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First CFHA Writing Workshop A Success

Posted By Colleen Fogarty, Friday, October 17, 2014

This is the first of several blog posts being written live at the 2014 CFHA Conference. Check back for more!

A group of early career professionals gathered at the session “From Dissertation to Dissemination: An interactive Writing Workshop” organized and led by Lauren DeCaporale-Ryan and Laura Sudano.

After introductions in small groups, and shared reflections on the questions, “why do I write?” and “What do I write?” a panel of speakers addressed key questions of importance to writers and aspiring writers.

Matt Martin reflects on his journey as a blogger, and gives advice from one of his early faculty mentors: “Find a story and tell it.” This advice applies to BOTH creative and scholarly works!

Randall Reitz takes the podium, and says he’ll talk about collaboration in writing using the names of three people who each need only one name: Mandela, Obama, and Beyonce. Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, and Barack Obama, current POTUS, both value leadership from behind. They both use strategies of collaboration in their leadership, focusing on consensus building to get a job done. So should writing, says Reitz. He proposes the following strategies for developing writing collaborations: Find a story and tell it! 


1. Symbiosis starts at home. Look locally for mentors and collaborators. Who inspires you?

2. Outreach intentionally—Answer the question, “who out there is doing what I want to do?” Develop personal connections and shared contact. Episodic email is a great way to go!

3. Show loyalty to your own peeps! (not the Easter candy….) Advance your careers together with people within your training cohort; you have with them a sense of timeline and shared experience.

4. Pursue non-traditional publications—Randall presents us with a screen shot of a current Google search of images associated with “medical family therapy” and finds luminaries: Susan McDaniel, Jennifer Hodgson and newer/younger folks including Laura Sudano. All of these people have a strong online presence, based on their work, and some of the work is online blogging.

Where does Beyonce fit in? Beyonce, in Randall’s estimation, is the ultimate musical collaborator, and she stays true to her roots and extends her growing beyond it.

Next up, Larry Mauksch and I, facilitating a discussion about barriers to writing. Participants throw out the following examples of barriers:

• Not enough time

• Competing demands on time

• Fear of rejection, or not being good enough.

• Fear of feeling stupid, or worse, actually being stupid!

• Pressure to produce, perfectionism.

• Personal barriers, including, but not limited to, a lack of focus and getting stuck.

"The reason I write is to find out what I think" The major factors break down into psychological factors and time factors. To overcome the psychological barriers, one idea is to use Anne Lamott’s idea of a “shitty first draft.” The only role here is that it get done, then we revise! Larry points out that learning to write well is much like the learning required in any other activity, and requires coaching. I point out that we all need to develop a new relationship with “red ink;” We need to cultivate an open stance towards feedback and not personalize it into something being “wrong” with us as people. 


Next up, Susan McDaniel on writing productivity. She says, “The reason I write is to find out what I think… It’s hard to figure out what one thinks about something. If the writing isn’t clear, the thinking isn’t clear.”

She notes the importance of early mentoring in developing oneself as writer. Lyman Wynne a psychiatrist/psychologist, an exceptionally clear writer, served as an early mentor for Susan. They collaborated on a book about Systems Consultation, shortly before word processing became available. They revised each chapter at LEAST thirty times, each revision requiring hand re-typing of every page.

Susan recommends identifying local mentors and asking for feedback about your writing. She counsels, “When engaging potential collaborators, be careful. It’s like moving in together!... Choose your writing partners carefully!” She especially suggests choosing co-authors who will do their share of the work. When you find good collaborators, notice the dynamics and look for honest feedback to make your work better!

When thinking about why to write, she counsels colleagues that the opportunity to influence people is far greater with writing than with direct teaching; your work can reach across geographic boundaries and develop distant collaborations. Your writing can cultivate a rich opportunity for intellectual exchange!

She notes that it’s crucial to commit the time to writing and to learn to prioritize and protect the important time for writing! Everyone has the demands of clinical work, trainee precepting, managing interruptions and writers need to learn how to manage this. Don’t schedule anything else during this writing time! Put a do not disturb sign on your door, turn off e-mail. Even if you commit 2 hours per week to your writing, after a year, you will have something! Learn to prioritize and protect the important time for writing! 


When you are sitting with a manuscript, thinking, “spare me, I can’t stand this anymore!” Keep at it; the rewards are there though certainly DELAYED! Pay attention to the important, not only the urgent!

Participants began the small group work of a mini-writing seminar. Each group had 2 or 3 participants who had sent in writing ahead for the group to review and critique. Hats off to these folks who showed the courage to share and the faith in the events’ organizers, to make good use of the time and receive feedback on their work.

During the large group debriefing at the end of the session, participants reflected about their experiences in the writing seminars, as both reviewers and authors.

I am looking forward to the red ink On reviewer commented that she could use the feedback that the authors received in her own work. An author noted that she felt the comments drove home Susan McDaniel’s ideas about clarity, saying, “where my reviewers were confused, those were the same spots that I was confused when I wrote it.” Another author reflected that she found that coming together in a group to review helped her get “unstuck” and helped to get her thinking back on track. A third author commented that “Looking forward to the red ink” is something she’s been developing, saying, “The more I do this the better it gets!” 


In closing, groups were tasked to write down a writing goal for the upcoming year and then share the goals within the small group. Goals in my small group included working on a memoir for an hour each week, submitting poetry to a journal, scheduling writing for two hours per week, removing patient appointments during pre-scheduled writing time, and committing to dusting off manuscripts that have languished and prepare them for submission or re-submission.

DeCaporale and Sudano knocked this one out of the park: They included expert tips, facilitated large group discussion, experiential writing/reviewing in a small group setting, and personal/professional reflection and goal-setting. I hope the participants of the session gained as much as I did from participating!

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