Magic, Muggles, & Writing About Writing

It’s been a hectic few weeks here at Shut Up & Write Tuesdays. We’ve been collecting data to help identify the value, strengths, and limitations of the little community we’ve created, and using that data to draft a chapter for the forthcoming book Research 2.0 and the Impact of Digital Technologies on Scholarly Inquiry. The chapter was recently submitted and while we wait for the reviewers’ comments, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process.

This was unlike any other research I’d conducted. To begin with, the timeframe was incredibly tight. We didn’t hear about the call for chapters until 24 hours before it closed and once our proposal was accepted, we had just six weeks until the submission deadline. Six weeks to get familiar with the literature, secure ethics approval, collect the data, analyse the data, and write the chapter. Six weeks!!

The team was also new and far flung. Although we’ve been working together to host Shut Up & Write Tuesdays for almost two years now, Rebecca, Jen, Sharon, Michelle, and I had never conducted research or written together before. We were also spread across two states of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA, with time differences that really slow down the speed of communication. And did I mention we only had six weeks?

This combination of a new team and a tight timeframe brought all my writing anxieties to the fore. The team had been amazing in helping develop the survey and collect other data, but as first author the writing was my responsibility. Normally I go through multiple rounds of crafting and polishing before I show my writing to anyone. I love the writing process and I’ve been told I’m a decent writer, but I live in fear of someone reading my work and saying “oh my god, she thinks this is good!?” or “is this the best she can do?” And so I craft and polish, craft and polish, until I think it’s good enough for someone else to see. But when it came to writing about writing, my fears reached new levels of irrationality. What if people read it and said “wait, this woman runs a writing group!?” The irony of writing badly about how to write well would simply be too much to bear!

With this project, however, there simply wasn’t time for that sort of perfectionist palava. So I sent the clunky first draft to Rebecca, Jen, Sharon, and Michelle, attached to an email that said “I fear it may be the worst thing I’ve ever written.”

But oh me of little faith! What came back from this wonderful team of women was completely consistent with the Shut Up & Write Tuesdays ethos and nothing short of heart-warming. They reminded me that sharing our work with others is how we grow as writers. They praised the good bits and provided constructive feedback on the bits that still needed work. They acknowledged my fears and shared their own. They reminded me that I was not alone and that writing, like raising children, takes a village.

Rebecca summed it up best in her reply, saying “I often wonder if our followers think that as the hosts we have magical writing powers… I think this writing process is an experiment to test that, and we are proving ourselves to be totally normal!” She then went on to describe herself as a muggle writer.

A muggle writer! I can’t tell you how much I love that concept. We are indeed muggle writers. We do not wave our wands and shout expelliarmus to make the rubbish fly out of our manuscripts. Instead we work at it, one word at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at a time. And when time is up, we send it on its way and hope for the best.

So, thank-you for your contribution to our evaluation, keep your fingers crossed that the reviews are positive, and take heart – we are just like you!

-Siobhan

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