It was in 2010 when a student in our writing center complained about her procrastination habits: “For me, you should open at night, because this is when I eventually get started and would need a writing center”. This student’s comment came up at our next team meeting, and suddenly an idea took shape: “A Long Night against Procrastination”. “Long Nights” are very popular in Germany. We have “Long Nights of Museums”, “Long Nights of Science” or “Long Nights of Sports”, all designed to attract attention through offering events at unusual times.
Obviously this idea works, because shortly after we announced our Long Night, the writing center’s phone began to ring and wouldn’t stop until our event started. All of the important German newspapers suddenly wanted to report about our writing center and its Long Night. A TV team occupied our rooms, and radio reporters were everywhere, so that we had to hold a press conference. The press conference provided us the unique opportunity to talk about writing center work in detail, and several reporters stayed all night long to experience what we had claimed: that we would provide a serious work atmosphere, profound writing consulting and, nevertheless, a fun event. The newspaper “Der Spiegel” later wrote that the night was reminiscent of a pajama party but was a serious event at the same time.
So why did this event work so well?
First of all, procrastination is a phenomenon that we, as writers, all know too well. Therefore, every opportunity to fight postponing and procrastination is more than welcome. Second, writing is too often associated with lonely suffering. In writing centers we know that writers need a community of writers. Events like the Long Night make this visible to students, who, as novice writers, might not be aware of this. And third, writing is something we all can enjoy at times. If we manage to get into a flow, to experience our creativity and to feel the success of a convincingly expressed argument, then writing can be a joy. Writing can have hedonistic functions. In our university contexts, this aspect too often gets lost under the burden of assignments,
deadlines and the pressure of grading. The Long Night opens academic writing up to more joyful aspects through company, conversations and healthy and relaxing interruptions, like office yoga or night walks.
In 2011 we expanded the idea to a countrywide event. Six German writing centers participated this time and not only attracted the press again, but also attracted hundreds of students all over the country. In 2012 the event grew bigger and became international, with two writing centers in the United States and 13 centers in Germany participating. It also became somewhat professional, with live-conferences between the centers, a common homepage and a twitter wall to keep the centers updated. Nearly 2000 students participated.
As a result, this event not only supports student writers, but also makes writing center work visible. It is a good way to create an image that makes writing centers attractive to students and desirable for universities. An even greater success is that writing centers are now working together across borders and even
across the Atlantic. What a valuable sign of international collaboration! The writing center at the University of Puget Sound, directed by Julie Nelson Christoph (a UW-Madison writing center alum) even offered German treats as a visible sign of solidarity while students declared in public their will to stop procrastination. A major German radio program reporting on the Long Night included Christoph in an interview with a group of German writing center directors.“We are feeling the enthusiasm coming from Germany”, she said, commenting that her center will offer more nights against procrastination.
Hopefully, this event will continue to grow and become a well-known global event that will help to make the public aware of our everyday work that offersthe value of a community of writers.
Writing centers interested in participating next year can contact me: girgensohn[at]europa-uni.de