Writing is often a very isolationist activity, even when we are working on a collaborative work, unless your collaborator works on your campus and you both work productively when you get together to write. But writing does not have to be such an isolationist activity. You’re probably wising up to the point of this post, and yes, I believe you should find yourself a good writing group. But I am not going to spend this post telling you how beneficial a writing group is to your productivity; rather, I want to encourage you to find a group that works for you.
Last year, two colleagues and I decided to start a writing group. We knew how the concept worked (in theory, at least). We decided on a location, a local coffee shop with excellent work space, and we set a recurring time and date. We descended on the coffee shop, ordered a pot of tea, and set to writing. For my colleagues, this was a fabulous opportunity, and they accomplished a lot. I, on the other hand, felt more like the world was ending. This was the writing group that helped me realize that I’m not a group writer. If you are somebody who works well in a group setting and there is not a group active in your academic community, you should start a group! UNC Chapel Hill’s Writing Center has an excellent starter packet for writing groups. What’s stopping you?
This year, our writing group was forced to regroup due to teaching conflicts, and with the regrouping came new members and a new format for the writing group. We still gather at a predetermined time each week, but because we have a very limited amount of time to meet, we changed our structure to that of an accountability group. Each week, we begin by reviewing each member’s goals from the previous week, hear about their progress toward that goal, and then hear their goal for the next week. I find this type of group an extraordinarily beneficial group, in part because I am a solitary writer, but also because I’m the overachiever who would rather work harder to meet a goal I’m accountable for than tell a group that I’ve not met that goal. So, clearly, this is not the type of group for everybody, but I do think this type of group is the most flexible and probably the best idea for a variety of writer-types.
At our weekly meetings, we go beyond the simple yes/no when discussing whether we met our goals. If we did not meet our goals, we’re accountable for explaining why not. In some instances, there’s nothing we could have done. A 2-day migraine one week put me behind on a lot of responsibilities and I just could not recoup the time. That happens, and our group accepts such life events. But in some instances, such a group member who could not find the time to write, she’s met with a group of others who are sympathetic, understanding, and often struggled with the same problem in writing. In those cases, we have the opportunity to help a colleague with finding dedicated writing time and making that time a habit. If I’ve learned one thing trying to develop my own habits, it’s how much it helps to have somebody else who knows your struggling and will help you become more accountable to yourself. Accountability groups give you the flexibility to add such things as writing habits to any or all members’ weekly goals.
Flexible Meeting Times
As a group, we found a time that worked for our group to get together, and that time is a mid-week, mid-afternoon time that none of us are teaching. That time is also a mid-week, mid-afternoon time that also seems a viable time for last-minute meetings to be scheduled. It’s also a popular time for student conferences to run late. So we know that there will be times when a member can’t make it, but in terms of accountability, we also expect that member to get in touch with the group leader with an update on the week’s progress and the goal for the next week.
From accounts of other writing group participants, the flexible structure of an accountability group make this an incredibly attractive approach to a writing group. If you don’t have the time or the interest in an on-campus group, you can create your own online accountability group. You can easily set up a blog like this one to post each week’s goals and progress, or you can set up a Facebook group to do the same thing, if you’re friends with the group members. There is also the ability to create a hybrid meet-up and write with an accountability group. A group of Ohio State doctoral students committed to a 12-week writing group that meets online once a week at the same time to write, but also uses a goal accountability structure as well. You can see how their structure works on Twitter at #12mondaysosu.
The short of it is, in the two months our group has met, I’ve found the accountability invigorating and inspiring. Not only am I getting to talk to colleagues about writing successes and struggles with a group of dedicated, motivated, and intelligent colleagues, but I am also seeing the results of the accountability. In the last two months, I’ve finished and resubmitted an R&R article, gotten an almost complete outline for my next article, got a long-term research project off the ground, and started plans for a larger book project. I feel that I am more productive in this single semester than I’ve been in my previous 3-years of dedicating specific time to writing and research. Even if you’re maintaining your writing progress, I encourage you to find yourself a writing group. The inspiration and encouragement are worth the time.