Revisiting a Summer Writing Challenge

ProfHacker 2018-08-02

A couple years ago, my colleague Emily Johnson wrote a post about an experimental “gamified” writing challenge she designed for our Games Research Group. We’ve run variants on this challenge in the group from time to time, but summer seems to be the most productive. This year, we’re incorporating a few social elements designed to help push back against the isolation of summer writing. Many of our group members aren’t actually on campus during the summer, and those faculty not involved in administration or summer teaching frequently make summer an intense time of research — which can mean a lot of days spent alone at a computer.

To resist some of the fatigue, we created a Slack channel for our group’s summer writing challenge, running for the month of June as a way to inspire writing tracking and perhaps some friendly competition with oneself or others in the group. If you haven’t used Slack, it’s essentially a team chatroom that many of us at ProfHacker  use for collaboration and community discussions. Participants track daily writing in a simple google spreadsheet set up with individual sheets for tracking: I’ve built a simple model of this on Google Sheets, which works well for collaborations of this kind.

A lot of the fun social elements begin when the spreadsheet is hooked up to Slack: one of our group members, Rudy McDaniel, built two bots for enhancing the Slack side of the writing challenge. The code for these bots is up on GitHub if you want to try them out for yourself:

  • Wrigley -  Our link between the Google Sheet and Slack, Wrigley tracks events in the spreadsheet and posts them as an update to Slack when they happen. This makes progress updates simple, and puts them in the group chat in the context of whatever bot-and-human conversations are already ongoing.

  • Taunt Engine – Rudy’s Taunt Engine is a Slackbot with a crowdsourced collection of taunts used by the more competitively-minded members of the group for automated taunting. The same format could of course be used for encouraging remarks or general writing commentary (which is currently the role of our main Slackbot.)

If you’re feeling isolated on your summer projects, making writing into this type of communal practice can be a small way to change the mood. I personally benefit from the increased sense of accountability: while I’m already in the habit of daily writing to some extent, I find it more difficult to sustain productivity when I’m away from urgent deadlines. There’s a lot of contradictory advice on getting into a good writing flow out there, and we’ve discussed the topic at length here at ProfHacker, but if you find daily activity helpful building a community is one of the best strategies I know. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the number of days I spend writing during the challenge.

Do you have a collaborative summer writing habit or strategy? Share it in the comments!

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