Female Faculty Share Writing Strategies Honed During Pandemic
By Kim Bullington, P. Dreux Chappell, Annemarie L. Horn, Kris Irwin and Annette Finley-Croswhite
During the pandemic, the Women's Writing Forum (WWF) became an online oasis for faculty members seeking the time, motivation and encouragement to advance their research projects.
The initiative was launched by the Center for Faculty Development and the Office of Faculty Diversity and Retention in response to a reported decline in journal article submissions written solely by female scholars. The first iteration of the of the WWF occurred during the summer of 2020. The response was so positive that open-write sessions were held throughout the 2020-21 academic year to encourage faculty productivity. Open-write events involve faculty getting online together to write. Individuals may speak to each other a little or not at all. The idea is to create a space to ensure productivity and accountability.
During the summer of 2021 from June 7 to July 16, the second iteration of the WWF was launched as Women's Writing Forum 2021, Moving Forward (WWF2). Five of the six weeks began with a presentation, and one week was devoted to conversation. Annette Finley-Croswhite and Tomeka Wilcher hosted "Why Do We Hate/Love to Write?" Helen Crompton, Corrin Gillis and Annette Finley-Croswhite offered "Strategies to Produce Journal Articles and Grant Proposals," Mona Danner addressed "Imposter Syndrome," Sheri Reynolds and Remica Bingham-Risher led "Relationships With Writing," and Narketta Sparkman-Key presented "Collaborating for Success in Grant Writing and Research." Real-time Zoom sessions each week created spaces where faculty could work and write. The WWF2 projected a group dynamic of shared enthusiasm and positive energy. During the fall semester of 2021, open-writes will continue for all who want to participate.
Below, several participants share the successful writing strategies they used during the pandemic and what they gained from the forum.
It can be hard to stay motivated to write. The COVID-19 pandemic provided me with a chance to reassess my writing strategies, especially in light of working on multiple projects concurrently. In the past 17 months, I have been able to start 16 writing projects; four of those are in press, five are in editor review, two are in data analysis, two are in data collection, and I am still in the initial writing process for the rest. I have two other future papers in a concept phase, and those will be started once a few of the projects get published. I am also a faculty administrator, so I could not write during work hours, and my writing had to be done outside of work. Here are some of the tricks I used to stay motivated.
A Strong Team: Prior to the pandemic, I created a writing team of people I can collaborate with on several topics. One reason for this was I do not like to write alone, but a secondary reason is that when working on multiple, concurrent projects, it is important to spread out the load. Our team met weekly, discussed possible projects, and teamed up for the projects in which we were interested. The weekly meetings kept us motivated and allowed us to catch up on where we were for each publication.
Organization: Being organized was key for this writing success for me. At first, I was able to organize the projects in my CV, but as the projects grew, I found it easier to put them into a stoplight spreadsheet (green means complete, yellow is in progress, and red is incomplete). This allows me to track where I am for each paper that is in process. I track this both electronically as well as on a large project board, because sometimes it's just nice to look over my progress.
Drive: Admittedly, I have a very ambitious publishing and research agenda, and do not think I can maintain this level, but for now it is my goal to have more research and publications, and this gets me there. So how do I stay motivated and not overwhelmed beyond having a team and being organized? I try to reward myself with each milestone - whether it's just changing a box from red to yellow or from yellow to green or treating myself to a nice dinner for accomplishing a goal. It is very easy to get overwhelmed, but I've worked hard to surround myself with a team that motivates me, that appreciates me, and that is strong where I am weak. Also, I view writing as more than just the process of putting words on paper - reading articles and books that will end up in a literature review or working on a data analysis is still part of the writing process. Also, I write first and edit later. It's more important to get words on paper and refine them afterward. I've been more successful having multiple projects in different phases because it allows me to move between projects as they interest me or as time allows - and this allows me to always have something to work on, as well as creating new avenues for new publications and research.
Dr. Kim Bullington is undergraduate chief departmental advisor and programs manager in the
Batten College of Engineering & Technology.
P. Dreux Chappell
One of the most important pieces of advice for successful writing that was shared with me early on was being told that what works for one person may not work for everyone. This was quite liberating because it allowed me to try different strategies and not beat myself up if someone's suggestion didn't work for me. Another bit of insight came from a comment that my Ph.D. advisor made when reading one of my thesis chapters, which was that he could almost timestamp when I wrote something based on the quality of the writing. Perhaps not surprisingly as I am more of a morning person, writing later in the day or the middle of the night does not end well for me. This doesn't mean that I can't be productive later in the day, but it does mean that I should use that time for less critical things like editing figures, fixing references, or free writing. I have other colleagues who are much better at writing in the late afternoon and at night. I love collaborating with these colleagues on writing because we can be incredibly efficient passing a document back and forth and taking advantage of each other's peak times of productivity.
Two additional lessons that have helped me with writing and I consider to be linked were much harder to learn. The first is that you don't need to start with the perfect sentence. In fact, I would argue that you shouldn't even try for the perfect sentence initially. It's hard to come up with the perfect sentence, especially on your first draft. If you are obsessed with creating the perfect sentence, you will almost always end up staring at a blank screen (or piece of paper) and get nowhere. I mentioned free writing above. Sometimes you know the general points you want to get across but you're struggling with how to write it. If I'm struggling in this way, I have found that it helps to just start writing down those thoughts in a messy free-form paragraph or even a bulleted list and then walk away for a while. It's much easier to edit something than write the first draft. This brings me to what I consider the linked lesson - you can't be so in love with what you've written that you can't let it go. You must be willing to rearrange or even scrap a perfect sentence or paragraph if it no longer works with the rest of what you're writing. It's rare in my field to write completely alone, which is helpful because it's great to have someone else read and edit your writing, as they are not going to be as invested in the sentence that you spent a day perfecting.
Dr. P. Dreux Chappell is an associate professor in the Department of Ocean and Earth Sciences.
Annemarie L. Horn
As COVID-19 spread across the globe and K-12 schools transitioned to virtual platforms for instruction, many women in higher education were expected to assume the role of mother, educator, and faculty researcher. The latter is the focus here. No doubt, wearing so many hats can be overwhelming and exhausting, but women also have a way of persevering through difficult times. After all, we tell our children, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," right? What better time to lift and empower each other and lead by example? As a tenure-track faculty member with three young children, I struggled and had doubts during the spring 2020 semester. I then reminded myself that I had three young people who were going through a major transition as well, and from that point forward, together, we would make lemonade.
I first created a spreadsheet to list all my research projects and manuscripts that were in progress. I dug up manuscripts that were rejected in the past and those I started but never finished. I was determined to write, revise and publish. I set goals and made sure they were achievable. Second, I searched scholarly journals specific to my discipline to find calls for papers. Doing so motivated me to continue writing new pieces. Third, I sought to connect with other productive scholars, particularly women. I participated in various productive writing groups with colleagues across the country as well as the Women's Writing Forum that took place at ODU over the summer 2021 term. Sharing strategies and ideas, increasing collaborative opportunities and celebrating accomplishments shaped my productivity and positive mindset.
Inspired by other women in academia, I found two strategies that made an impact on my research and scholarship during the pandemic, and my tips for success will follow. First, it is essential to look continuously for opportunities that will advance your lines of inquiry. Though it may seem obvious, it can be a challenge during times of uncertainty. For instance, the present may be a perfect time to finish writing and submit the meta-analysis you have been working on over the past year. When it comes to conducting research with human subjects, restrictions may limit your face-to-face interaction, but can you shape your methodology to include a virtual platform? There are always opportunities for those who seek them. Second, make academic writing a goal-oriented process. That is, rather than focusing on how much time you block off, writing goals should reflect the result - how much you have on paper at the end of the day. It is easy to go down rabbit holes reading articles, and consequently end a three-hour writing block with little to nothing to show for it on paper. Incorporate writing in your daily routine, whether it is before your children wake up in the morning, during naptime, or some other quiet moment in the day. Prioritize academic writing, make it a daily practice, and set achievable goals, such as a target daily word count. Strategies I implemented initially in response to the challenges I faced as a mother and scholar trying to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed my outlook and mindset as a female researcher, and I hope they are helpful to others as well.
Dr. Annemarie L. Horn is an assistant professor and program coordinator, special education adapted curriculum (K-12), in the Department of Communication Disorders and Special Education.
I have always had a hard time scheduling my writing time, as I am more productive when I write when I feel like it. I equate it to running. When you try to run on a day where your body is just too sore and tired, you usually are not happy with the end time results. However, some days you have a deadline, like two R&Rs due at the end of June, and you have no choice. The Women's Writing Forum helped! One of the benefits I found included the scheduled open-write Zoom sessions. First, they gave me a time to get something done - it may not have been writing per se, but some work. They also provided a meeting excuse: If a partner or kiddo needs something, you have the ready response: "I'm in a meeting. We will have to do that later." It frees you of the guilt of always being on call for family needs. As I have learned by working from home during the pandemic, you have to block off no-interruption times as well as learn to write in bursts!
As a strategy scholar and a former consultant, my natural inclination is to integrate different learnings across experiences. This summer, as I continued my research interviewing women entrepreneurs about their experiences during the pandemic, I discovered an interesting overlap of topics. The Inner Critic Process flow (Circumstance>Thought>Emotion>Action>Consequence) came up in my discussions with these women entrepreneurs, during the Women's Writing Forum Weekly Meetup with Dr. Mona Danner discussing imposter syndrome, and in my own health journey reading Noom articles about overcoming negative thoughts. During my interviews with women entrepreneurs, which touched on firm success, work-family, feminism, and dealing with the pandemic, I found that a number of them had conquered their inner critic by practicing mindfulness, meditation and yoga. This interesting intersection, which I discovered in part from the Women's Writing Forum, enabled me to craft a more successful writing strategy where I learned to acknowledge my own "thought distortions" about writing.
The forum also served as a nice social outlet that during the pandemic has become even more important. As a newer faculty member, I really appreciated the support and connections.
Dr. Kris Irwin is an assistant professor in the Department of Management.