While writing my thesis, I joined the Coffee Club: five doctoral students. students who met on Wednesday afternoons at the library to write together. We met at a thesis training camp and decided to keep the momentum going, which involved writing in silence and taking 10-minute breaks every hour. The Coffee Club members were drawn from STEM, social sciences, and humanities, so we figured we could focus more on our writing without being distracted from talking about our thesis topics to peers in our fields.
Our method worked: We were motivated by the time spent writing and empowering knowledge facing similar challenges. Along the way, we learned more about research projects and everyone’s lives outside of graduate school during breaks, and branched out from the library to cafes near the University of Pittsburgh. We celebrated members’ defenses with cupcakes and thanked the Coffee Club on the dedication pages of our theses. As a graduate student in the rather lonely field of English, I was grateful for the company and structure of the Coffee Club, which helped me complete my thesis and shape my interest in working with advanced writers. in all disciplines.
Flash forward until 2021. I am an administrator at North Carolina State University develop writing support programs for graduate students at a time when the responsibility, motivation and (virtual) community of writing groups are more important than ever. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, I leveraged my experiences as a Coffee Club graduate writer to design virtual writing retreats, Zoom Pomodoro sessions for thesis writers, and a space for Slack work for interns to host writing groups.
These programs have enabled graduate and postdoctoral writers from all disciplines to advance in their writing endeavors with an emphasis on effective writing habits and supportive virtual communities. My efforts have come alongside the growing popularity of similar online writing experiences, including initiatives from major organizations such as the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s 14 day writing challenges, programs sponsored by universities such as the University of North Carolina Charlotte Weekend scriptures, and informal writing meetings on Zoom initiated by graduate and postdoctoral interns.
Writing scholars have known the importance 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 supporting virtual writing from a professional development perspective with an emphasis on the transferable skills that graduate or postdoctoral writers acquire in interacting with their peers from different disciplines around shared writing experiences and challenges.Participating in activities such as writing groups and thesis retreats has value beyond simply finishing a chapter or ‘an article manuscript. To paraphrase another recent essay from’ Carpe Careers’, such writing support activities are a form of peer-to-peer networking that allows us to connect with colleagues outside of our disciplines and ourselves. even helps to articulate the impact of our research with various stakeholders.
The benefits of devoting time to writing assistance as a graduate or postdoctoral student are well known, but sometimes it is difficult in practice to engage in these activities. Online writing groups can be especially difficult, as distractions loom at home and elsewhere, and often a lack of expectations for the group decreases motivation to attend. So how do you make the most 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 describe how you can maximize the benefits of a virtual writing group. Whether you’re meeting for Pomodoro sessions on Zoom or to get feedback on thesis chapters, here are some ways to be productive, responsible, and motivated while interacting with other graduate or postdoctoral writers online.
- Be intentional to start or join a writing group. Looking for feedback on a specific project, such as an article, thesis, or application materials? Or are you looking for a time dedicated to writing? 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 could benefit the most – for example, colleagues inside or outside your discipline – and when and how often you you come together.
- Take an active role in planning. Graduate students and post-docs are busy, so the most productive members of the writing group share the work of organizing meetings and communicating with members. Digital tools like Slack and the Google Calendar can help you manage the logistical burden and stay on the same page about when and how you meet.
- Create rituals to structure virtual meeting time. As we know from attending Zoom meetings, a common sense of purpose and communication standards is crucial in online meetings. Likewise, in a virtual writing group, rituals like answering low-stake icebreaker questions can help members build relationships. For example, in a 90-minute or two-hour session, you can spend the first 10 minutes checking in with members and setting SMART goals for your time together. Likewise, your group might end a meeting by reflecting on its progress and setting new goals. As a group, you should also establish ground rules for using the camera during video calls, as well as the length of work blocks and breaks, in order to foster structure and community.
- Be aware of the challenges of online communication and take initiatives to alleviate them. The 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 an extra effort of asynchronous communication with the members. For example, send email or text reminders when the group is about to meet and share the information needed to access 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 you’ll be late. Frequent but respectful communication is part of building community and mutual accountability.
- Take advantage of digital tools to create workarounds and maintain a virtual community of writers. Hello Team, for example, allows users to access a shared timer even if they cannot participate in a video call. This tool is a great way to organize Pomodoro writing sessions for a group who are shy in front of the camera or have 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 written 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 progress in writing. Plus, when you become intentional about interacting online, you’re practicing skills beyond mastering the gender norms of writing in your field or finishing the next draft of the chapter. Practices such as asynchronous communication with team members, determining common goals for a remote working group, 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’s Slack space noted that they learned as much about leading online groups as they were about productive writing habits, while also spending 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 by being a part of? this online writing group? Take a few minutes after the session to jot down your thoughts on group structure or the writing process. You might be surprised at the answers. Good writing!