Stephanie Dreyürst, founder and director of the Writing Center at Frankfurt’s Goethe-University, holds a PhD in Early Modern German Literature. She is interested in everything that has to do with (academic) writing, reading and thinking. Her favorite areas of research include personal learning environments, writing intensive courses, Writing Fellows, and Digital Humanities projects. She’s a proud member of the board of the German Skeptics. Below is her account of the #lnap events this year in Germany.
Like every year, I wrote and read a lot during the Long Night Against Procrastination. Only this time I never left home. My bed, to be precise.
Normally, as one of two Directors of the Writing Center at Frankfurt’s Goethe University, I would have been with our peer tutors, supervising the event, watching writers settle into the library’s seats, making sure everybody was fine and happy, drinking the occasional cup of coffee (or three), closing the doors after a really long night, probably around 6:30 in the morning. But not this time.
Both my colleague and I had caught a cold and we just couldn’t be there. A real pity, because it’s such a special night for all of us and we normally have a huge amount of fun with the students and our tutors. But being bed-stricken gave me the opportunity to watch much closer than I normally would have what my colleagues at other Writing Centers were doing and what all the nocturnal writers were saying about their perspective on the Long Night Against Procrastination.
A short digression: The Long Night Against Procrastination was ‘invented’ by a peer tutor at the Writing Center at the Europa University Viadrina, which is located in the ‘other’ Frankfurt (at the Oder), an hour’s drive east from Berlin, Germany’s thriving capital. After a successful start in 2010, others (we among them) took notice and thought: “What a marvelous idea! Let’s try this at our place.” And faster than you could spell “procrastination”, more than 20 Writing Centers in Germany hosted a Long Night, too. Other countries followed (Austria, Poland, the USA, Abu Dhabi) and are still following.
So what was I to do with all this uninterrupted time for reading and writing?
I turned to Twitter, an inexhaustible source for helpful information and connector of different people. And an excellent instrument for writers, as I might add, since limiting yourself to 140 characters forces you to be precise, reader-oriented and focused – important characteristics of writing in general and academic writing in particular, nein? So, Twitter and the hashtag #lndah it was for me.
The German hashtag translates to Long Night Against Postponed Term-Papers or short Long Night Against Procrastination, in English #lnap. At our Writing Center, Twitter is a cherished tool for keeping track not only of ‘our’ students, but also of all the other places which host a Long Night. Colleagues are sending greetings, writers motivate each other, tutors compete about which place has the most students participating etc. It’s a way of telling each other that we’re not alone – and that writing can be hard, but it will be less so when we have at it together.
During the night, I eagerly waited for news of ‘my’ Writing Center, hoping that they would be faring halfway ok, even without their bosses (Whom was I kidding? They mastered it beautifully, of course). And that is when I made the first great discovery of the evening: I saw that one of the biggest universities in Germany (LMU at Munich) had finally founded a Writing Center and they were participating in the Long Night!
If Writing Centers in Germany had a collective Facebook profile, their relationship status with their universities would read “It’s complicated”: Not all institutions of higher education grasp the idea that supporting students (or staff) in learning or teaching academic writing is ‘necessary’. But be it as it may, it turned out that the Director of the newly founded Writing Center was a very active Twitter user as well and I enjoyed our conversations tremendously. But her Writing Center wasn’t the only place that sent out many interesting tweets, others were productive as well.
What I always find so endearing about this way of communicating is that the medium connects writers on a very basic level. Post your goal for the night publicly, and many others will react. Thus, you feel much more compelled to keep your initial promise of finishing three, four, or more pages of your overdue term-paper, your bachelor or master thesis – or even your PhD thesis. The ‘public notice board’ function of Twitter hereby fosters academic writing and rises the accountability of one’s plans, as you can see in Charlotte Frost’s Academic Writing Month movement.
During the Night, our tutors were keeping an eye on the twitter wall at the information desk of the library and were therefore able to react to student’s questions and cries for help:
Student: “She’s already wilting! Where’s the coffee again?”
Tutor: “Can you manage to get her to the third floor? There will be coffee and snacks :-)”
Our tutors do this deliberately, without being ‘forced’ and I suspect that they are rewarded by participating in that friendly written exchange. Not all of them have the time or the inclination, though: Some aren’t familiar with the platform and others are just too busy with the writing consultations. It can be a bit distracting though, when you keep close track of all those interesting conversations, so some join in and drop out after a while.
For me, the live feed was a treasure trove of information: I could see when the other Writing Centers would start ‘their’ Night (most of them much earlier than us), what kind of workshops they were offering (Desk Yoga seems to be the fad right now) and what kinds of and how goals were being set by writers.
Example of a ‘Goal Target’ at Frankfurt (Oder)
I joined a conversation between one of my PhD students and one of my tutors who were talking about a supposedly ‘lost’ thesis and we started coming up with ideas about how we could use Twitter and different user accounts to improve a line of argument.
Another great asset of the platform is the option to post a picture with your tweet because it gives you a much better idea of how people are participating in such an event.
Students showed what equipment they’ve brought…
…or where they were seated:
Writing Center colleagues showed their beautiful libraries:
The library of Frankfurt’s Goethe University, German literature section
Munich’s Lehrturm (Tower of Teaching, on the right), hosting the #lnap 2015
…or the pictures showed the people who work at the Writing Center during the Long Night:
The Writing Center at the Europa University Viadrina at Frankfurt (Oder)
And sometimes, brand new and exciting ideas emerge from these pictures, too:
A mysterious drawing by my colleagues at the ‘other’ Frankfurt
To me, the painting on the blackboard alluded to a productive concept that goes back to Hanspeter Ortner (Ortner 2000: Schreiben und Denken, Tübingen) who analyzed the varying writing methods of creative writers and built ten different categories or “writing strategies”, describing how people shape their writing processes and produce text. In our daily teaching and counseling at Writing Centers in Germany, a shortened version of these writing strategies has been very useful when it comes to describing different approaches to (academic) writing: The Adventurer who just throws him/herself into the writing process, without much or any preparation or planning. The Squirrel who loves to gather different bits of information, hoards them and jumps from piece to piece, getting bored when asked to produce a coherent structure that leads from A to B. The Gold Digger who is looking for the ‘perfect’ text, following a carefully drawn out map, never wavering. And the Decathlete who produces different drafts of his/her text, without the pressure of producing a perfect version straightaway (we produced an animated film of these four writing strategies which you can watch here (in German) and you can take the test in English here).
But maybe I had misinterpreted the masterful (coughcough) drawing, when I asked my colleagues what new type of writing strategy the strange four-legged flamingo slash slug and the fox were representing. My colleague from Munich joined in and proposed the idea that we could use this creative angle and encourage writers to come up with a personal ‘writing totem’ that would express their preferred writing strategy. I am really tempted to follow up on this one, because it’s an appealing idea, isn’t it?
Last but not least, I do not want to withhold this piece of incriminating evidence from you. One of our participants in Frankfurt brought a towel with him, so he could reserve his favorite seat in the library (right).
Truly German. Or maybe a veteran hitch-hiker through the academic galaxy?
Next year, I will do my very best to spend the Long Night with my tutors, students, and colleagues in situ. Talking, keeping an eye on things, and tweeting the Night away.