As well as coordinating the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme for the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford, I design and run freestanding events and courses on various topics at the intersection of academic life, academic writing, and welfare and mental health.
Here are a few outlines to give you a sense of what I offer. All can be run online via Zoom. I am most experienced in working with graduate students and early-career academics, but everything I offer applies equally to undergraduates and more senior researchers—indeed to anyone for whom writing is an important part of professional life.
I also offer academic coaching to a small number of clients; please get in touch if you’re interested.
Writing bootcamps and other writing events
On any scale from a 3-hour writing breakfast to a week-long bootcamp, I have extensive experience in creating protected conditions for real writing and thinking to happen and for working habits to be lastingly enhanced. The events centre on timed writing sessions top-and-tailed with planning and review, interspersed with breathing exercises, physical stretches, and brief outdoor breaks. The idea is not to encourage participants to get as much writing done as possible; the point is to help instil working habits that are truly effective, efficient, and goal-directed. This requires an intensive departure from normal routines, for which absence of phones, strictly controlled connectivity of other kinds, and strictly enforced punctuality are crucial. Nonetheless, the aim is that these forms of strictness result in more enjoyable experiences which thus become self-sustaining: habits never really change without a hedonic payoff that makes the new version feel better than the old.
For in-person events, an unfamiliar venue (to heighten the defamiliarisation) and full catering (to free people from other decision-making) are helpful. For online formats, participants are asked to commit to minimising distractions as far as is feasible.
Beyond the core writing sessions, optional elements include:
- reflective, exploratory, and practical writing- and planning-related activities
- guidance on the principles of good writing and of successful habit change
- more extensive tuition on mindfulness, body awareness, posture, and stretching
- admin sessions in which time is carved out for all the little things that otherwise don’t get done or interfere with longer-term writing projects
- computer hygiene sessions to guide participants in cleaning up their virtual work environment
- work-sharing sessions for participants to present their work in progress, in a range of formats depending on purpose (from how to give a good presentation to overcoming obstacles in thinking or writing)
- career-focused sessions to encourage clear and imaginative thought and planning about next steps
- structured follow-up to support learning and goal-setting for lasting habit change.
As bootcamp drill sergeant, I use the writing sessions to get writing done alongside the participants, but at the same time I remain attentive to the dynamics in the room, and make periodic checks of people’s screen activity. This combination allows me to model the value of the approach and create a feeling of solidarity while ensuring participants are guided in strict – and therefore liberating – adherence to the rules of bootcamp.
These events are often not easy for participants to adjust to, and I make clear that I am always available to step outside for a chat if following the rules is proving difficult or their relevance is seeming unclear. I can provide a fuller outline of the philosophy underpinning these events on request.
COVID-19 is an opportunity as well as a crisis. Your writing practice may have had room for improvement before self-isolation and remote working became the norm; now, it’s likely that any weak points in your personal working systems will be more evident than ever. This 2-week course is designed to help you understand and test out the power of small changes to daily routines in shaping the structures of your professional and personal life, with a focus on your academic writing practice.
Week 1 involves three Zoom meetings (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), offering elements including:
- the foundations of good writing
- your real versus ideal working day, how to plan your day
- your reasons for writing (intrinsic and extrinsic)
- effective habit change for academic writing, and how to set up a behavioural experiment
- group and breakout exercises to prepare you mentally and physically for writing
- timed distraction-free writing sessions with the group, each with planning and review
- screen-free breaks
- troubleshooting Q&A
Week 2 starts with a final Zoom meeting, offering a last shared writing session plus an introduction to writing technique focused on any one of the following topics:
- generating and developing good research questions
- transitioning from reading to writing
- structuring/organizing your article/book
- generating first drafts
- revising and editing
- cutting words
- enhancing your writing style
- optimizing (inter)disciplinary framing
- managing coauthoring
- dealing with feedback on your writing
The rest of Week 2 offers each participant a 30-minute 1-1 consultation plus email summary on anything and everything writing- and habit-related, as well as follow-up emails to keep you on track, and contact with your assigned event partner(s), all designed to help you incorporate Week 1’s learning into your everyday life, and keep writing central in your week.
The course package includes templates and resources, tailored prompts from the facilitator, and supported contact with your peers to help you experiment with changes to your writing and broader working habits in the times between group sessions. Participants will be encouraged to cultivate the habit of regular reflection on learning and progress, and to maximise the payoffs for performance and wellbeing.
Zooming out on your writing practice: What, why, how?
This two-part event, on two mornings a week apart, offers a chance to rethink your writing (academic and other) from the ground up.
In Week 1, we start with the “what”, by mapping out your existing commitments, testing out criteria for making future decisions about how to design future writing projects and whether to take them on or not, and practising breaking projects down into tasks: the things that collectively will result in you completing the projects you’re committed to.
Then we take a step back to the “why”, asking what this writing you’re doing is actually for. We use the distinction between extrinsic motivators (doing something to achieve a certain outcome) and intrinsic motivators (doing something because you value the process). We include investigation of two extrinsic motivators: 1) what these pieces of writing are intended to achieve in themselves (as pieces of writing with which readers engage), and 2) what they are intended to achieve as professional and pragmatic milestones, i.e. processes and/or outputs that may achieve certain desirable, or undesirable, effects on your career or the wider world. We also consider what intrinsic rewards writing as activity has for you, and how (and whether) to maximise them.
This exploration is followed by time for planned writing, as a chance to reflect, in action, on the questions we’ve raised. For the rest of the week you’re paired with an event partner to continue active reflection around your writing and the role it plays in your life.
We begin Week 2 with a recap of what you learnt in the first week, followed by a deep dive into effective habit cultivation strategies to support meaningful writing practice aligned with whatever dimensions of value you have identified as primary. The rest of the second week is then your opportunity to test out the new habit change strategies you’ve created for yourself, again with mutual support from your event partner.
This writing sprint is designed to help you bring a writing project to completion. The idea is that for one working week, all the time you have available for writing is devoted to the single project you intend to finish. Finishing by the end of the week will also require you to practise fitting the remainder of the project into the time available, rather than pushing back the end date to accommodate your shifting definitions of the project.
The project you bring to finish can be anything you want, and you get to define finished, but it must involve sharing your completed piece with someone specific (e.g. a chapter draft to your supervisor, an article draft to a colleague, a book review or job application submitted) by the end of our final session (typically 5 pm on Friday).
With a focus on addressing guilt, panic, and overwhelm and replacing them with more writing-conducive feelings, we start by identifying psychological and practical obstacles to completion and how they can be overcome. Then we specify the remaining work to do on a project, work on splitting up tasks into small manageable chunks, and get used to the feeling of setting achievable goals and meeting them. A detailed shared spreadsheet template is provided for you to track your progress and generate data on the completion process to feed into future planning.
We meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to create and sustain your momentum for the week, and you’re assigned a sprint partner to generate extra support beyond our meetings.
Summer planning bootcamp
This two-week writing bootcamp offers the opportunity to learn and put into action a four-layer life design system: making a weekly plan that honours your intentions for the summer, making daily plans in line with your week’s goals, and setting session goals aligned with your plan for the day. It’s assumed that academic writing will be somewhere in the mix, but the system also works for any other personal or professional goals you may have.
Week 1 consists of two half-day meetings, one at the start and one at the end of the week. These will help you understand each session, each day, and the whole week, as part of the wider context of your summer. Building on the summer plan you will have prepared in advance, Monday morning starts with planning for the week and the day, followed by two writing sessions and one admin session (each including planning and review and separated by physical movement and screen breaks) to start to put your tiered planning into action. From Tuesday to Friday you practise making daily plans based on your plan for the week, and on Friday afternoon we return to write together, review the week’s achievements, make a plan for the following week (referring back to your summer plan), and discuss problems and solutions.
Week 2 is lighter-touch: we meet briefly on the Monday morning to plan for the day and prepare for a writing session, before logging off and completing our sessions independently. Then on Friday we meet to review the week and the fortnight, and plan for the week ahead, again linking everything back to your summer plans.
To help you keep your activities aligned with what you’ve decided to do, you’ll be paired with another participant and decide on Day 1 what kind of contact you’d like to have during this week and the following one: anything from shared writing/work sessions to a shared spreadsheet or reminder emails.
Course materials include guidance on multilevel planning and ready-to-use templates. Individual consultations and/or themed instruction on writing or habit change can also be added as desired.
How to work (and live) well
Working habits tend to accrete in haphazard ways, many of which serve neither us or our work very well. This session invites you to turn a critical eye on your own routines and introduces you to ways of optimising them. Optional elements include:
- reflecting on the multiple roles your life involves and how these give rise to goals that matter to you
- imagining your ideal working day, and devising strategies for bringing the reality closer to it
- reviewing a pre-completed daily activity tracking template for personalised insights into what your reality currently is
- joining the dots between daily and weekly levels of tasks and projects, your goals and roles for your current degree or position and beyond
- exploring the distinction between urgency and importance and what that means for how you spend your time
- investigating how long basic tasks (everyday and academic) actually take, and strategies for getting better at predicting and planning
- inquiring into feelings of academic failure and how to overcome them
- practising simple physical stretches to remind you that your brain is part of your body
- detailed planning and email follow-up to help the learning crystallise into real change.
Is your web presence working for you?
This workshop deals with the global strategy and practical details of enhancing your online presence. Topics that can be covered include:
- an overview of the major forms of online content (websites, webpages, profiles, blogs, podcasts — plus a little on social media)
- case studies of real academic and alt/post-ac websites, including insights from their creators on site design and the roles the site plays in their professional/personal life
- the challenges and opportunities involves in balancing an academic with a non-academic online profile, or creating a hybrid
- what happens when you Google yourself, and how to change it
- the importance of generating valuable content, and the practicalities of monetising it
- the necessity of patience when it comes to building up an online audience
- the benefits of keeping things simple on the tech side
- the potential for crafting and maintaining a tailored web presence to help clarify for yourself what you’re doing and why.
The emphasis is on professional pathways that open out from academia to alt-ac, portfolio, and other careers involving freelance elements, but the material may also be useful for other academic and post-academic routes.
Overcoming a sense of academic failure
This is the most context-dependent of the options I offer. It can be framed as large half-day event involving small-group work connecting established academics with students and early-career researchers, as an intimate workshop for a close-knit cohort, or anything in between.
Topics that may be addressed include:
- why failure matters (in academia)
- the differences between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ failure
- the feeling of failure, and what to do with it
- putting failure in perspective
- impostor syndrome, anxiety, and perfectionism
- failure, you, and other people
- shared and individual actions to make a difference
- how you’ll know when you’ve succeeded in making a difference!
Activities may also include supportive simulations in which participants can share their own experiences, and case studies of common elicitors of feelings of failure to help uncover shared themes in responses to setbacks.
The session draws on a podcast series and workbook I created after the first academic failure event I ran (find out more here), including honest testimony from academics at all career stages.
Unsolicited feedback from bootcamp participants
I benefited enormously from this experience. I feel like I’m slowly starting to regain my confidence in my own ability to work, and this camp and my writing partner meetings have had a lot to do with that. Thanks for putting together such a thoughtful program. I’m not terrified of my writing goals this term, for once!
The boot camp had many benefits small and larger. Many thanks for the reminder about setting a principle to follow this term. The structuring and goal setting provided both a window into my overestimation of what was achievable and the opportunity for reflection to adjust and learn. Good stuff!
Now that I’ve discovered the writing groups, I feel much better about writing in general – bootcamp changed my perspective on writing quite a lot! Thanks for running it!
I found Emily’s session over the past two Mondays very helpful. In fact, it has helped me to restructure my working day so that I can be more productive! Her approach to studying is far more holistic than I have ever experienced before, with far more of a focus on you as a person and your motives, rather than just as a robot trying to meet a deadline! The sessions have been a big help for me in understanding my motivations and writing habits. I am hoping to continue some form of informal writing accountability with those I met over the past few weeks. (Nathan Dunn)
And comments from a first-time participant in a writing breakfast
I attended one of Emily’s Writing Breakfasts with a view to breaking a deadlock in my writing process––in this instance, the difficulty of moving from short-form, quick-reward pieces (articles, chapters) to a long-form, deferred-reward piece (a monograph). While I expected to gain value from the experience––and I did––the value very much exceeded these expectations. Re-learning what it means to write in a space that is expressly designed for it made clear to me that I had not alone been (unwittingly) sabotaging my writing, but also wasting the time that I had set aside for it by using it unproductively. A second unexpected insight came from learning that writing can be a communal process. Accustomed to pursuing writing as a solitary activity, writing in a structured way with others made evident to me how much more productive it is possible to be when participating in a collective enterprise. I have secured a writing partner from the workshop, and hope to work with them in the future to our mutual benefit. Finally, I must record that Emily’s physical exercise routines brought about a very welcome intrusion of blue skies and green grass into the stark black and white of the empty page!
See the Oxford Writing Partnerships Programme website for more participant feedback, as well as further information on my philosophy and detailed evidence for the efficacy of what I do.
Please get in touch with me via the contact form if you’re interested in running a course or workshop based on any of these formats, or would like to talk through an idea for a different kind of event, in a university context or otherwise. I’d love to hear from you.