Week 10: Reflections on the 1st Savage Minds Writing Group

Phew. We did it. This week concludes the first ever Savage Minds Writing Group. Launched in January with seventy people expressing interest in joining in, our writing group was designed to provide community, inspiration, and a schedule or some sort of accountability in the writing process.

Writing is such a solo activity at times, yet one that requires the support and involvement of others. Imagination is key to this, imagining the people one is writing about, imagining readers, as are face-to-face conversations with friends and mentors as you write. I hoped an online writing group of anthropologists in many different places around the world might complement these relationships, and provide a sense of community of others engaged in similar processes, similar difficulties, similar joys in the writing.

For ten weeks, we had weekly check-ins on our writing progress. Starting out strong, the numbers of individuals “checking in” publicly dwindled over time, but the number of readers remained high. I heard from many people who were following along without officially checking in, instead benefiting from the knowledge that others out there were writing too. This was one of the main goals of the writing group–to create community.

Community can help with commitment, with regularity, and with the sort of conscious attention to writing as an ongoing practice, rather than the sort of start-and-stop endeavor it sometimes is given other academic demands. Alongside the group, I created the Writers’ Workshop essay series, inviting anthropologists from across the subdisciplines to reflect on various aspects of the writing process. My hope was that these essays would provide not only inspiration, but also body and substance to our collective writing, providing help for thinking of the logistics, the craft, the details of writing. They did this and more, providing a ground for reflection each week, and for moving forward in new and productive directions. My gratitude and admiration to each of our contributors:

Robin Bernstein: Dr. Funding, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Grant Writing

Sienna Craig: On Unreliable Narrators

Zoë Crossland: Writing Archaeology

Kristen Ghodsee: My Ten Steps for Writing a Book

Kirin Narayan: Ethnographic Writing with Kirin Narayan: An Interview

Michael Ralph: Styles of Writing, Techniques of Mentorship: A Tribute to Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Matt Sponheimer: From Different Throats Intone One Language?

Gina Athena Ulysse: Writing Anthropology and Such or “Once More, With Feeling”

Bianca C. Williams: Guard Your Heart and Your Purpose: Faithfully Writing Anthropology

and my piece: Anthropologists: Ready, Set, Write!

Will there be another Savage Minds Writing Group? Some folks have asked me this. My answer is perhaps. Were we to do the writing group again, what suggestions do you have for it? What new ideas might we try, and what aspects were most beneficial to you? Personally, I enjoyed both the weekly check-ins and the sharing of writing progress (or lack of it), as well as the Writers’ Workshop series. Both helped me clear space and time for writing in ways that were productive, and in which the communal aspect was important. I am grateful for that and yet there is definitely room to grow. What thoughts do you have?

My thanks to all of you who participated, who shared your writing ups and downs, your essays, and who brought the group to life. In the words of Kirin Narayan, may you continue to be alive in the writing!

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

8 thoughts on “Week 10: Reflections on the 1st Savage Minds Writing Group

  1. Wow the weeks have flown by and having my original goal of getting my chapter draft done and dusted the writing has just kept going and I’ve spent the last two weeks writing a guest blog post and well into planning another thesis chapter.
    This writing group has been very beneficial as I mentioned in my last comment as a pt student based out if the city it has worked really well for me. It’s also taught me routine and that I’m not alone in having hours spent staring at a blank page and then others writing like crazy. Thanks Carole for organising this!

  2. I’m one of the many who have been “reading along” and want to say thanks so much for putting this together! I’ve enjoyed each one of the workshop pieces and have been inspired by hearing how others work to make time for writing time – both unproductive & productive… Thanks again!

  3. Thank you Carole, this was one of the most enjoyable and useful processes that I have participated in that provided me with inspiration, food for thought and a strong sense of being comfortably situated within a community, all the attributes that you had in mind for such a group! I have a strong sense of accomplishment as I check of the list of writing tasks that I have completed over the past 10 weeks. It enables me to pick up the next set of writing goals with the energy, motivation and clear-sightedness regarding how I need to work to reach where I want to be next.
    Yes please to more such community processes, I can’t think of anything that I would want changed, it was such inspired thinking and planning on your part.

  4. I can’t believe the ten weeks have already passed. It seems like this writing group only started yesterday… Which is why, I think, it was such a good idea. Sometimes it feels like every other day is Friday – in hectic academic life, time tends to slip through my fingers. Regularly reflecting upon my writing, however, helped me to see that apart from doing many things on the side, my writing nevertheless develops. And that was very stimulating indeed! Also, not unimportant, the routine of weekly check-ins offered me some insights into how fast/slow I work – this, I hope, will help me in thinking up more realistic writing schedules in the future.

    Just a thought on how to keep the number of check-ins a bit more stable – what if, for instance, (some) guest editors would be willing to select one or two participants, read a few pages of their work, and provide them with personal feedback..? I don’t suggest turning the writing group into a competition, but judging from the comments I believe many have been inspired by the Monday blogs. And wouldn’t it be great to offer a few (young) academics an opportunity to share bits and pieces of their project with scholars they are unlikely to get into contact with otherwise..? Of course I have a hidden agenda here – on several occasions I thought ‘if only I could convince [xxx] to take a look at this one particular section, and hear what he or she thinks…’ :).

    Thanks to all who have devoted their time to this initiative – I have found it very encouraging!

  5. I know I didn’t check-in last week, but I’m extremely close to achieving all my writing goals. I have some final editing to do. This writing group has been extremely helpful while finishing my thesis. It was yet another source of pressure and self-discipline. I’m really looking forward to another one…I could use it!

  6. Well, I didn’t complete all of my goals, since new things kept being added to my plate and I was bad at commenting with updates, but enjoyed having the thought of writing solidarity in the back of my mind while working on the various items and did complete some major hurdles. A comment for next time, perhaps a specific Savage Minds Writing Group hashtag might be useful to connect people more via other forms of social media while writing. I know I likely would have followed the hashtag and tweeted more about what I was doing had there been one. Just a thought! My thanks for starting this ten week journey.

  7. This group was helpful for me, to remember that I’m part of a writing community, and to keep me motivated. I did accomplish writing out all my ethnographic material for my dissertation, organized by ideas, so that was an accomplishment! I feel like I can now write in a more creative way, taking pieces from here and there, theory and ethnography, and weave together what I actually want to say.

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