On Academic Writing Groups and Other Support

bookpicRecently I have been blessed with a number of sources of writing support that have helped me maintain my productivity over the summer. Both in person with fellow academics and online with Twitter, I have found a community of writers brimming with ideas on how to keep the words coming. This post is dedicated to all those who have helped me to build momentum over the past few months.

For the past two weeks, I have been meeting weekly with a group of fellow art historians to talk about our writing process. We were inspired to create this group from a number of sources. First, there was an excellent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Joli Jensen on the importance of writing support to keep academic writers accountable and productive. In the article, Jensen describes a type of writing support group that focuses not on content critique, but on setting goals and establishing an effective writing process. She writes:

What academics need from a writing group is not criticism but, rather, encouragement and accountability. We need advice on overcoming the obstacles that keep us from writing in the first place. We need help getting our writing done — not just planned and agonized over. Productivity techniques often work best when someone is there reminding us of them. And committing to an academic writing group that focuses on setting regular writing goals helps hold us accountable. – See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/955-don-t-go-it-alone#sthash.90kdK39u.dpuf
Our new writing group is based on this model, and bolstered by similar advice offered by the excellent Paul J. Silvia in his classic on academic writing, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Our meetings are structured around two key elements:
  • We keep a notebook where each member can write her personal goal for the next week of writing; and
  • Each week, one member circulates a short piece about some aspect of the writing process for group discussion.

So far, our meetings have covered methods for building a daily writing process, the travails of organizing mounds of research into coherent articles or chapters, ways to get unstuck when writing is not coming freely, and many other topics. It is not yet clear whether we’ll be able to keep up the frequency of meetings once the fall semester starts, as some of us are heading back into the classroom while others are embarking on fellowships in other states, but for now, the group is a source of inspiration.

I have also been lucky to tap into online writing communities with Twitter, both academically and with fiction writers. I am deeply indebted to the writers who tweet under the hashtags of the monthly Writing Challenge. These writers have the daily goal of producing 500 words or spending one hours on the editing process. Writers who succeed tweet their progress with the monthly hashtag (this month’s is #JulyWritingChallenge), and members congratulate each other on their success. I began participating in the challenges at the beginning of June, and while I have not managed to hit the benchmarks every day, I have been very happy with my overall progress, and I have been overwhelmed with the warmth and inclusiveness of this writing community.

Likewise, I have enjoyed following the conversations under the hashtags #acwri and #GetYourManuscriptOut, where academics herald each other’s successes and offer support and encouragement along the difficult road of academic publishing. This community has given me the courage to tackle difficult edits and send manuscripts out, and for this I am grateful.

If you are struggling at some stage in your writing process, I highly recommend adopting one or more of these methods to support you as you pursue your goals! Academic writing (or any other form of writing) can be a lonely road, but discussions with other writers can make a great deal of difference.

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