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Five Tips for Launching an Online Writing Group

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Kristina Rouech, Central Michigan University

Betsy VanDeusen, Central Michigan University

Holly Hoffman, Central Michigan University

Jennifer Majorana, Central Michigan University

Making time for writing can be difficult at any stage of your career. Pushing writing aside for grading, lesson planning, meeting with students, and committee work is too easy. However, writing is a necessary part of our careers and has the added benefit of helping us stay current with our practice and knowledge in our field. Lee and Boud (2003) stress that groups should focus on developing peer relationships and writing identity, increasing productivity, and sharing practical writing. Online writing groups can help us accomplish this. With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, working online has become a necessity, but it can take time to figure out what works best for you and your writing colleagues. We recommend five tips to help you establish an online writing group that is productive and enjoyable for all participants.

Tip 1: Establish Group Norms

This first step is critical in order for all participants to understand the purpose and format of the group. A facilitator can help establish norms, send communications, host the meeting, and keep the group on task. The role of facilitator can be assigned and permanent or rotate among group members. Each member needs to commit to the group and hold each other accountable. Create an agreement within the norms that addresses being present at each meeting and identifying when it is understandable to be absent. We provide the example of our norms to model the types of agreements that helped us be productive during our writing time.

Our Group Norms:

  • Leave the camera on – with mute.

  • Set a standing meeting, giving grace for major life events and unavoidable appointments.

  • Share goals to begin, recap work done at the end.

  • Make it known that pep talks are always available.

  • Continue to work on research projects by memoing:

- Types of activity

- Progress

- What worked well, what was a struggle

Tip 2: Structure Your Time Together

Decide your meeting time. We set a once weekly schedule for two hours each time and decided on virtual meetings, which broke down geographic barriers and widened possibilities for group membership. Then, decide on a meeting structure. One option is to set up a share – write – debrief schedule:

10 minutes: Have each person share their current project and specific goals for the writing block today.

100 minutes: This is focused writing time (a method helps, see Tip #3). Each group member commits to working on writing during this time. This is a commitment we make for ourselves. Put other tasks aside—give yourself the time to focus on your writing and the important things you have to say.

10 minutes: Debrief with group. This is the time to share what you accomplished, solicit advice, and provide support. It is also a good space to share target journals and writing outlets.

Keeping the group small (we had four people) will allow this time frame to work most days.

Tip 3: Find a Writing Method that Works for You

There are many writing methods and formats to utilize as a group or individually. Not everyone needs to use the same format; however, you do need to find what works for you in order to use your time wisely. Here are three options to consider:

Pomodoro Technique: This was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s as a time management method. Select a task, set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on that task, then when the timer goes off take a 5-minute break. Use this break to grab a snack, walk around, pet the dog, or do whatever you need to provide your brain a rest. After four rounds of this, take a longer break (Cirillo, 2020).

Brain Breaks: Some writing group members would opt to write until the flow slowed and then take brain breaks as needed. These breaks should be limited to about 5 minutes.

Set Word, Page, Reading Goals: Some writing group members would set word, page, or reading goals for the day depending on the task. Word or page count goals can be more concrete and therefore, more productive, than time goals.

Many more methods are available with a quick internet search. Most important is to try a variety and find the method that works for you.

Tip 4: Write!

This should probably be the most obvious step of a writing group; however, it is also the most critical! There are so many tasks that get in the way of writing, so how can we ensure words appear on the paper?

• Close out email and turn notifications off for everything. Any ding coming from your computer or phone will likely distract you from writing.