Academic Writing Groups: Graduate School Support Group

Last semester I was first introduced to the term “writing group” by my professor as he discussed the publication success of one of his colleagues.  He stated that writing groups help to keep each other accountable and that if you have a good group, the possibilities are endless if you want to really step up your publication game.  One of the benefits of being in a writing group is that you can share first authorship on manuscripts.  Sounds like a great idea right? I was totally sold on the idea and began looking into writing groups.

As I began reading online, I read a good article on the benefits of a writing group and decided to check out some of the materials referenced within the article. The first thing I did was to purchase the book How To Write A Lot by Paul J. Silvia, PhD.  This book is very detailed but easy to read with a lot of beneficial suggestions.  Dr. Silvia mentioned an agraphia group which is a support group for writers to encourage them to write better and faster through motivation, goal setting, and social support. Basically, it’s a writing group. Another valuable point that was mentioned in this book is the importance of planning what you will write. Essentially, the idea is that if you have a well-developed plan for writing then the chances of having writing block is decreased.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides some good information on having a writing group starter kit, including information on ways to talk about a writing group. Also, on her website, Jane Friedman provides some writing group tips.  She explains the benefits of discussing group frequency, group size, structure, and receiving and giving feedback within the writing group.

This article by Carissa Froyum, PhD., and Marybeth Stalp, PhD., professors at the University of Northern Iowa, was the document I used to help me form my own writing group.  Among all the sites I explored, this document gave me the most guidance and points for consideration.  Here are the suggestions for structuring the writing group:

* Decide how often you will meet: My group decided that we will meet weekly, before one of our classes (we are in the same cohort, so class schedule is the same for us).

* Decide how many members:  I started my group with 2 other members.  I decided to start really small as this was our first attempt, and we are all working on the same project together.  So I figured this was the perfect way to introduce the concept.  I was really happy that they were excited that I brought the idea to them.

* Leadership: Froyum and Stalp suggested that a leader should be assigned to the group and this position should be rotated among members.  We decided that I will take up the leadership position right now, and at our next meeting we will plan the rotation schedule for leadership.

* When to provide pieces for feedback: We have not decided how we will do this yet, however at our next meeting, this is on our agenda.  Froyum and Stalp mentioned the idea of emailing group members your paper the day before you meet is a good way to keep everyone updated.

* How to begin sessions: Our first meeting, we basically discussed being in a writing group and agreed that we all needed the support.  More detailed planning will take place next week, however I liked the suggestion in this article to begin with 5 minutes of social time.  Knowing the members of my writing group, I think they will enjoy this and even some mindfulness activity to start and end our group.

* Ways to give feedback: We agreed that we will provide each other with verbal feedback based on the specific writing target goal of that week.  We also discussed the possibility of emailing drafts and using track-changes to provide feedback that way.  However, what was important to all of us, was the idea of being able to have open discussion about what we are struggling with and ways to overcome writing obstacles.

I am looking forward to this new experience with my small writing group and hope that in the future we can expand and work on more projects with other students.  The most important thing is that I trust my group members and feel very comfortable and supported by each of them.

Have you ever been in a writing group?  Have you considered joining a writing group?  

“It is not enough to do your best; you have to know what to do and then do your best.” ~ W. Edwards Deming

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