Eleven Things I’ve Learned About Running Writing Groups

Over the last 6 months I’ve been running 3 writing groups focused on social media, thesis, and journal article writing. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Writing is annoying, but it is so rewarding. Unsurprisingly people join writing groups to get better at writing. That could be focused on the writing itself or it could be the routine of writing. In many cases it is both. The practice of a weekly check-in (the major activity of the writing group) creates a certain dread that “I have not done enough”. That creates enough fear to start writing – when you otherwise would not. That results in writing. And whoot! You’re now productive! The translation of this is “action proceeds inspiration or motivation”. You can read some more about that here – James Clear Motivation – as well as in James’ book on habits.
  2. Writing shared is writing halved. Okay not really. Only you can write your work BUT working in groups makes the task feel less solitary. Like I said, the weekly check-in provides some impetus to get writing. Another thing clients have taken it upon themselves to do is organise additional shut-up-and-write sessions. This is where they get on a Zoom or WhatsApp call and sit quietly and write in pomodoros. Twenty-five minutes work, 5 minutes rest/chat about the work. One client even said, “I’m amazed at how much more I get done when using this technique”. In many respects this is an extension of the saying, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”.
  3. Ignore the basics. Not so much the basics of writing, but the reason or purpose of your writing. So, if you’ve got writer’s block, switch to a different kind of writing task. Ignore the journal article and write a blog instead. Ignore the thesis and write a tweet instead. I also like the idea of ignoring the assumptions you make about a particular style of writing for a purpose. For example, thesis, and journal writing tend to avoid narrative. But why? They also tend to ignore story telling? But why? Those two forms of (written) communication are well established in their ability to engage the reader. To help convey a message. To help change behaviour and belief. So, ignore the basics/rules, particularly if you’re finding scientific, research or technical writing a challenge.
  4. Set-up for success. Just writing at the kitchen bench, particularly during COVID times, creates all sorts of problems. The kitchen feels like work. Work invades home life. There are lots of distractions. Instead, set up a dedicated space for writing. It does not have to be huge. And it can be in the kitchen. But it should be just for the purpose of writing. And you might even set it up and take it down each time you write. The ritual of sitting in the space will help get you in the mindset to write. And, if you’re not writing, move out of the space.
  5. Share your progress. Like working in a group feels good, and helps you make progress. Sharing progress (e.g., on social media, or with your loved ones) is a useful way of getting a reward for your effort. Academic social media is actually quite good at congratulating scholars’ progress announcing tweets.

  6. Imagine you are being paid. You’re now a professional writer. Writing words is how you make a living. If you go a day without writing that’ll mean a day without pay. You could also think of this as making sure you get streaks. Runs where you write on a daily basis. Each day might be different – some days two or ten minutes, other days two or ten hours. But the point is consistency. Every (weekday) for months…
  7. Don’t underestimate the power of a pretty program. For most of us the go-to word processor is MS Word. There are also people using Google Docs, and probably Scrivener. Maybe Pages. I don’t really care what you use but using something that appeals to you will be part of making the process fun. Some goes for changing the fonts, layout, colours. Make it something you like to look at. It can always be changed to meet the various journal, departmental or university requirements later. Now, it is about getting words on a page in a useful order.
  8. Social media is a gateway to writing. If you’re on social media, an easy way to transition into (more) writing is to compile several posts into a story. Or take one of your research figures and compose a tweet, LinkedIn or Instagram post about it. Then pop it up on social media. You can use the feedback to determine the quality of your writing. And you can also cut and paste the words right into your thesis or journal article.
  9. Regular writing is career arbitrage. Social media, journal articles, grants, thesis – they all require writing. Good writing and success are easier with regular writing. Not to mention that beyond academia – if that is where you are heading(ed) – writing will be a key part of your job. And, even if it is not, fostering brand you will require writing for a website, or social media or blog. Basically, each time you write you are building a skill, creating a product, and promoting yourself.
  10. Perfection is the enemy of done. For most of us we are worried what others will think. How they will respond. Who will care? These are all valid concerns, but they are not useful. If you are to have an impact, at some point you’ll need to get your writing out there. So, if you think it is “almost there”, call it done. Put it out into the world and see what comes back. Journal reviewers will always find something to update, add or change. As will thesis reviewers. So, let them do their job…
  11. Writing never ends. Like I said at 9, you’ll always be writing. Not matter what the role or job. So, getting comfortable with it will be a useful skill to develop. Even better, will be getting comfortable writing when you don’t want to write.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He loves helping entrepreneurs live their dreams. He finds that nothing is quite as satisfying as helping someone write a grant for research project; or bringing a life-goal to reality. He is driven by the challenge of helping people be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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