Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Showing Your Work

Since Aim

é

e's post last week I've had conferencing on my mind. Well, her post and the fact that it is conference season. I gave a paper this past Friday at the NSCAD Cineflux Symposium, and this coming Friday I'll be heading off to Fredericton, NB to attend Congress.

I don't have any children, so I must admit that the important issues Aimée discussed aren't issues I've had to deal with or consider. Conference time is my time plain and simple. OK, maybe not plain and simple.

I've been thinking about conference papers--and more generally of conferences--as sites for either positive collaborative thinking or (less positively) another notch in the old CV. Of course others have written about the good, the bad, and the boring conference already.

Lately, I've been thinking about sharing ideas. Here's what I mean: the panel I was on at the Cineflux conference was made up of a new group of collaborators. My colleagues have recently been successful in the competition for a SSHRC Research Creation Grant and I am a collaborator (eeek!) We are a film maker, a sculptor/installation artist, an urban anthropologist, an independent artist, a technology specialist and digital artist, a design specialist, and me. This is our project. When we got together this weekend the aim and intent was to share ideas, to inspire and inform one another, and to begin to think about how out work in different disciplines could productively cross-pollenate to create new ways of experiencing urban space.

I realized that everyone else on the team has been used to working collaboratively save for me. Now if you look at my CV you'll notice that I go out of my way to think, practice, and write about collaboration in the Humanities. ...But as we well know co-authorship and other collaborative work isn't yet valued in the same ways in all disciplines. There are some good reasons--and less good reasons--for that but what I'm really interested in is the way in which I'm only just getting used to sharing my BIG (read: research) ideas with other people. Before they've germinated.

I did not have the kind of MA of PhD experience in which I would show my supervisors conference papers before I gave them. Sure, we worked on my thesis and dissertation together, but any work I did on the side was my own. I wonder why? I certainly could have showed it to either of those women, they would have read, responded, offered useful commentary. It never occurred to me though. I have been under the unconscious impression for such a long time now that I shouldn't show my works in progress until they are more or less polished. That's hurt me, I think. Perhaps I was influenced by the endemic fear that circulates amongst many graduate students of having my ideas stolen. Granted, there are certainly cases where that happens but I'm coming to believe that giving my ideas public breathing space is the best way to make them mine, and make them better.

In the last year or so I have been trading drafts with colleagues. I'll admit, I find it is still TERRIFYING. I often catch myself thinking some version of the fraud narrative: will I be revealed as a novice/idiot/charlatan now? (note that I clearly have blocked the fact that many writers, especially creative writers, show their work all the time in workshops and with editors. Hmm, good model, no?) In reality though the result has been that my work is stronger, more fully articulated, and sounder for this sharing.

What about you? Do you share your work with colleagues/writing groups/an editor before it is fully finished?

4 comments:

  1. I wish I could share more, actually! I LOVE getting the feedback. I got over the hump of being nervous about it all the time, because the feedback was just so good. Want a draft of something? I'll send it to you today! Really! I'm actually sorta desperate for new people to share writing with ... Really.

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  2. I've always worked in programs/environments where people don't really "get" what I'm doing. My "collaboration" comes from sharing my research and work at conferences and gaining valuable feedback that way. My supervisor, who was fantastic, let me work on my own and gave me feedback as necessary, but usually let me figure things out on my own (which was fabulous for other reasons). I would love to be a part of a writing group.

    I think that's why I've started blogging about my research/writing/work so that I can get some of that feedback. Or at least try.

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  3. Aimee! I would LOVE to exchange work. Let me also say in public that I have been writing daily (mostly crap, some good stuff) after having joined the Academic Ladder. You're right, seems hokey but the peer pressure/positive reinforcement really is working for me. Thank you.

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  4. Near the end of my Ph.D., about six of us—all of us at the dissertation writing stage—formed a peer workshop group. We met once a month at a set time, for one hour, then went out for coffee or a drink afterwards. We met in a seminar room at our university to make it more official, and the space did somehow keep us on task. It was a wonderful experience, the best, and so different from the sort of workshopping that we experience in grad classes or that we require of our students. There was something about the fact that it was self-initiated that made it work. Also, dissertation writing can be lonesome work and this brought us out of our shells and kept us on track. We were all in different areas of expertise, which made it, I think, less competitive, just really productive.

    Each month, we would discuss two people’s chapters, or parts of chapters—whatever we had. We’d give written and oral suggestions and we’d discuss the work. It was a tad nerve-wracking but also liberating. It was a space for us to talk seriously about our work without our supervisor or committee members present. I have great memories of that time. We all wanted to finish our degrees so much: it was sort of our collective goal and it brought us together. As we finished our Ph.D.s and dispersed to various parts of the country, some of us talked about keeping the group going electronically. But we got busy and it didn’t happen.

    I think a fairly formalized online writing and feedback group with a handful of academics would be pretty great.

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