The posting below looks at the way writing groups may help you be more productive. It is by Kerry Ann Rockquemore*, PhD, president and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity http://www.facultydiversity.org It is from the posting of May 10, 2021in her Monday Motivator series of which you can find at: http://www.facultydiversity.org/
UP NEXT: Students Want Online Learning Options Post-Pandemic
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We are fourteen months into this global pandemic. As compared to last year, there seem to be more moments of optimism, especially now that more and more people are getting vaccinated. Let’s hope the country is moving in the right direction.
Last week, we received lots of mail about the importance of reimagining summer writing. Many of you were able to make a strategic plan for the summer, making sure to account for all the ways we need to reassess what can get done. For example, if your campus has already declared that fall semester will move to in-person instruction, you will likely be committing time to transitioning your courses back to that format (or perhaps a hybrid format). After the most devastating year of our lives, building a community around your personal needs and your writing projects is going to matter that much more.
In this week's Monday Motivator, we want to address three questions that come up often with faculty who reach out to us: 1) What types of writing groups exist? 2) How do I figure out which type of writing group is right for me? and 3) I’ve usually been able to motivate myself and be disciplined enough on my own, but how can I recalibrate and come to see writing as a community effort?
Cultivating a support system is key to moving your summer writing goals forward. Heck, community helps a lot with moving your personal wellness forward too since we aren’t always the best at watching out for our needs. And yet, so many of us overachiever types are resistant to making anything, including our writing, a community effort (we fall into this trap all the time!). Below we’re going to talk about different kinds of writing groups. Specifically, we’re going to highlight what makes them flourish and flounder as support systems.
Researchers have demonstrated that accountability and support increase writing productivity among new faculty members. And yet, when graduate students, post-docs, and new faculty talk about needing support that goes beyond substantive feedback, they’re sometimes met with some form of shaming: "Why do you need a support group?" "Can’t you just motivate yourself to write?" (Ironically, this often comes from folks who’ve enjoyed more privilege in their careers or magically forgot that someone once had to hold their hands early on in their career).
We’ve had an emotionally difficult year because of this pandemic. We’ve lost people and we have students and loved ones who have lost people. We know people who are still in harm’s way because they are essential workers. And yet, we still hear about scholars being shamed about their productivity. Shaming is just not a productive motivator. Perhaps it’ll motivate you to work for a week or two, but it is not a healthy long-term writing strategy. Plus, it makes you feel like your worth as a human being is tied to your productivity when it absolutely shouldn’t be. Instead of shaming yourself into writing, we believe that embracing your needs will help you to develop a support system of people who are aligned with the vision you have for your career—and for your life. Below are some options for community that will move you from sporadic shame-induced writing binges towards a healthy, consistent, and sustainable daily writing routine.
If there’s anything these peculiar times have shown us, it’s that we must prioritize our needs (to the extent that we can, of course). Even if it’s 5 minutes of meditation in the morning. Or a 15-minute walk outside (thank goodness for better weather). Or a half-hour call to your academic BFF. Or an episode (or three!) of your favorite Netflix show. Whatever it is, figure out what helps you inch toward the right headspace and energy, not just for your writing, but for yourself and your family too.
The days of feeling motivated, self-disciplined, anxiety-free, fearless, and intellectually energized “enough” to write may feel few and far between (perhaps they already felt this way before the pandemic). If that feeling serendipitously arrives, consider it a blessing, but the reality is that if you wait for that feeling to happen, especially now, you will never get those sentences on the page. We want to encourage you to release yourself from the idea that there’s something wrong with you. It’s healthy to need support and accountability. It’s normal if you’re not productive in isolation. It’s a great feeling to have community, feedback, a safe space to take risks, and a group of people who genuinely celebrate your accomplishments. Meeting your needs for community, support, and accountability will not only increase your productivity but also your enjoyment of summer writing. We need each other more than ever. While building a writing community is no antidote for the serious life challenges we might be facing in these uncertain times, we promise that moving forward in community—rather than in isolation—will help the summer writing days feel so much more doable, if not outright enjoyable.
What do YOU need?
We want you to ask yourself: What do I need to move forward in my writing this summer? In turn, how might my writing help me get recentered as a scholar in the aftermath of the most difficult academic year in history? Given all that’s going on, it’s worth spending time to recalibrate and figure out what your needs are. As academic writers, we have lots of different needs. For example, some people need to write alongside other scholars writing (virtually, of course, since we still cannot congregate in coffee shops at the moment). Some of you may need to partner with someone to create writing deadlines. Some people need solitude and the kind of support that is silent, while others need encouraging text messages from their peers. Some need quantitative accounting of their progress, while others need substantive feedback from those in their specialty field to stay motivated. Some people need therapy, and others need a cleanse from the most toxic parts of academia. It’s even OK if you need all of these things at different times! The important thing is to identify what you need without judgment or shame. Knowing what you truly need to maximize your productivity is what will allow you to construct a writing support system that is effective for YOU.
Connect with a writing group that meets your needs
Once you have identified your basic needs, start to imagine the best way to get them met. We’re going to describe a few different types of writing groups for the dual purpose of expanding your sense of what a "writing group” looks like and illustrating the importance of letting your needs guide your selection of an appropriate group. It’s really quite simple: Writing groups flourish when everyone’s needs are being met and flounder when they don’t meet the primary needs of members.
Traditional Writing Groups
When we use the term "writing group," the most common form that comes to mind is a small number of people who commit to a specific period of time (e.g., a summer) to meet regularly (through Zoom or Google Hangouts for the time being), once-a-month, for the purpose of reading, critiquing, and providing substantive feedback on each other’s written work. This requires a commitment of 5-8 hours per month to read other people’s work, draft comments, show up, and engage during the meeting time. Such groups tend to work well if a participant’s primary need is substantive feedback and if members are able to provide that for one another. This structure is less effective when participants have other more pressing needs (support or ongoing accountability) and/or the feedback is the sort that could be obtained more efficiently from a professional editor.
Writing Accountability Groups
If your primary need is to have a committed group of people to answer to each week, then writing accountability groups may be worth trying. The structure is fairly simple: four people agree to meet once a week during the summer. Since we can’t meet our writing buddies in person, consider setting up a video conference where you keep the cameras on, but mute your microphones while you work (you can unmute or “chat” intermittently during breaks!). The groups meet for exactly one hour per week and each person gets 15 minutes to discuss the following items: 1) my writing goals for last week were _______, 2) I did/did not meet them, 3) if I didn't meet them, it’s because of _______ and 4) my writing goals for next week are _______. Developing a daily writing routine tends to bring up people's stuff, and the group helps to support one another by identifying the roadblocks that hold members back from productivity. Nobody reads anyone else's writing in this type of group. Instead, the focus is on the writing process and moving projects forward so they can get into the hands of people with subject matter expertise (not group members). This structure works well when the participants' primary needs are accountability, support, community, and peer mentoring. It is ineffective when individuals cannot sustain the weekly commitment to the group or daily writing and/or their primary need is for ongoing substantive feedback.
If you’re someone who needs to be around others when you’re writing and/or you feel isolated, you’re going to have to recalibrate a bit. Because of public health concerns, meeting at a coffee shop to write may still not happen. But this doesn’t mean you have to write alone. A virtual Write-On-“Site” group may work well for you. It’s also very straightforward. An organizer selects a time for the meeting, sets up a Zoom video conference link, and disseminates that information to a group of interested others. At the appointed time, people convene virtually, and everyone writes. Everything else is optional; there can be a weekly attendance commitment (or not), the group can range from two people (writing buddies) to as many people as the Zoom will hold (you could literally have a 100-person Write-On-“Site” if you really wanted). Make sure to implement a password and designate a few hosts to serve as “security” to prevent crashers and Zoom bombers from harming your virtual writing community. There's no reading each other's work, and there's no discussion during the writing time; it’s just about getting into the same space and actually engaging in the act of writing. The collective writing energy of the group is energizing, and people are free to come early and stay late for socializing. Like every structure we’re describing, this works well when participants are getting their needs met (everyone comes to write). It doesn’t work well when people arrive and their primary needs are support, substantive feedback, or processing why they are stuck.
If you have a group of colleagues who are all vaccinated and live within driving distance, by all means, consider hosting a writing session at one of your homes!
It may be the case that you have a variety of needs but your schedule makes it hard to commit to any kind of group for the summer. Or alternatively, you have no idea what you need, and you would like to work with a professional to figure it out. There are a variety of writing coaches out there who will consult with you weekly (for fees ranging from $75-$150 per hour) to increase your awareness of what’s holding you back and help you to develop and implement strategies to move you forward. Coaches work well for people who either aren’t clear what their needs are or need more personalized and intense accountability than a group can provide. Of course, this doesn’t work for people for whom the mere idea of being coached feels oppressive.
Some people have tried various groups but keep running into the same problems: they struggle to find others who will stick to their commitments, and/or they don't know what to do when they face their own resistance day after day. The advantage of bootcamps is that they provide a professionally facilitated group, intense structure, and are filled with people who have made a commitment by investment. That's a nice way of saying that in groups where everyone has paid to participate, commitment to the group tends to be very high! This high level of commitment, structure, and accountability combined with the attention of a dedicated coach tend to result in tremendous transformations in productivity. That said, bootcamps are not for everyone because they require a willingness to experiment with new writing behaviors, continually question your beliefs about writing, and force you to explore the fears and anxiety that underlie your resistance to writing.
We currently use several of these mechanisms at the same time! We consult with editors, participate in online writing groups each day, lead weekly accountability group meetings, attend virtual Write-on-Sites as needed, and we have a Bootcamp. We know from experience that if left to our own devices, writing is tough. We may be very productive in every other imaginable way, but we’ll be resistant to write. Over the years, both of us have come to accept the fact that we need community, support, and accountability, and instead of judging ourselves negatively for having those needs, we embrace them and create mechanisms to meet them. We may feel hesitant at first. But within a week or two, the writing no longer feels like we’re moving through molasses—it even becomes joyful. You may have different (and fewer) needs than us, but the key to having a productive, fulfilling, and enjoyable summer is to not go about it alone. Let’s write. Together.
The Weekly Challenge
This week, we challenge you to:
• Ask yourself: What do I need to support my writing this summer? How have my needs shifted given everything happening with the pandemic?
• If you find yourself reactive to the idea of having needs, or even to answering this simple question, gently ask yourself: Why?
• Imagine a support structure that would meet your needs and support your writing—and you as a person.
• Join one, if it already exists, and create it if it doesn't.
• Consider joining us for an upcoming Faculty Bootcamp if you're at a complete loss.
We hope this week brings you the clarity to identify your needs, the freedom to embrace them, and the creativity to connect with mechanisms of support that will allow you to maximize your productivity this summer and develop a sustainable daily writing routine. We want to commend you on persevering through what has definitely been one of the most emotionally challenging academic years of our lives. No matter what challenges may come, please make sure to stay safe and stay connected.
Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD