Teaching “Healthy Writing Habits” at McGill


Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man — photo by Luc Viator

When McGill’s writing centre asked me to propose a new workshop for current PhD students, I took a look at the subjects usually covered. The classic topics were all there: outlining, reverse-outlining, conference abstracts, etc. These are the same useful yet purely intellectual workshops that I took during grad school at the University of Toronto. A few aspects of human life were missing: the physical, the psychological, the social.

So, I suggested a new workshop titled “Healthy Writing Habits: physical and Social Exercises for Scholars.” It would focus on remaining physically and psychologically healthy while writing professionally. It would contain the lessons that were the most difficult for me to learn as the demands of my PhD forced me to become a marathon writer. To my surprise the writing centre liked the idea. (I thought the pitch was going to be rejected for being too “soft” or “holistic” or something).

As a result, I had the opportunity this morning to share some of the tips and tricks that I learned for forming healthy writing habits. A group of about fifteen PhD students were in the room. It was a surprisingly emotional experience for me to watch these writers, who I know are suffering as they tackle huge projects, nod in recognition when I spoke honestly about the solitude, physical pain and psychological obstacles that I experienced during my PhD. It was gratifying to see them learn stretches, trade emails for arranging “writing sprints,” and actually clap at the end of the workshop. If even a few of them benefit from some of the strategies that helped me write and defend my dissertation, then leading this workshop was well worth it.

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