Week 7: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-in (and Thoughts on Teaching Writing)

It is Week 7, or, the Week I Forgot To Put Up the Check-in Post. Its been that sort of week. Here at Savage Minds, we migrated to our brand new site and in the process our comments feature got all buggy. So if you tried to comment in Week 6 and couldn’t, we’ll just start fresh today. How has your week been? Where are you in the writing?

This week’s gorgeous guest essay on “Writing Archaeology” by Zoë Crossland brought a new conversation to our Writers’ Workshop series: how does one teach writing? How does one learn to write? As she reflects:

It’s clear that the practice of archaeology is as much about writing as it is about fieldwork. The texts we compose are fundamental to translating artifacts and sediments into stories about the past, and yet we pay relatively little attention to the craft of writing, preferring to train students in techniques of excavation and field survey. 

The craft of writing, indeed. Here is to continuing to think about writing collectively, and to thinking about writing pedagogy.

Most of our writing instruction in the discipline takes place in either direct feedback on one’s writing from peers or professors, or simply from reading good writing. Less common, but growing over time are ethnographic writing workshops–we’ve had three at the University of Colorado over the last five-six years or so, led by Ann Armbrecht, Kirin Narayan, and myself; and there are always such workshops at the AAAs every year, including Renato Rosaldo’s fantastic ethnographic poetry workshop. Even rarer it seems–but much needed–are courses devoted to writing such as Zoë Crossland’s Writing Archaeology course or Ruth Behar’s longstanding Ethnographic Writing course at the University of Michigan. Who else is teaching writing in anthropology? 

Tune in Monday for our next Writers’ Workshop post from Robin Bernstein on grant writing, and some tips we can all use. For now, check-in on your week and your writing, and here’s to the homestretch–two weeks to go!

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.

7 thoughts on “Week 7: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-in (and Thoughts on Teaching Writing)

  1. Finished one project last week, returned to what I had been working on before article reviews and proofs came in, and am now in the sink-into-the-fieldnotes-and-write stage of a half-written article that I will be presenting at a conference at Yale next week, and then in Paris later month. Good to be writing new text rather than revising this week.

  2. I had a pretty good week! Wrote every day for an hour or more, sent a draft to my advisor. Also had one of those in-retrospect-obvious breakthroughs, realizing that instead of continuing to struggle to connect two pieces of one chapter, they could just be in different chapters. It’s so easy to let the writing get stuck in a particular structure, even when it’s not working.

  3. The week was largely characterized by an extension of last week’s struggles. But, as I luckily came to realize, some struggles can develop into productive debates – debates that can remind one to reconsider what it is that we actually want to do with our work. And that, I suppose, is a major part of the writing process (if not its cornerstone..??). So, although I dedicated only limited time to actually sitting down and write, I still regard this week fruitful. Looking forward to next week, to experiment with my new plans!

  4. I tried to update last week, but had problems with my comment being posted – just saw that this was a common feature to a couple of posts too. I was also logged into my WordPress account, which might also have had something to do with it. Well, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, so has my writing routine after a dismal, dismal week last week. Sickness again intervened, and when my time is so limited and structured, any one little hiccup throws off the whole system. Luckily I was able to regain my health and therefore my ability to write with a little grandma help, and feel like I am off and running again. I have been revising chapters line-by-line now that feedback is flowing in from my committee and my self-appointed committee of friends and colleagues. Still have lots of work to do, but the best news of all is that my dissertation is now officially heading towards defense! That means all that “crap” writing I thought I was doing had something redemptive enough in it to keep the process moving forward. Validation, validation, validation! To keep the momentum going, I’ve made a “to do” list where I break down the chapter I am currently writing/revising into manageable sections that I must try to complete at the end of each day. Only a little bit behind so far;) But here’s to being diligent nonetheless.

  5. Hello, tried checking in several times but failed. This week has seen good progress. Writing is about being disciplined and encountering your fears… At least, I dont miss opening the word document reading through what I have written. The act of re-writing, translating our thoughts is important. And of late, I pick up a book (not related to my work) so that helps. Thank you for drawing attention Ruth Behar’s course.

    Just a response to this post, we do not have any discussion around writing in anthropology except in methodology classes. This gives me an impetus to begin a discussion in our Research Scholars Group on this. I am aiming for a productive week ahead.

  6. This week was so full of preparations, planning and research that I never sat down to actual writing until this moment, I will spend the rest of the day (Tokyo-Time) writing and complete my accompanying art piece this weekend.

    I am starting to come to terms with my tendency to over schedule and tried not to laugh out when my very competent student – an HR Manager for Sony Japan – told me he thought I “managed time very well” as that is not how I feel at all this week. Making the hard decisions to set some things aside and admit to myself that I will not make as much progress on my variety of personal projects as I had hoped for during my last two months in Japan. Regardless, I am grateful to have this group reminding me to struggle onwards! AND to enjoy the process I find myself in…now, on to a productive day!

  7. I also tried checking in several times last week without much success. Perhaps its a good thing since last week and this week were both not very productive in terms of writing. Work has gotten a little more intense and so I no longer am able to squeeze in writing time most days. I am going to try this week instead to “officially” schedule ( meaning I put it in my google calendar and set an alert to remind myself) several blocks of writing time. We’ll see if that works better! I did however (despite myself) manage to meet a deadline for one piece of writing, which is always a huge relief! I would love to use the last two weeks to get back to being consistent about my writing even if I can longer manage the everyday commitment.

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