Shut Up and Write: AKA How to Turn Nothing into Writing

I know it sounds too good to be true, but this method of working helps you to spit out pages of writing. Now, I didn’t say it was perfect writing, but we all know that the best writing is writing that is on a page. You can always edit later.

So … what is it? Shut Up and Write! Is a concept that came from the San Francisco Bay Area where a bunch of creative writers got together to make writing happen. The SUAW model has spread around the world and is now super popular among academic writers. The whole point is to make writing fun. You get together socially (perhaps in a café or other non-formal space), and you just write (and you stop talking – it’s all in the name). The mission of SUAW is:

No critiquing, exercises, lectures, ego, competition or feeling guilty

The concept builds on the Pomodoro Technique. Usually what happens in a SUAW group is you sit down and write for 25 minutes, and then you have 5 minutes to talk, chat, have something to eat & drink, before you go back to writing. A typical session might be 4 or 6 of these repeats (for 2-3 hours all up). Quick sprints of writing followed by a chance to let out all your nervous energy.

The key concepts of Shut Up and Write are:

  • Meet a regular, pre-arranged time
  • Have a single, easy contact point for new people
  • Keep the writing sprints short
  • Work on anything, so long as it is actual work. (You could do transcription, analysis, reading, organising notes, even admin things for your research. I’d suggest, though, that this is a good time to put most things aside and just write. Don’t even put your references in, just make a note of where they need to go, and move on.)

But does it work? A month ago, I sat down to test this out. I opened a brand-new document and looked at the blank page. Within 2 hours I’d written out 1700 words of a methodology chapter, and the next night I spent another 2 hours to round it out into a finished (draft) chapter. Somehow (no idea how) this technique helped me to get around my writers’ block and get words onto the page.

Now, of course, Shut Up and Write won’t be for everyone, but it is certainly worth giving it a go. It helps remove some of the social isolation that comes hand-in-hand with research, and being in a room with others who are working can dissuade you from watching another YouTube video on how the Dutch dredge canals (a rabbit hole I went down one day when I was supposed to be studying).

Others have posted online about their successes with the SUAW model. Tseen Khoo at RMIT wrote a year’s reflection about her group. Inger Mewburn, Lindy Osborne, and Glenda Caldwell wrote a paper about the groups at RMIT and QUT. Sabine Calleja and Heather Cunningham wrote about a group at the University of Toronto.

Want to know the good news? AUT has our own Shut Up and Write group, and it is open to all staff and research students. We meet twice a month in WU524 (because good seating, good lighting, and easy access to wifi and power outlets). If you’d like to know more, please feel free to email scott.pilkington@aut.ac.nz.

Where: WU524, City Campus, 46 Wakefield Street, Auckland
When: Second Monday of each month, 4pm
Last Sunday of each month, 12pm
(Next session Sunday 27 October)
What:
Writing for 2-3 hours
What to bring: – Personal writing device
– Notes
– Personal music device & headphones (if that’s your jam)
– Some kai to share (if you want – you might be able to get people to help you proofread if you feed them!)
Who: Anyone writing a thesis, journal article, or book chapter

Want more resources about Shut Up and Write?

About Scott Pilkington

Scott is a Postgraduate Coordinator and Health, Safety & Wellbeing rep at the Graduate Research School. His hobbies include museums, campanology, history, anthropology, cats, dance, fibre crafts, science communication, and gin. He’s a graduate of University of Auckland, University of Otago, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and of course AUT. His current research projects include how we use museums to communicate science, and the form and function of doctoral academic dress at New Zealand universities. Past research includes the Albert Park tunnels, taphonomy of burnt human skeletal remains, and the sex-politics-law dynamics of 13th C England. He is weirdly passionate about palaeoecology and urban spaces. He uses the pronouns he/him. You can often see him at GRS events being our resident photographer.

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