Many students are creatively gifted: they have a way with words, with rhythm, with imagined and personal examples, with narratives and storytelling. Many of those very same students, when pursuing PhDs and postdocs later on, end up doing remarkably little with their creative abilities. Many of those become academics who write as clearly, but also as boringly, as they possibly can.
At the same time, writing for non-specialist audiences and having experience in writing blogs and op-eds are skills that are increasingly valued on the job market. Also, having experience in non-academic writing helps with writing successful research proposals, and also one’s academic writing as a whole is typically much improved. Those are instrumental reasons to get more creative in one’s academic writing.
More importantly, writing for larger non-specialist audiences also allows one to engage in (actual) conversation, to dare to think out loud, to try out new ideas before having to spend a year getting to the bottom of some debate. Most important of all: writing in more creative ways brings a type of fulfilment that REF2 will never bring, and is simply a lot of fun and can play a fundamental role in one’s overall academic well-being.
In this course, participants will specifically be trained in creative academic writing. The ‘creative’ component has two sides: first, participants are encouraged to get creative in terms of writing for non-academics, which includes leaving one’s comfort zone with respect to what one writes about and striking the right balance between exploring a landscape beyond one's area of specialisation whilst staying true to one's expertise. Second, participants will learn to engage in actual creative writing, including fiction-writing exercises, and will learn how to incorporate those strategies into their academic work.
This course is deliberately heavy on the practice and light on the theory. The course will include short lectures in which participants get information and concrete advice about the “do’s and don’ts” of creative academic writing and engaging with non-specialist audiences, as well as how to work towards publishable popular articles and where and how to submit. The main obstacles to mastering the skill of creative academic writing however typically involve: finding the time, setting priorities, finding one's own creative academic voice and dealing with creative inconfidence. The weight of this course is thus on getting one’s hands dirty, which will be done both in terms of home assignments as well as working on the spot during sessions. Participants will receive detailed and constructive feedback on the go, both from peers as well as the lecturer.
The course is as much about training the relevant skills as well as learning to make the required time and finding ways to protect and integrate creative academic writing in one’s (future) career. As such, this course has the secondary aim of helping participants revitalize some of the fun in their academic work.
During the course, participants will work on one piece throughout, which can be (1) an op-ed or a blog, (2) a creatively revamped fragment of specialised writing (such as a chapter/paper opening) or (3) a freestyle assignment (in consultation with lecturer). Depending on the chosen set-up of the course (see below), participants will, on completion of this course, either have made (1) a good start for a piece to finish on their own, post-course, (2) a solid first version, (3) a finished 2.0 product with an eye on submitting.
Course overview and set-up
This course can take place offline (at location in Utrecht, the Netherlands) or online. For the online version, each session takes two hours including a short break. Course time and dates in consultation with lecturer.
The standard set-up for this course is 5 sessions (covering option (2) above) and the minimal set-up (covering option (1) above) minimally includes the first three sessions. The third option includes an extra session focussed on rewriting after detailed feedback on the 1.0 version.
Session 1: Getting started
Choosing a topic that both resonates with a non-specialist audience and that one actually cares about is half of the work, but it’s hard work. This session will be devoted to learning how to choose a good topic, what constitutes a good topic, how to narrow it down and choosing a title that is both accurate and triggers potential readers.
Session 2: Starting with a bang
Clickbaits or not, the first sentences of any creative academic piece are key. We will consider concrete examples that work and don’t work. Participants will learn to work with a successful ‘opening template’ and will write two different openings of their piece-to-be and will be coached in the process of friendly and constructive peer feedback.
Session 3: The beef
How do you get from the concrete to the general or the universal? How do you zoom back out once you’re zoomed in, and vice versa? This session incorporates narrative and creative writing methods in order to tackle the big challenge of how to keep the reader’s attention and say what you want to say—even if your message is complex and theoretical in nature.
Session 4: Writing outside the box
In this session, participants will learn to freestyle and deviate from standard strategies and templates by engaging in creative fiction-writing, coached by an experienced fiction writer joining as a guest lecturer for this session.
Session 5: Closing words
In this session we will consider different strategies for ending a creative academic piece successfully. We will consider, for instance, ‘round’ endings, ‘hanging’ endings and ‘cold’ endings (after A.L. Snijders' "koude verbindingen") and their respective strengths and weaknesses. Participants will write two different endings to their piece.
Session 6: Rewriting
How do you get from a solid first version to a polished and submittable piece? On the basis of detailed feedback by the lecturer on the 1.0 version, participants will learn how to rewrite their piece. This process importantly also includes helping participants how not to get bogged down and how to deal with ‘reviser’s block’. An important aspect of mastering the skill of creative academic writing is also learning how to deal with obstacles (including lack of time and different priorities) and how to better integrate and make room for creativity in one’s workweek in the future.
I have a solid background in writing for non-specialized audience and creative academic writing. Over the years I have given numerous training sessions and masterclasses in philosophy blogging and science communication, among others at the University of Antwerp, the Technical University of Eindhoven, Utrecht University as well as sessions for the Honours Academy and Research Master in Philosophy of my own university – aside from the standardly implemented blog assignments in my own courses. I have co-authored a popular philosophy book which was mandatory for high school students taking philosophy, and I am the co-founder of the now well-known Dutch philosophy blog Bij Nader Inzien (On Second Thought), for which I was its longtime editor-in-chief. I write pieces for main Dutch newspapers (NRC, Volkskrant, Trouw) with regular intervals and write monthly reviews of popular philosophy books for the newspaper Trouw. Occasionally, I engage in public philosophy on the radio or on TV. Since the pandemic, I have started to take fiction- and poetry writing seriously and am currently working on a novel, which I should not have mentioned in order not to jinx the process.
Costs & tailored options
The full online version course of 6 sessions is €600 per participant on the basis of 8 participants, which is also the maximum for this course as small groups are key. For a 3-session version of the course, the costs are €400 per participant (or €140 per session p/p).
The ideal group size is 6 (€800 for 6 sessions p/p, otherwise €170 per session p/p). The minimal group size is 4.
Single, separate masterclasses can also be booked. This masterclass will have a different aim and content than above. Please contact me for more information or to discuss other tailored options.