WriteCast Episode 16: Why You Need to Join a Writing Community
© Walden University Writing Center 2014
[TEASER:] LYDIA: And that’s a big part of becoming a successful writer.
NIK: Welcome to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. I'm Nikolas Nadeau.
BRITTANY: And I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson.
NIK: In this episode, we’re talking with Walden Writing Center Dissertation Editor, Lydia Lunning, about writing communities and why it’s a good idea for students to get involved in one.
BRITTANY: We’ll also talk about the Writing Center’s Capstone Writing Community and the Academic Skills Center’s new doctoral writing workshops.
NIK: Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of WriteCast. Today we have a special guest who’s going to talk with us about something near and dear to our hearts here at the Walden Writing Center: community. Lydia Lunning is a dissertation editor here at the Writing Center. So welcome Lydia!
LYDIA: Hi, thank you guys for having me.
BRITTANY: We are so excited to have you on. Could you start off by just telling us a little bit about what you do here at the Writing Center? What your day-to-day work is like-- stuff like that?
LYDIA: Sure. So I am one of the editors in the Writing Center, which means I’m part of the team of people who conduct the final form and style review for all of the doctoral studies, and project studies, and dissertations, and final capstone studies that people do prior to having final approval and graduating with their doctorate. So that’s mainly what I do, but I’m also the coordinator for capstone resources, which means I get to be involved in all kinds of fun projects for people who are working on these documents.
BRITTANY: Fantastic! And, could you also give us just a quick definition of what “capstone” means? I know sometimes students use that term to talk about these documents, and sometimes they don’t.
LYDIA: Oh sure. So, capstone is what we use to describe the final document, the final big study that people do prior to receiving their doctorate. So for some programs that’s a dissertation, for some programs that’s a doctoral study or a project study, but it’s really the big, original research project that you conduct prior to receiving your doctoral degree.
NIK: Sure, and we should note that Lydia is working mainly with capstone students, but that writing communities are important to academic writers at any level. So Lydia, can you talk a little bit about why it’s important to have a community of writers around you? What makes that important, especially at an online institution here at Walden?
LYDIA: Yeah, well, I mean, I think writing communities are important because it’s a great way to envision your audience. The biggest challenge, I think, a lot of people have, especially when you’re doing original research or you’re writing in a scholarly fashion, is getting what’s in your head to make sense to someone who’s not in your head. And especially at Walden or in an online environment, or distance environment, you can forget what you sound like to other people. So having a strong community of colleagues that you can share your work with, and write with, and be accountable to is a good way of understanding how your work sounds to other people, and that’s a big part of becoming a successful writer.
And, yeah, I know that you both have a lot of experiences with the pitfalls and triumphs of writing communities at Walden too. So, I’d like to hear what you guys have to say, too.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I totally agree with you, Lydia, how important this is. In general as a writer, I know that I definitely struggle with that issue of getting outside my own head. And a lot of times, especially when people are working on these long, involved documents, where you’re doing tons of research and it’s really isolated, it can be really difficult to think about who’s going to be reading this eventually, and getting that perspective of that hypothetical reader, that person out there some day who’s going to actually read what you have to say.
I’m curious to know what both you and Nik think about what writing communities can look like. I feel like they can look a lot of different ways, and especially here at Walden in this online environment. You know, it’s not necessarily going to be your colleagues, your classmates who you’re sitting down in a room with and passing out paper to; but, it doesn’t necessarily have to just be Walden colleagues or classmates that you’re working with, right? I think there can be a variety of ways that students might connect with other writers, whether they be people in their program, or family members, or other folks that they trust in their community. I think it’s important to recognize that community is both people who are in your physical proximity, and also people that you’ve connected with virtually in this globalized environment that we work in here at Walden.
LYDIA: Can I jump in? Or Nik, do you want to jump in?
NIK: Go ahead.
LYDIA: I don’t want to –
BRITTANY: Yeah, go for it.
LYDIA: I think it is important to see what works best for you. If you’re around a group of people that are available who can give you in-person feedback, or you can watch them reading your work, or they can stop and ask questions as soon as they have them. That’s a really good way to get feedback; but, you also have a lot of options in the online environment, where you could develop a community with people who are in different locations, different time zones. And some people prefer feedback in real time, but other people really like to get comments from someone, and read them, and digest them, and then meet and talk about it. So, being in an online writing community also offers a lot of flexible options for people who work in different ways.
NIK: And also remember that you can form a writing group with people in your class, especially if you’re an undergraduate student.
Now Lydia, can you talk more about the difference between a peer community and a faculty-moderated community?
LYDIA: Oh sure, yeah, and I think that’s – I think that’s a very important distinction, because, especially at Walden, a lot of people might be familiar or comfortable in a Blackboard classroom, where a lot of interactions are driven by the instructor or moderated or observed by a faculty member, or someone who you would say is “in authority.” And, I think, peer communities are also really important because there’s not that evaluative element, where you’re not really performing, or being graded, or being assessed in any way. You can really have freedom to make mistakes or try things, or just be a little bit more open and relaxed, which can sometimes be a great way to get ideas flowing, or to build confidence in your writing if you’re not really ready to show it to someone who has the power to approve it or grade you on it. I think it’s a good way to kind of get your sea legs, so to speak.
NIK: One thing that I think is important to talk about too, Lydia, is that a writing community isn’t necessarily about getting a better grade, or it might not necessarily lead to a tangible result, at least in the short term. But it’s still good to have for more of the human side to have that support, and have the feeling that you’re engaged in something that goes beyond just you and your writing topic.
LYDIA: I like framing it as support. I think that’s really good, because it’s the kind of support and accountability that you have to other people that can be a good motivator, and just a good way to practice and hone your skills without it being a high stakes situation.
BRITTANY: As you said, Lydia, that classroom community also comes with the evaluative aspect to it, which can be, maybe a little bit less comfortable or be challenging for some students to work in as a community. And so I want to encourage students, too, I think, to use a community that not’s based in a course for accountability, right? To sort of set up their own goals and to let their peers hold them accountable to those goals.
LYDIA: I think that also brings up a great point that I was thinking about with communities the other day that writing around other people or working with other people in these kinds of groups is a really great way to expose your bad habits. So if you’re just writing by yourself all the time, it’s really hard to notice, “Oh, maybe, you know, I use this phrase over and over again,” or “All my sentence structures are the same,” or “I leave everything until the last minute.” And being around other people who write in different ways, and work in different ways, and maybe have different reactions to things is a good way, I think, to show you to yourself. So you see, maybe, things that you wouldn’t notice that you can change, or things that you can enhance. So I think it’s a really good way of reflecting your own habits back on yourself.
NIK: So, Lydia, among the many writing communities that exist in the world and here at Walden, we do have the Writing Center's Capstone Writing Community. So could you tell us a little more about that and what use it might be for students in the capstone stage?
LYDIA: I would love to. So we have a private, online community for Walden doctoral students, and it’s really just an informal space where students can connect with one another and share resources, and maybe get advice or feedback from people further along in the process, or post questions to a discussion forum, and really interact specifically with other students who are working on their doctoral capstone studies. And another feature is that you can also talk to one of the Writing Center editors. We have posted office hours, so you can write and ask us a question or chat with us in real time if you’re having an issue with your writing, or you’re just unsure of some resources available to you. And it is closed to just Writing Center staff and Walden students. So that takes away the evaluative piece. So you don’t have to worry about your chair being in there, or members of your committee looking over your shoulder. It’s really just a space for you to be around other students and to not worry about people outside of students and Writing Center staff looking at your work.
BRITTANY: What about students? What students are allowed to join the capstone writing community? And what are the requirements for folks who are allowed to join?
LYDIA: Most of the resources we have, and pretty much everything in there right now, is geared toward doctoral students who are in the proposal stage or later. So it’s folks who are working on getting IRB approval, or putting together the literature review for their research, or people who are just trying to figure out how to write up their data analysis, or finalize their studies before they submit for final approval. So it’s not closed to people before the proposal stage, but I do encourage people to wait until they’re ready to start working on their proposal.
NIK: So before that point, is there any particular writing community or any suggestions you might have for students who do want to have some form of community aspect to their work?
LYDIA: Sure. I think that one thing that is particular to the proposal stage, and then writing the dissertation, or the doctoral studies is that it is a very isolating event. Once you get to that point, you may be in a course shell with a handful of other people, but you’re not really exposed to, or you don’t have the opportunity to interact with a lot of other peers or colleagues. So prior to that, you really have a lot of opportunities to talk to other people, whether it’s in your courses or in residencies. So, I think, prior to the proposal stage you really should be working on building connections with the people that you come into contact with.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right, and this is specific to folks at Walden whose program features residencies which most do (some do not), but if your program does feature residencies, that can be a really great way to get that face-to-face element that we don’t see very much here in the online environment. So you can, sort of, make those face-to-face connections with folks, and then continue those relationships when you leave the residency by connecting with people online, say, through social media if you have your own account. We also actually have quite a few different ways to connect through the Writing Center social media resources. Nik, do you want to talk about those real quick?
NIK: Sure. We have our Facebook page, which you can find from our Writing Center website, or you can search Walden University Writing Center from Facebook. We are on Twitter at #wuwritingcenter. Do make sure to check those out as a starting point.
But, Lydia, I’m wondering if I’m someone that tends to feel dragged down by a group, or by working with peers, and I just want to write on my own, am I missing out on this whole writing community thing? Does it seem to be necessary, even if it might not jive with my personality or my writing style?
LYDIA: Some people do work better alone, some people don’t really like the workshop format, where you share work and you just kind of talk about it. And that’s a fair point. Part of becoming a skilled writer and developing your scholarly voice is figuring out the process that works for you. So trying as many things as possible, and then being self-aware about what’s working, what’s not working, is really an important part of developing as a scholar. And if you think writing communities are just not for you, I mean, that’s a fair point.
I will say, though, that you do miss out on a lot if you don’t give yourself the chance to have as many people read your work as possible, because as many perspectives as you get, that’s as many different ways as you can improve. And if you want to be reaching a wider audience, the further along you get in your studies and the further along you get in your career, having that experience of having different people read and react directly to you about your work really makes you a better writer. It does take time, and it does take, kind of, a lot of mental energy, and effort, and organizational skills to maintain a writing community, especially if you’re in different locations, or you’re doing it over email. It takes a concerted effort so you don’t drop off, so that you do maintain contact with people. And so that’s an important thing to consider too, when you’re developing a community or figuring out how best to work together.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I think that’s really true, and I think we can feel a little bit, just overwhelmed by the time it can take to engage in a writing community. But I want to second your encouragement, Lydia, that I think building that time into your process is really important, so you can get those outside perspectives and, as we were mentioning at the beginning of this episode, get outside your own head a little bit and understand how an outside reader, somebody who doesn’t live in your brain, will read your ideas and understand your ideas.
LYDIA: So we talked a little about the capstone writing community for doctoral students and Walden actually has another new resource for doctoral students working on their proposals. So Walden now offers a six-week, small group doctoral writing workshop.
BRITTANY: Yes, and we’re very excited about these. These workshops allow students to work on revising their proposal drafts.
LYDIA: Yeah, and if you participate in a workshop, you’ll be in a group, you’ll be with other students working on the same part of the proposal as you. So that’s another great way to connect with students at the same stage and people going through the same things.
NIK: So, Lydia, what’s the best way for students to learn more about these workshops that we’ve been mentioning?
LYDIA: If you want to learn more about the workshops, and when they’re offered, and, kind of, how to enroll, and what they’re all about, you should talk to your advisor, or you can check out the Academic Skills Center website, and they have the pertinent information there.
NIK: And we’ll also link to the workshop webpage on our Writing Center blog, so make sure to check that out after listening today.
BRITTANY: And we have one more great resource to point out for our listeners today before we end. Lydia actually wrote a really great post on our blog recently about writing communities, and it’s called “Writing Together: How Peer Writing Communities Can Be Your Secret To Success.” So you can find that by going to our blog, which is available via the Writing Center webpage, or at http://www.waldenwritingcenter.blogspot.com, and typing “writing together” in the search box, or selecting the “communities” label. So I really encourage you all to check that out.
NIK: Well, Lydia, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you in the studio, and thanks so much again for taking time out of your day to joint our podcast.
LYDIA: Well, the pleasure is all mine. This was great. I enjoyed talking to you guys.
BRITTANY: Thanks so much for listening today, everyone. Stay tuned for a bunch of new episodes next year in 2015, when the podcast returns on January 1st.
NIK: WriteCast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center.
BRITTANY: This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson; my co-host, Nik Nadeau; our colleague, Anne Shiell; and special guest, Dissertation Editor Lydia Lunning.