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Photo of soldiers at boot campAshley Sanders is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @throughthe_veil or on her blog, Colonialism Through the Veil.

Writing can be such an isolating task, whose very isolation may deter us from starting or progressing toward our goals. The other obstacle we often face is a lack of accountability once we leave the classroom for the desert of dissertation writing. Writing boot camps address both challenges by providing a space and time in which to work on writing projects alongside others doing the same and setting a schedule with periodic, brief meetings to report on goals, challenges, and progress.

Your school may already offer boot camps through the writing center, but if they don’t, you can join online versions or create your own writing retreat. Read on for writing resources available online and for tips on organizing your own boot camp.

What is a writing boot camp? For those conducted in person, a boot camp provides a quiet, distraction-free space in which to work on your writing project for a set period of time. There is generally a schedule with breaks, accountability check-ins, and sometimes a speaker or someone to lead some simple stretches and exercise to work out the kinks. The beauty of boot camps is that they are flexible and can be tailored to the needs of the participants. What is common to all of them, though, is a “git ‘er done” attitude and an atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement. We’re all in this together, and it’s nice to know there are others in the trenches with us, especially when the going gets tough.

What are the objectives of a boot camp?

(1) Create space and time in our schedules to make significant progress on our writing goals

(2) Develop goal-setting skills

(3) Increase the writers’ awareness of their own process through writing logs

(4) Share writing resources

(5) Determine sustainable writing habits

(6) Offer both camaraderie and accountability

What resources are already available?

  • PhD Forum(Free)Here you’ll find anAcademic Writing Portal that offers support and goal-setting assistance for week-long intensive writing sessions, as well as aSocial Research Hub, complete with discussion forums on such topics as Methods, Anthropology, Education, and Political Science. PhDForum also has aTwitter andFacebook presence and offers writing tips and support via these social media platforms.
  • Text & Academic Authors Association (TAA): ($15 for student membership) This organization offers webinars,podcasts,articles, access to free (included in your membership cost)writing mentors, and up to a$1000 publication grant. Their goal is to offer resources to improve your writing practice and understand the in’s and out’s of publishing academic work.
  • Virtual Dissertation Writing Boot Camp: With assistance from TAA, I’ve started a series of online weekend boot camps at least once a month for anyone looking for a supportive writing community. You can participate for free or join the Dissertators United TAA chapter I’ve just created for $15 annual membership, which provides access to all of TAA’s resources. These boot camps offer articles and tips to improve your writing habits, collegial support, break reminders, and Skype and Twitter check-ins to stay on track.
  • PhD2Published: Advice for academic writers on writing productivity and submitting your article or book manuscript to journals/publishers. They even offer an app, the PhDometer 2.0 (£2.99) that keeps track of your word count and time and reminds you that it’s all progress. If you’re on Twitter, check out @PhD2Published.
  • AcWriMoA month-long boot camp in November! Also see #acwri on Twitter.

Organize your own!

  • Contact your graduate center, writing center, and department chair to see what resources they might be able to provide, including funding, space, snacks, speakers, and writing consultants.
  • Choose the space in which you hold the boot camp carefully to ensure that there are as few distractions as possible.
  • Advertise! Let everyone know about the boot camp and encourage them to register early.
  • Provide goal-setting resources ahead of time and guidance at the start of the boot camp so participants can make the most of their time.
  • Schedule breaks and check-ins for writers to report how they’re doing and reflect on whether the goals they set were reasonable or need to be revised.
  • Organizing a boot camp need not prevent you from participating! I wholeheartedly join in the frenetic writing of the boot camps I run and have found it to be enormously helpful in encouraging me to practice what I preach both during and between the boot camps.

Whether you choose to join or organize a boot camp for writing support, sociability, or to move your project forward quickly, this format can be a powerful motivator and catalyst in developing positive writing habits.

Have you participated in or hosted your own writing boot camp? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below!

[Image by Flickr user MCRD Parris Island, SC used under creative commons licensing.]