Staying connected through virtual writing groups

Hannah Slocombe, Geography & Environment, University of Liverpool (2019 Cohort)

With the rise in remote working as well as limits on social opportunities during the last couple of years, virtual writing groups offer a great way of working with others whilst apart.

Since I started my PhD, I have been involved in several virtual writing groups. These groups meet once a month via Zoom or Microsoft Teams and bring together students and staff in a supportive space to encourage dedicated writing time.

Typically, these writing groups begin with an informal catch-up and a discussion of each person’s goal for what they want to achieve during the day, whether it be working on a couple of paragraphs towards a chapter, transcribing an interview, or writing a conference abstract.

From there, we write. Each writing group I have attended has had a different approach to the split of writing/break time, but usually they involve 40-50 minutes of writing followed by a 10-20 minute break.

We would then have another check-in before lunchtime, before regrouping after lunch for the afternoon writing session. After an afternoon of writing, we have a final catch-up at the end of the day and reflect on what we have achieved.

I’ve found attending virtual writing groups helpful for a number of reasons. Firstly, with the rise in remote working as well as limits on how many people can be in office spaces since campuses have reopened, many PhD students have not had the office experience that they expected that they would have during their PhD. For many the last couple of years have meant a greater amount of time working alone and working from home. Although meeting virtually isn’t the same, it is still a good way of seeing and catching up with colleagues like you would in an office environment.

Attending a virtual writing group can also allow you to meet colleagues you wouldn’t have met in the office. As people can participate remotely, virtual writing groups can bring together colleagues from anywhere. In this way, virtual writing groups can be a more inclusive space.

Secondly, I’ve found virtual writing groups to be a good way of increasing my motivation to write. When working from home maintaining motivation can be challenging, especially when writing more difficult sections of a PhD. Having a dedicated day for writing that is separated into manageable periods of writing/ break time makes this process easier. Also, attending writing groups with different approaches to the split of writing/ break time has meant that I’ve been able to find an approach that works best for me which I can apply to other days to get the most out of the time I spend writing.

Thirdly, virtual writing groups are a supportive space. As you can share your goals with others at the start of the day the other people in the group can give feedback on these goals and let you know whether they are realistic and manageable. This is particularly helpful if you often set unrealistic goals for how much writing you can do in a day. Sharing goals with others also creates a greater sense of accountability. It’s also a supportive space as everyone is writing together. Although we have our individual goals for the day, during a writing day everyone is writing.

So if you’re looking to increase your motivation to write and find a supportive space in which you can keep in touch with colleagues then I’d encourage you to join a writing group. If you’re unsure of how to join a writing group I’d see what is available within your university, within the NWSSDTP, or in groups at the Royal Geographical Society. If you can’t find a suitable group, then you could create your own virtual writing group as they are easy to set up if you have colleagues in mind to join you.

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