How to Maximize the Benefits of Virtual Writing Groups (Review)

When I was writing my thesis, I joined the Coffee Club: five doctorates. students who met on Wednesday afternoons at the library to write together. We met at a thesis boot camp and decided to keep the momentum of this experiment going, which involved writing in silence and taking 10-minute breaks every hour. Coffee Club members came from STEM, social sciences, and humanities backgrounds, so we thought we could focus more on our writing without the distraction of talking about our thesis topics to peers in our fields.

Our method worked: we were motivated by the time dedicated to writing and the empowerment of acquaintances facing similar challenges. Along the way, we learned more about each other’s research projects and our lives outside of college during breaks, and we moved from the library to cafes near the University of Pittsburgh. We celebrated member defenses with cupcakes and thanked the Coffee Club on the dedication pages of our memoirs. As a graduate student in the rather solitary field of English, I was grateful for the company and structure of the Coffee Club, which helped me complete my thesis and shaped my interest in working with advanced writers. in all disciplines.

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

These programs have enabled graduate and postdoctoral writers from all disciplines to advance in their writing endeavors through a common focus on effective writing habits and supportive virtual communities. My efforts have paralleled the growing popularity of similar online writing experiences, including initiatives by major organizations like the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s 14 day writing challengesuniversity-sponsored programs such as the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Writings of the weekendand informal Zoom writing encounters initiated by graduate and postdoctoral fellows.

Writing scholars have known the value of participation 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 perspective with a focus on the transferable skills that graduate or postdoctoral writers acquire by interacting with their peers in all disciplines around shared writing experiences and challenges. Participating in activities such as writing groups and thesis retreats has value beyond just finishing a chapter or manuscript. To paraphrase another recent essay “Carpe Careers”, such editorial support activities are a form of peer-to-peer networking that allows us to connect with colleagues outside our disciplines and even helps us articulate the impact of our research on various stakeholders.

The benefits of devoting time to writing assistance as a graduate student or postdoc are well known, but engaging in these activities is sometimes difficult in practice. Online writing groups can be particularly challenging, as distractions loom at home and elsewhere, and often a lack of expectations for the group diminishes 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 online writing support organizer to outline how you can maximize the benefits of a virtual writing group. Whether you’re meeting for Pomodoro sessions on Zoom or getting feedback on dissertation chapters, here are some ways to be productive, responsible, and motivated while interacting with other graduate or postdoctoral authors online.

  • Be intentional when starting or joining a writing group. Looking for feedback on a specific project, such as an article, thesis, or application materials? Or are you looking for dedicated writing time? Use your goals to join or form the virtual writing group that works for you, and be clear about their goals or objectives. Keep in mind that these goals will shape the characteristics of the group, such as which writers might benefit most – for example, colleagues inside or outside your discipline – and when and how often you you meet.
  • Actively participate in the planning. With graduate and postdoctoral students busy, the more productive members of the writing group share the work of organizing meetings and communicating with members. Digital tools like Slack and Google Calendar can help you manage the logistical burden and stay on the same page about when and how you get together.
  • Create rituals to structure virtual meeting time. As we know from participating in Zoom meetings, a shared sense of purpose and communication standards are crucial when meeting online. Likewise, in a virtual writing group, rituals like answering low-stakes icebreaker questions can help members build relationships. For example, in a 90-minute or two-hour session, you can spend the first 10 minutes connecting with members and setting SMART goals for your time together. Likewise, your group could end a meeting by reflecting on their progress and setting new goals. As a group, you should also establish ground rules for camera use during video calls, as well as the duration of work blocks and breaks, to foster structure and community.
  • Be aware of the challenges of online communication and take initiatives to mitigate them. Coffee Club members met in person, which made it easy for us to communicate our needs and challenges, but participating in an online virtual writing group requires the extra effort of asynchronous communication with members. For example, send additional reminders by email or text when the group is going to meet and share the information needed to join the meeting, such as Zoom links. Text or email group members ahead of time, if you can, to let them know when you can’t attend a meeting or will be late. Frequent but respectful communication is part of building community and mutual accountability.
  • Leverage digital tools to create workarounds and maintain a virtual writing community. Hello.Team, for example, lets users access a shared timer even when they can’t participate in a video call. This tool is a great way to organize Pomodoro writing sessions for a camera-shy group or with limited access to video conferencing. You can also use asynchronous communication tools like Slack to stay connected between meetings, such as sending motivational messages and celebrating writing wins via group text. These asynchronous tools can increase motivation by creating a tangible record of your group’s interactions and collective writing progress.

While these tips may seem obvious, they are effective ways to stay engaged, focused, and accountable to an online community whose ultimate goal is to make progress in writing. Plus, when you become intentional about interacting online, you’re practicing skills beyond mastering the genre norms of writing in your field or finishing the next draft of the chapter. Practices such as communicating asynchronously with team members, determining common goals for a remote workgroup, or designing a structure for online meetings are transferable skills that are particularly important in workplaces. remote and hybrid work today. In fact, the graduate student organizers online writing groups on the North Carolina State Slack space noted that they had learned as much about leading online groups as productive writing habits, while devoting time to achieve their own writing goals.

The next time you get together online to write, whether with a 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 thoughts on the group structure or writing process. You might be surprised by the answers. Good writing!

Scott R. Banks