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Getting the most out of writing groups (online and offline)

Writing while in BerlinI love writing groups, as you probably can guess from my raving about them on Twitter. I have also written on this blog about their benefits. Now, one of the questions people ask me frequently is: how can I get the most out of a writing group? Here are a few reflections regarding what works well for me. As always since these are based on my own experience, I strongly believe you can only know if it will work for you if you try it out. I also want to make something perfectly clear: I strongly believe that you get out of a writing group what you put in. If you are supportive of others in the group, you’ll definitely find support too. I don’t think one can get into a writing group in an extractive manner, expecting benefits but not providing support, help and encouragement as well.

For this blog post I have extracted some thoughts off my Twitter threads, which may appear disjointed when you read them online, but will make more sense when you read them on this blog post.

A few other elements of writing groups that help me (these are obviously online right now because of the pandemic).

– Having a 3 hour block gives me the flexibility of “investing” some of that time as “runway” (preparation) time.
– I need to block Twitter and Facebook while I write
– with the 2 hour block, if I invest some of that time in “runway” I feel frustrated.
– hearing how others work is also inspiring for me.
– seeing camaraderie online is also very inspiring – lots of people offering to help one another “once the Zoom is over”, makes me feel supported and cared for.
– The shared struggle: knowing that others are also struggling to think/work.

There are so many contingent faculty, academic parents (especially mothers, and even more acutely single mothers) for whom having the privilege of accessing an extended block of time is a real luxury. Every time I do one of these, I do recognise my privilege, and I do try to help.

A few other secrets on writing groups:

I have made INCREDIBLE friends in my writing groups. I have introduced childhood friends to my writing groups.


1) Communities develop through time and repeated contact. Don’t expect to be ultra chummy with your writing buddies immediately.

2) Different writing groups are run in various ways. Not every writing group will fit your style or expectations. Try a few ones first before “committing”.

3) Some people need the structure/support that a guided, facilitated (PAID) writing group gives them. THESE ARE GREAT.

Like with anything, if you want to have professional help you’ll need to hire a professional. So if you feel like this would be a service that would help you, there are academic coaches all around who provide this facilitated writing group service (a few that come to mind quickly: Dr. Lisa Munro, Dr. Michelle Dionne Thompson, Dr. Leanne C. Powner, and Dr. Jo Van Every).

I also have previously mentioned the importance of academic coaches. There are things that supervisory committees do not provide, and that’s why you hire external help. Dr. Powner does that kind of consulting (particularly social sciences, political science especially).

4) Like with anything that is social, writing groups aren’t just for you to “receive support”. They’re also there for you to GIVE support. The beauty of writing groups is that you get as much as you give. Generally speaking, they’re very reciprocal (that’s the basis for them).

Sometimes, institutions have the funding to bring someone in to start a writing group (for example, have someone teach a Master Class on Academic Writing and then the institution provides support to start a dairly, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly writing group). I myself have been (and continue to be) hired by several universities to teach these workshops for a long while now. It’s definitely a great strategy and a good investment to develop students and faculty.

I teach courses on academic writing and even *I* get writer’s block.

I struggle with producing text.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed with wanting to Do All The Things.

I am human, after all.

This is the beauty of writing groups: you can be an academic who is also a human.

To be 100% honest with you, I am writing so much right now because I AM HEALTHY. At the peak of my eczema/psoriasis/dermatitis/chronic fatigue/chronic pain, I could barely move, let alone write. AND I *had* to teach! So while I do feel slightly guilty for being more productive now than when moving would cause me pain, I feel relieved. These are very, very tough times, so let’s try to not guilt, shame or otherwise put pressure on others, or let anyone put pressure on ourselves. We do what we can with what we have, that’s all.

In the end, we make do with what we have. Dr. Loleen Berdahl has encouraged writing for 10 minutes, and I think that’s doable and worth doing, even if it’s literally what Dr. Meredith D. Clark calls “runway time”.

We are all in this together, and hopefully things will get better in the future.

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