Creative Writing for Academics workshop

Volha and I have just returned from a workshop led by Kip Jones of Bournemouth University entitled ‘Creative writing for academics’. It was a two day workshop, and to be honest, I was not really sure what to expect. We had been asked to take an article we had written that included interview data, and to note down any dreams we had. I think on reflection the overarching idea of the workshop was to get us thinking and writing in different and perhaps unexpected ways.

The first task was to write our life story on a postcard in 15 minutes. We then had to read these out to the group and they served as a form of introduction. It was certainly different from the usual tell everyone your name, what you do and where you’re from sort of thing, although admittedly it took a couple of hours to introduce ourselves. I think what struck me most about this exercise was the honesty and vulnerability (considering we were a group of complete strangers) with which people wrote their life stories. A couple of people were in tears while reading theirs. It was certainly the most unusual introductory session I have ever been involved in.

We then moved on to writing tag lines (a bit like a slogan e.g. ‘Nike – just do it’ sort of thing) and log lines (25 word max. publicity synopsis) of our articles. This was followed by a 500 word summary in an online magazine style. Personally, I found these the most useful exercises of the weekend.The second day was spent (about equally) between writing stories based on a photo we were given, and socialising and eating at the local Italian!

Our homework for the second day was to write a poem based on one of our dreams. Volha shared hers with the group and she’s given me permission to reproduce it here as it is a very PhD-centred dream. She even has a photo of the robot that inspired the dream, a robot she had to share a room with one night.



“Who are you?” I asked the thing

Made of plastic and some tin
Standing straight with arms and legs
Cables running at his chest
“I am you,” he said to me.
“You are doing PhD
Uni knows that is a hell
Driving crazy lots of pals
Friends are gone
And money’s gone
No one wants another run
On the thing that only you
Find eighty thousands words too few
To discuss in full detail
So to keep you entertained
You’ve been scanned
And I’ve been made
To become your greatest mate
I can see you’ve had enough
Working on the ninth draft
Of your literature review
So I think it’s time for you
To allow yourself some rest
So why don’t we play some chess”



  • Mariam Attia

    Thank you Susan for a great account, and to you Volha for an expressive poem. I think we need more of these workshops that help us connect to ourselves as whole-person researchers.

  • Volha Arkhipenka

    Thank you, Susan, for this reflection. I would say this is a very accurate account of the event. Just a few words about what surprised me the most. On the very first day when we were asked to tell about ourselves on the postcards, everybody – mostly white, mostly British, I would guess mostly middle class – wrote stories. But there was one woman from Jamaica and she wrote a series of snapshots instead. This reminded me of Strawson (2004) who questioned whether indeed narrative was the primary vehicle that all people use for making meaning of experience. It just felt to me that this incident unexpectedly provided some empirical support for Strawson’s (2004) claims and it led me to all sorts of thinking about my research, which, as you all know, I do using narrative inquiry. Here is the reference: Strawson, G., 2004. Against narrative. Ratio, 17(4).

    • Susan Dawson

      That is an interesting observation Volha, especially as were asked to write our ‘life stories’ and were given several examples to look at first. She did her own thing. Could it also be that the majority of us are conformists and obedient – we did what we’d been asked to do! I wonder if Kip had said ‘write about your life on a postcard’ with no mention of story and no ‘models’ what would have happened?

  • Lada Smirnova

    Thanks, Susan, thinking if I had been there, whether I would have been in tears reading mine…sure everyone would have been laughing ;-))) Volha – you’re a true poet…Good luck with your writing up, girls!

    • Susan Dawson

      I didn’t read mine out Lada. It was more about the visual effect – how the words were laid out on the paper than the content! It was a very random dream, so random words seemed the best approach!

  • Zhuomin Huang

    It seems to be a very interesting workshop. Thank you for sharing, Susan. The Robot-PhD poem created by Volha, and reproduced by you is fascinating!