How to maximize the benefits of virtual writing groups (opinion) – Inside Higher Ed

Posted: November 9, 2021 at 1:52 pm

When I was writing my dissertation, I joined the Coffee Club: five Ph.D. students who gathered on Wednesday afternoons in the library to write together. We met at a dissertation boot camp and decided to keep up the momentum of that experience, which involved writing in silence and taking 10-minute breaks every hour. The Coffee Club members hailed from STEM, social science and humanities backgrounds, so we reasoned we could focus more on our writing without the distraction of talking about our dissertation topics to peers in our fields.

Our method worked: we were motivated by the dedicated time to write and the accountability of acquaintances facing similar challenges. Along the way, we learned more about each others research projects and lives outside graduate school during the breaks, and we branched out from the library to coffee shops near the University of Pittsburgh. We celebrated members defenses with cupcakes and thanked the Coffee Club on the dedication pages of our dissertations. As a graduate student in the rather solitary field of English, I was thankful for the Coffee Clubs companionship and structure, which helped me finish my dissertation and shaped my interest in working with advanced writers across disciplines.

Flash forward to 2021. I am an administrator at North Carolina State University developing writing support programs for graduate students at a time when the accountability, motivation and (virtual) community of writing groups are more important than ever. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have drawn on my experiences as a graduate writer in the Coffee Club to design virtual writing retreats, Zoom Pomodoro sessions for dissertation writers and a Slack workspace for trainees to host writing groups.

These programs have allowed graduate and postdoc writers across disciplines to make progress on writing projects through a shared focus on effective writing habits and supportive virtual communities. My efforts took place alongside the increasing popularity of similar online writing experiences, including initiatives by major organizations like the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversitys 14-Day Writing Challenges, university sponsored programs such as the University of North Carolina Charlottes Weekend Writes, and informal writing meet-ups on Zoom initiated by graduate and postdoc trainees.

Scholars of writing have known the value of participating in writing groups for productivity, accountability and motivation since the 1980s, when Anne Ruggles Gere published her study Writing Groups: History, Theory, and Implications. More recently, in the Carpe Careers column, Jovana Milosavljevic Ardeljan discussed the benefits of virtual writing support from a professional development standpoint with an emphasis on the transferable skills that graduate or postdoc writers gain from interacting with peers across disciplines around shared writing experiences and challenges. Participating in activities like writing groups and dissertation retreats has a value beyond simply finishing a chapter or an article manuscript. To paraphrase another recent Carpe Careers essay, such writing support activities constitute a form of peer networking that allows us to connect with colleagues outside our disciplines and even helps us to articulate the impact of our research to diverse stakeholders.

The benefits of dedicating time for writing support as a graduate student or postdoc are well-known, but it is sometimes hard in practice to commit to these activities. Online writing groups can be particularly difficult, as distractions loom at home and elsewhere, and often a lack of expectations for the group decreases motivation to attend. So how can you get the most out of online writing groups and achieve your writing goals?

In this article, I draw on my experiences as a student writing group member and an organizer of online writing support to describe how you can maximize the benefits of a virtual writing group. Whether you meet for Pomodoro sessions on Zoom or to get feedback on dissertation chapters, here are some ways to be productive, accountable and motivated while interacting with fellow graduate or postdoc writers online.

While these tips might seem obvious, they are effective ways to stay engaged, focused and accountable to an online community whose ultimate goal is making progress on writing. Moreover, when you become intentional about interacting online, you are practicing skills beyond mastering the genre norms of writing in your field or finishing the next chapter draft. Practices like communicating asynchronously with team members, determining the shared goals of a remote working group or designing a structure for online meetings are especially important transferable skills in todays remote and hybrid workplaces. In fact, the graduate student organizers of the online writing groups on North Carolina States Slack space noted that they learned as much about leading groups online as they did about productive writing habits, while still dedicating time to achieve their own writing goals.

The next time you gather online to write, whether with one writing buddy or a large group, ask yourself, What transferable skills or habits of mind am I learning from being part of this online writing group? Take a few minutes after the session to jot down your reflections on the group structure or writing process. You might be surprised by the answers. Happy writing!

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How to maximize the benefits of virtual writing groups (opinion) - Inside Higher Ed

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