Writing is hard. Whether you are a graduate student, pre-tenure faculty member, or a tenured full professor, the writing process often proves difficult. Yet, for many of us, writing represents some of the most important aspects of our professional work. One of the best ways that I have found to support my work is to write more with a writing group. In today’s post, I want to share the five benefits you can receive from an effective writing group.
Along with colleagues in my department, I have been involved in a regular writing group for the past two years. Previously, I was part of a small faculty writing group that met for a few months. In graduate school, several of us formed a weekly writing group focused on completing our dissertations.
Writing groups can take on many forms and you may find some more useful for you than others. Some writing groups are accountability/feedback groups. You meet to discuss your writing, share your goals, and provide feedback to the other participants. Other writing groups, including my current one, consist of meeting together to set a writing goal for the session and then sitting down to write.
While my most recent experience has been the most positive, I would say that five distinct advantages have led me to value the experience of working with a writing group.
A writing group guarantees that you make time for writing by putting it on your schedule. As we all know, what gets scheduled gets done. One of the best benefits of writing groups is that you have a meeting that helps move you toward your writing goals. Particularly for those of us in administration, meetings tend to push us away from writing, but this is one meeting that you can actually look forward to attending.
In addition to making sure you schedule time dedicated to writing, writing groups help hold you accountable for meeting your writing goals. It is one thing to miss a writing goal that you set for yourself, but I suspect you will think twice before missing a goal that you’ve shared with others. Moreover, if you tend to not create goals for your writing, the writing group process will help you articulate these.
I find the writing group accountability especially helpful in a group like my current one where we get together to actually write. At the outset of our sessions, we state a goal for the afternoon (we typically meet for 4 hours). I try to set pretty aggressive goals to push myself during the time. When I know I need to report on my progress at the end of writing group, I am better able to focus and avoid distractions. You can produce an amazing amount of writing in a relatively short amount of time with goals and accountability.
A writing group provides you with an excellent source of feedback on your work. This feedback can be in the form of everything from reading drafts to just having someone to talk through your ideas. For example, quite often someone in my writing group will ask a quick question about a reviewer’s comment that is unclear or seek advice about putting together a table. Writing can be a lonely process so having a built in mechanism for feedback is a valuable resource.
4. Build relationships
Writing groups offer an additional benefit somewhat beyond writing in that they help build relationships. I love my colleagues and this is in no small way thanks to the time we’ve spent together writing. I know more about their work, their interests, and their personal lives because of our writing group related interactions. Sometimes we have lunch before writing group or happy hour after, but in the end writing group has helped make us better colleagues.
5. Make writing social
As Paul Silvia wrote in his book, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (which I highly recommend), you should make writing social. Writing is often a solitary exercise. It need not be this way. From talking through your ideas, goals, and writing problems to just getting together in the same place to write, writing groups help open up the writing process. Making writing social also makes it more fun. To be sure, writing is still hard work, but having a more social process take a bit of the edge off.
Write More with a Writing Group
Over the past three years, I have been in an administrative role with more than half of my time dedicated to administration. When anyone asks me how I am able to maintain my research activities, I give much of the credit to my writing group. Not only have I maintained my writing, I would wager that I write much more now than before I took on administration.
I can’t recommend more highly the advantages to write more with a writing group. If you have never participated in one, find a few people to join, set aside some time, and come up with a plan.
Few things can supercharge your writing in the same way as a great writing group!