Week 5: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

And then there were five.

Five weeks, that is. We are half-way through our ten weeks of writing together. Phew! Are you still here with me? Our numbers are dwindling, and if you’re anything like me, these check-ins seem to be coming much too frequently! If you are someone who hasn’t checked in every week, do not despair or feel you can’t jump back in. Check in when you like, and if not, then at least keep writing.

What in your writing is worth telling? What stories need to be known by others? What commitments have you made to others, and have others made in sharing their stories with you? This week’s guest essay by Bianca Williams–Guard Your Heart and Your Purpose: Faithfully Writing Anthropology reflected on finding courage and faith in the writing. Acknowledge vulnerability. Discern purpose. Have faith. There are stakes involved in our writing as she so clearly reminded us…and herself. 

Words are powerful. The words we hear, transcribe, and create do things in the world and act on our hearts.

Indeed they do.

Here’s to a fantastic Week 6, to collectively getting over the “hump,” to this coming Monday’s fantastic guest essay by Kristen Ghodsee, and to community in the writing. Looking forward to hearing where the writing took you this past week.

Carole McGranahan

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.

19 thoughts on “Week 5: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

  1. Sigh. By now I thought I would have a daily writing practice down, and by that I mean actually writing for a decent amount of time each day (even just one hour). Instead, I am writing some days, and other days I am reading and organizing. Some days it feels like all I write are emails. But my article is ready for its finishing touches, and I’ve been working on two other writing projects simultaneously, alongside the other things that life and work bring: teaching, meetings, doctor’s appointments, my children’s “learning celebrations” at their school, coffee and meals with friends, exercising, grading, and so on. I’ve managed to preserve one day a week for writing, but am still working to find those nooks and crannies of time throughout the teaching day to write. Really appreciating the guest essays each week; they have been a real treat and source of inspiration and reflection.

  2. I enjoy reading the guest blog posts and after a dismal week 4 had a major breakthrough this week: I have written every single day! Most days it is just a 25 minute burst at 5.30 or 6am while my toddler has a dance party with her dad in the lounge, but it’s amazing how even that short time can set me up for a good day. It’s important for me to cultivate a daily writing practice as I write to know what I think. I appreciate having this group to check in with (even though I missed last week) and especially the comments about fitting in work with everything else we do in our lives to keep us healthy, happy, and on our toes.

  3. I can’t believe we are already five weeks into this! I had a slightly better week writing wise than week four. There was only one day ( a true unexpected-series-of-small-disasters-upending-all plans-for-the-day kind of day) where no writing or working towards writing happened. I finished a draft of another piece of writing and am now working on revisions. Even thought I still feel like its a constant struggle to find time to write and to actually write when I do sit down to do it, I also feel like I am more conscious and consistent. I am really glad to have another five weeks in which to really cement some good (better!) writing habits in the meantime I too am really enjoying both the guest essays and reading how everyone else is faring. It makes this really solitary thing we do ( writing) feel so much less lonely!

  4. This week was one to celebrate – I somewhat experienced a breakthrough with regard to the problems I faced (i.e. problems of presentation and informant protection). It seems that I have finally found a narrative that both fits my story as well as my worries. I’m not sure if I will make next week’s deadline of finishing this particular thesis chapter but if not, than I’m already happy enough with being able to feel energized and content about it again.

    Come to think of it, I believe my writing usually follows this particular pattern – first I have all sorts of plans and ideas, then I structure them and feel good about that, and next I write about 2/3 of the piece. Round about that time the whole thing starts to fall apart, up to a point that I can no longer bare to look at it and despise myself for wanting to be a publishing anthropologist. But then I shuffle and rewrite a bit, and then (tadaaaa!), I have something that looks like a finished draft. Funny how my work tends to live a life of its own, and refuses to be domesticated by my poking and prodding…

  5. This week I feel I got to what I thought would be a summit, only to see how much more of the mountain I have to climb. But it’s good to get this far! I finished a long “raw materials” draft for my thesis chapter 4 on women’s friendship in India. Basically it’s a collection of the stories I can draw upon for the real chapter, and I’m happy to have them all in one place so I can see them. I see that others above are writing about breakthroughs, and I’m thinking about writing from the heart from the essay earlier this week. I’m happy to say that I did have an idea breakthrough of sorts… just a realization of what may be the core of this project, which is more about narrating history than I had thought. That could only come through writing out all these stories and listening. My goal is to have similarly raw yet helpful drafts for my other two chapters in the next four weeks, and in the meantime let the big picture keep emerging…

  6. I’m happy to say that this has been a big week for me. I finally launched my anthropology of disability blog, Disability Fieldnotes (disabilityfieldnotes.com). Please check it out and spread the word!

    This writing group has definitely played a role in forcing me to take writing seriously and, more importantly, to prioritize it as labor. I’ve started thinking in terms of writing for more than “just” the dissertation or the articles that I’m working on, which has helped keep me from psyching myself out about these intimidating aspects of my PhD path. Instead, I have somehow tricked myself into a morning writing routine and I will, in turn, pick and choose selections from my (admittedly quite informal) pieces to expand accordingly. As Bianca discussed in her piece this week, I am trying to write with purpose and faith. I think of purpose in terms of both discipline and ambition, and faith in regard to the power of my words to actually do something. I’m pretty excited. It is perhaps no coincidence that I’ve also stopped beating myself up for the moments when I lag or generally feel uninspired, and I’m attempting to incorporate more breaks into my days. Failure to recharge is not good for me and only works against me. I suspect I’m not the only one.

    If anyone missed it, I would encourage you all to read the recent piece from the Atlantic Monthly, “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators.” I found it to be quite refreshing. Here’s the link:


  7. Inspiring to hear about others’ breakthroughs! I apparently haven’t even been able to keep up with checking in weekly, so that’s my new goal for the next five weeks. I did complete a draft of the article I’ve been working on and sent it out to colleagues for a round of feedback, so that’s one stage of one goal met. Hurray!

    I’ve been thinking a lot this week about both Bianca Williams’s post and about the interview with Paul Farmer, divorcing theory and writing with an open heart. In different ways they both emphasized the importance of remembering one’s purpose in research and writing: the passions that drew us to our topics, the pressing human problems that we hope to understand and help solve. I hope I’ll be able to carry that forward as I work.

  8. Not much writing from me this week, but I anticipated this from my earlier experiences of ‘transitions.’ Finishing something and then embarking on something else does not happen smoothly, seamlessly, without missing a beat. I have learned that I have to allow myself to wander before I settle into a new next phase and that’s what I have accomplished this week. Putting everything in place to start teaching next week, getting the online learning environment up and running, smoothing the passage to the next collaborative piece of work by opening up lines of dialogue with the collaborators are all, to my mind, shifting gears to launch into a new road. Mapping what might lie ahead is also writing work!

  9. I have been horrible about checking in – but had a great week of writing. Ironically, since this was a personally difficult week for me, but in some ways that actually made it easier to write. Halfway done and so happy that this has been so successful.

  10. I have bad about checking in as well. I have actually been able to keep my studio hours the entire month and have gotten something like “writing” done. Bogged down by manuscript revisions that I didn’t expect at this time. Good point in this is that these will be seeing light much sooner than the
    work that I had planned to do. Practice is going great!!!!

  11. It has taken me until today to finish the post I began working on last week. Not sure if it is because I have too many other projects going on or if the concept I was exploring simply needed the time, I would like to think the latter is true. The art piece I have been working on to accompany the post is not quite completed yet which is disappointing, probably shifting to a Saturday to Saturday schedule is more realistic for me due to the logistics of my other commitments… I am really enjoying the sense of community and the guest posts though, very inspiring.

  12. I haven’t been able to keep to M-F daily writing like I wanted, but I have been making progress and plan to finish up the article I’m working on by sometime next week. I have learned that writing first thing in the morning, even for 30 minutes, works really well for me, as it’s hard to motivate to think/write after teaching.

  13. A long pause in inspiration was shaken when I re-engaged with some ideas coming from Ricouer and read the latest issue of Environment and Society in its entirety ( who does that anymore?). Thematic journal issues are some of my favorites. Dusting off old ideas and polishing new ones by writing without editing.

  14. Good week here with writing and running. This was helped by comparatively fewer service commitments this week, and teaching my own specialty in my courses, which cut down prep considerably. I managed to write every day, including “going dark” on Thursday and disconnecting from email, phone, and social media and working from home. I even took most of Saturday off for a hike (noon to 8pm).

  15. Sunday here, and just found time to check in. A much better week this past week was. Though I had some stomach bug – as if I wasn’t sick enough before – I was able to write through it because my other sickness is much better and, most important of all, my little one is better too, so she is back to enjoying our routine and happily playing on her own on the floor next to my desk (it helps that she is super jazzed by her burgeoning skills of crawling – just wait until mama is done with round two of dissertation draft!).

    Writing-wise, I revised the first chapter of my dissertation line-by-line, getting my prose and logic and flow even tighter. Still have the last section to go where I talk about my methods, which I am going to tackle after this point, and if I get it in good shape today I will have finally lived up to my ideal of conquering a chapter a week in terms of revising (though I am still behind from last week when I was so sick).

    Another big breakthrough I had this week was reaching out for help. Thinking about Dr. Narayan’s point about having a sympathetic, supporting audience, I reached out to 5 trusted friends, colleagues, and awesome scholars and asked them if they’d like to read a chapter from my dissertation and give me 5-10 “to do’s” to improve/overhaul the chapter. I did this because I cannot see the forest for the trees, as it were, between the point of my writing and the variegated feedback I am getting from my committee – so I thought enlisting the help of folks who know my work but can see it from a more lofty perspective would help. And just knowing I am not alone in these struggles took a big weight off my heart too.

    I credit this writing group with inspiring me to be proactive about my writing, not just in actually doing it, but also in finding kindred spirits who will help.

  16. Your comment about ‘a narrative that fits my stories as well as my worries’ really strikes a chord. I am trying for a third time to turn my thesis into a book – a struggle to find a narrative that fits, that addresses worries, that will be read – especially by the people in the community – and my own family – but also gives them due acknowledgement and has academic credibility while being something from the heart.

  17. I just found time to check in as well. Unexpected important events took priority this Friday and continued to take precedence through this weekend. I, too, am surprised we are already five weeks into this. I’m still writing every day, and I am aiming to have a complete draft of a chapter before I leave the country this coming week. I am feeling behind, though, on this goal. And now I’m worried about all that I need to accomplish this week, but I am determined to keep writing as I pack and even while I am away.

  18. I am checking in late because had to travel back home and the entire writing schedule got upset. I finished some revisions but the chapter seems a little distant and this would be the same in week 6 as well… Still have four weeks. I am yet to read the guest post/s … Terrible week on writing front!

Comments are closed.