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
- 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.
• Keep cameras on for accountability to stay on task.
• Most importantly, put those words on paper (Lamott, 1995)! Even if you delete them later, you never know what may appear. We sent motivating quotes about writing to one another to help on the dry days.
Tip 5: Keep a Writing Journal
We opted to keep a writing journal to document our progress, which allowed us to save snippets for potential writing about the process we developed (like this blog post) and make writing progress visible. Take a few moments at the end of each session for notes.
• What went well with your writing today? What there something about the process that worked well?
• What needs improvement? Is there something about the process, the piece you are working on, or your overall demeanor that needs adjustment?
• What did you accomplish today and what needs to be done next? This will help set goals for your next writing session.
• What ideas do you have for future projects? Group discussions may spark new ideas. Keep record of these thoughts for when you are looking for the next project.
• Share with others. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts, fears, joys of writing with others.
Faculty members often do “not see themselves as full members of the ‘club’ in which they seemed to be inadvertent participants” (Lee & Boud, 2003, p. 198) when it comes writing. Participating in a writing group can help you develop your identities as a writer. Furthermore, it can help you make connections, stay motivated, and feel a greater sense of belonging within your college or university community. The 5 Tips above represent just a starting point and it is important to find what works for you and your colleagues.
1. How might establishing an online writing group increase your productivity?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an online writing group for your context and writing needs?
3. What writing groups have you been a part of and what aspects can you take to an online writing group to be more successful?
Badenhorst, C. M. (2013). Writing relationships: Collaboration in a faculty writing group. All Ireland Journal of Higher Education, 5(1), 1001-1026
Cirillo Consulting GMBH. (2020). The Pomodoro Technique.
Retreived from: https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique#part01
Houfex, J. F., Kaiser, K L., Visovsky, C., Barry, T. L., Nelson, A. E., Kaiser, M., & Miller, C. L. (2010). Using a writing group to promote faculty scholarship. Nurse Educator, 35(1), 41-45. doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e3181c42133
Lamott, A. (1995). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. Anchor Books.
Lee, A., & Boud, D. (2003). Writing groups, change and academic identity: Research development as local practice. Studies in Higher Education, 28(2), 187-200. doi: 10.1080/0307507032000058109