How Writing Groups Can Assist with Your Scholarly, Professional, and Creative Writing
Writing groups can provide motivation, social support, productive feedback, and positive peer pressure for all writers, but especially for writers who are working on long projects or writers who are seeking to establish regular habits. Such groups can be organized on an ad hoc basis (such as a writing group to encourage summer productivity or a fall break writing retreat), while others can establish ongoing and long-term collaborations among colleagues. Whether for a week or a decade, writing groups can be a part of a successful plan for faculty productivity.
Different kinds of writing groups
Concurrent Writing Groups (Show Up and Write, Study Hall, etc.)
These low-structure groups encourage writers to join each other (physically or virtually) to promote dedicated time for writing side by side. As the name describes, participants are encouraged to simply show up and write. Groups like this can meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly and can establish some simple ground rules for locations (on campus, off campus, or rotating), habits (Zoom cameras on or off), and norms (low noise, no noise, or no crunchy snacks). For writers seeking community and quiet, these might be good options.
Accountability Writing Groups (Hunkers, Weekly Check-ins, etc.)
A slightly more structured group can be established to promote individual accountability and encourage productive writing habits. Such groups are usually formed by persons working on longer-term projects who want help to maintain focus on their core work. In addition to the practices of concurrent writing groups, members of accountability groups will share what they are working on, publicly establish their short-term session goals, and set personal deadlines. Regular meetings can include progress reports, and participants can keep each other up-to -date via Google drive or shared documents.
One virtue of such groups is that they can help writers to establish reasonable short-term goals and to commit to regular, small progress. It may take time for members to establish their rhythms and expectations, but public (and collegial) accountability can encourage productivity.
Feedback Groups (Peer Response Groups, Manuscript Circles, etc.)
These highly-structured groups combine the deadline sharing and accountability of the prior groups, but add in time for members to receive feedback on their work. Typically, such groups will set a regular schedule to share their works in progress and have a synchronous conversation about each member's work in progress. Often one or two writers will be “up” to share their writing in a given week, while all members will agree to offer a careful reading of the works in progress in exchange for a careful reading of their own writing work. While some groups are established by writers working on similar projects (dissertation or book writers) or in similar fields (by discipline, methodology, or research subject) interdisciplinary groups are very effective for encouraging writers and offering a supportive, inquisitive audience.
Some important values for writing groups
While we can classify different kinds of writing groups, every writing group brings together a unique collection of writers, topics, personalities, habits, and quirks. Just as every baseball stadium has its own “ground rules” about fair play, it’s wise to identify and recognize some ground rules for your writing group.
CONSISTENCY: The most challenging (and most valuable) aspect of maintaining a writing group is consistency. Getting varied schedules and varied commitments to align can be difficult. While our best intentions might be to create long-lasting and durable writing groups, in the beginning, set short-term goals and expectations for consistent participation.
RECIPROCITY: The point of a writing group is that we all gain from a supportive community. The most effective writing groups are clear about shared norms and expectations and try to ensure that everyone is operating from shared assumptions. If you are simply looking to establish a regular writing practice and rituals and a fellow group member wants feedback on their writing, you might need different things from your writing group. In peer feedback groups that share works in progress, members must agree to share their own work on a regular schedule and not easily allow someone the opportunity to shake off their commitment to share. Similarly, members should be committed to offering a careful reading during ‘off’ weeks.
VULNERABILITY: Many academics are strongly motivated by external recognition and also deeply anxious about the quality of their works in progress. These tendencies sometimes manifest as perfectionism, reluctance to share works in progress, or negative self-talk. In groups that share writing, it’s important to recognize that sharing works in progress feels challenging and vulnerable and that it can stir a number of challenging emotions (anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt). The strongest writing groups will make room for writers to recognize and experience these feelings along with the process of sharing and discussing writing projects.
POSITIVITY/GROWTH MINDSET: Writing groups are successful when members are motivated and encouraged by the shared struggle of writing. It’s valuable for members to share their success stories and successful habits and to share their disappointments in order to encourage all forms of progress. Because rejection and failure are normal parts of the writing process, strong writing groups find ways to encourage each other to keep going in the face of inevitable adversity. All feedback is an opportunity to improve for the next attempt.
GENEROSITY/FLEXIBILITY: In the face of inevitable interruptions and challenges, writing group members benefit from the flexibility and generosity of their peers. This might mean moving up a meeting to accommodate a deadline or missing a week due to unexpected events. A challenge of this principle of generosity can come when it begins to interrupt consistency and reciprocity.
Practical tips for writing groups: Regular rituals and rewards
Give your writing group a name: While you may simply call it “my writing group,” giving your writing group a name can help to build a collective identity and commitment. Writing group names can be literal (Show up and Write, Friday Anthropology writing group) or creative (The Write Stuff, Write Club, The Finishers, etc.).
Create clear calendar blocks: Establish a clear schedule for meetings and maintain their integrity. Including group participants with a calendar invitation can help writers maintain attention on their core work and avoid scheduling other priorities.
Create and encourage personal writing routines and rituals: Creating personal and group writing rituals can be beneficial in forming habits. Establishing routines for when, where and how one writes, and establishing cues to initiate your writing process (donning headphones, making a cup of tea, grabbing your favorite pen and pad) can make it easier to pick back up when you left off with your writing project.
Build in time for conversation and relationship-building: Even in low commitment writing groups, it’s wise to include time for casual conversation and relationship building.Seeing familiar and friendly faces makes it easier to maintain commitment.
Respect each other's boundaries and expectations: While writing groups can be a lifeline for writers seeking community, it’s important for writers to respect each other’s time and maintain group norms and expectations. While some writing groups and writing partnerships can be built on or develop into strong friendships, writing groups are always focused on making progress with writing.
Reward yourselves for consistent effort: Some writing groups establish rituals for project milestones (submission to a learned journal, presentation at a conference, or publication), groups should also mark milestones of consistent collective effort. A few months of consistent meeting at the end of the term, or an anniversary are all occasions to be recognized and celebrated.