched my sore neck and shoulders. I was blissfully immersed into the world of the novel, nine hundred years back, away from the turbulent present.

Lately I have often wished reality could leave me alone for a few hours at a time every day. A writing boot camp was perfect for this. I gave myself license not to care about anything else for those specific hours while I was accountable to myself for the set number of words at the end of them. I was incommunicado, which is a kind of freedom less and less available in our tech-heavy days; still I was not completely cut off, for I knew that at the end of the writing day I could catch up with everyone. I was not distracted by my books nor tempted to go off on another tangent – basically an excuse to waste time amusing myself with things that will never make their way into the book – yet I could bring one book or article with me for reference or make notes for targeted info to look up later. The sight of all those people typing busily into their keyboards was a great inducement to do the same. No wonder the writing boot camp worked for me. The time and the tools were offered by the university; the motivation and the hard work were mine. For optimal results it takes both sides.


Post Author: niamhbrown

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