by Shannon Lucky
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan
I don’t mean to brag, but I have been getting a lot of writing done this semester. A lot more than usual anyway – a huge achievement for a chronic writing procrastinator. So much of my work as an academic librarian includes writing (research, reports, documentation, instructional materials, funding proposals, this blog post…) but I often don’t set aside time to focus on my writing as both a skill and a product. My recent burst of productivity certainly isn’t a result of finding a previously untapped source of free time or boundless motivation. It isn’t a change in my work or a pile of deadlines suddenly coming due. I have to give almost all of the credit to peer pressure (the good kind) via the C-EBLIP writing circle.
Starting this past September U Sask librarians have been meeting every other Monday afternoon to talk about our writing, work through problems from peer review to punctuation, and get some serious work done. Carolyn Pytlyk, the Library’s research facilitator, introduced the idea of a writing circle and serves as our session facilitator. The format is really simple: we meet bi-weekly, we take turns reporting what we accomplished, we discuss some aspect of academic writing, and then we work silently for a few hours on our own projects. If that sounds simple that’s because it is, but I think there are a few things we have worked out during our first semester that have made our writing circle particularly productive.
- Meet bi-weekly – For our group, meeting at noon every second Monday gives us enough time to get some writing done even if we have a hectic schedule and don’t get into a daily writing habit (still the dream, not yet my reality). Originally we met for three hours – one hour for talking and two for writing – but recently extended our meeting time to four hours to give us more time for working if we get into a flow state. The consistency and predictability of our meeting schedule is important. We haven’t cancelled or rescheduled meetings, whomever is able to come attends. No one is expected to stay for the entire time and people are welcome to arrive late or slip away early. This occasionally means a very small group meets some weeks, but even then the pattern we have set works.
The room we use has turned out to be an important factor. We have pre-booked a specific meeting room in the library that has enough plugins for everyone’s computers, a big window for some natural light, is quiet, and (most importantly) we are not visible to passing colleagues who might just have a quick question. Avoiding benign distractions has been a game changer for me – getting away from my email inbox, phone, and open office door is key.
- Reporting – Each meeting starts out with an informal round table reporting of our last two weeks. We list what we have accomplished since the last meeting, if we met our writing goal, and then we share our goals for the next week. This is where the peer pressure begins to work for me. Having to confess that I didn’t do what I said I would hurts. I don’t like to fall short of my goals and have to fess up in front of friends and colleagues (however kind and supportive), so I am motivated to get my work done. This process has also made me much better at estimating how long it will take me to get a writing task wrapped up.
- Discuss – After accounting for our own goals we usually talk about something someone in the group is working through like responding to peer reviewer comments, writing similar literature reviews for multiple papers, or active vs. passive voice in academic writing. Carolyn has also begun a very popular series of grammar lessons based on her pet peeves. I have learned a lot and I am far more careful with my proofreading now. These discussions have been a fantastic way to learn about how other writers in my field work and to assuage my fears that I am alone in my struggles to write productively, clearly, eloquently, and quickly. Writing is hard work and having somewhere to talk through problems is incredibly beneficial. I think of it a bit like writing therapy and I am usually eager to get to work after hashing out some writing anxieties with the group.
- Work – The key to my increased output this semester. After we talk, we get down to it and write. I am amazed at what I can accomplish in three hours of focused, uninterrupted writing. Simply being in a room full of quiet but concentrated typing and pen scratching is motivating in an entirely unique way. I don’t check email during this time and I always come with a plan for what I want to work on. Following Paul Silvia’s advice in How to Write A Lot I consider any part of the writing process fair game for this work time including reading, data analysis, creating an outline, drafting, editing – anything that gets me closer to a finished project.
That’s it! Four easy steps to writing more (and making the process less painful).
Meeting with this group has motivated and focused me in ways I have really struggled to do on my own. Having the in-person meetings is wonderful (I would highly recommend starting your own group!) but if you are in a place where starting a writing circle isn’t possible the internet is a great place to find a supportive writing community.
Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is a virtual academic writing group that meets on Twitter (@SUWTUES) on the first and third Tuesday of every month. There are three different time zone groups to suit writers in different parts of the world (or night owls).
- @SUWTues for the Asia-Pacific region
- @SUWTUK for the UK and Western Europe
- @SUWTNA for Canada and the US.
Follow the acount of your choice and the host will let you know when to start and when to take a break. You can talk with other participants and report your progress using the hashtags #suwtues / #suwtuk / #suwtna
The next Shut Up and Write Tuesday is on February 2nd, 2016. My New Years writing resolution is to try to double my output by sticking with the C-EBLIP writing circle and trying out Shut Up & Write Tuesdays. Hopefully I will see you on Twitter in 2016, please wag a digital finger at me if you don’t – that peer pressure really works!
This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.