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Likely the most crucial thing to my writing success over the last few years has been my participation in a writing group. The main function of a writing group is for the members to support each other’s as writers. Writing groups can take many different forms and are easily be adapted to suit the needs of members. There are three different types of writing groups – accountability, editing, and write together. Before I get into the three types of writing groups, there are some general rule or guidelines that every writing group should follow.
Writing Group Rules
- Your writing group should meet regularly, ideally weekly. Having a regular meeting time helps to ensure that you stay on top of your writing goals and make progress. Not only does your writing group help you to make smaller and attainable goals, but the group also helps you to realize reasons why you are not writing and/or meeting your goals. Some groups get away with meeting every other week and still be successful, although this is rare.
- Writing group is not a time for discussing lab, department, or university politics. For this reason, interdisciplinary groups where members are not friends outside of the group may work best. If you do choose to have a writing group within your lab, department, or program, try to make sure the discussion during writing group time stays focused on writing.
- Writing groups typically function best with 3-5 members. In some instances, larger or smaller groups can work, however most function best with only a small group. Write together groups can most easily accommodate more members.
Now onto each of the three types of writing groups.
An accountability group is the most basic. This type of group works best if members set aside time to write, separate from the writing group, and are able to get their work edited elsewhere. The premise of an accountability group is fairly simple, set your writing goals for the upcoming week and discuss if you met your goals from the previous week.
If you have not met your goals for the week, it is crucially important that you acknowledge why you did not meet your goals. Through recognizing what prevented you from meeting your goals, you or other group members may see a pattern of behaviors that are preventing you from achieving your goals. Hopefully you can change your daily/weekly schedule, writing habit, or the type of goal you are setting to better meet your goals in the future.
Conversely, if you are meeting your goals every week can you set slightly more ambitious goals. For instance, if you goal is to write paragraph a week, perhaps you can try to write two paragraphs.
Accountability groups typically meet for shorter periods of time. Some groups meet only 5-10 minutes per week whereas others meet for closer to 45 minutes. My graduate writing group was an accountability writing group that met for about 45 minutes each week. In the group, we finish talking about our goals in about 15 minutes. We spend a the rest of the time typically talking about different writing strategies and helping each other troubleshoot our writing pitfalls. I find this time talking about writing strategies to be crucial to my writing success.
An editing group is exactly what it sounds like, a group that edits each other’s work in some form or another. Typically an editing group is an accountability group that also includes editing of each other’s work.
If you are interested in setting up an editing group, it is important to set up some basic guidelines for the exchange of writing. How long can the exchanged writing be? How often is writing exchanged? What should the quality of the writing be, first draft or near final draft? What are the consequences if somebody does not submit a piece of writing or review somebody else’s writing? If you answer these questions during your first meeting, hopefully your group will run smoothly.
Write Together Group
A write together group is simply a writing group where you gather together and sit and write for 1-2 hours in the same room. Again, this group will typically also include accountability. Participation in this type of group is especially helpful if you are struggling to make time for your writing or if you struggle to stay focused during your writing sessions. When I am writing in a group setting, I always feel guilty scrolling Facebook or doing any other internet browsing. If you are still not convinced that a write together group will help you to meet your writing goals, a study published in 1920 determined that when individuals perform tasks better when in a group, even if each person is working on an individual task (The original research paper can be found here).
It is important to schedule the meeting at a time and place so that all members can attend. The location should not be in the same building as your lab space. If you can easily run up the stairs or down the hall to your lab, inevitably your writing time will be interrupted with experiments. During the writing time, you should be solely focused on your writing. Study rooms, the library, or a quiet coffee shop all make perfect places to have a write together group. As far as picking a time, the beginning or the end of the day works best because you can work all day in the lab uninterrupted.
Join a writing group!
I hope that I was able to give you some tips about forming a writing group. Remember every writing group is different, and the type of writing group can change. Writing groups fall apart too. That is okay! Sometimes you writing group is good for now, but not forever.
What kind of writing group do you think would work best for you? Can you find others on your campus who would be interested in joining a group with you?