• Shayna Sheinfeld, Ph.D.

Writing Accountability Groups

For the next four blog posts I will discuss different types of writing groups and how they can benefit your academic writing and style. This is the first in the series.

Have you ever been asked to join a writing group? What, exactly, is a writing group? There are multiple kinds, and to know what kind might work for you, you need to know about each of them. This blog post will cover writing accountability groups.

While I started and have been a part of a writing group since I was working on my dissertation proposal, the first time I heard about a writing accountability group (WAG) was when I landed my first full time position as a visiting instructor. I was thrilled, of course, to finally have a livable income and to be teaching full-time at a highly ranked small liberal arts college, but I also wasn't done with my dissertation. Within a few weeks of the start of the term, I learned about WAG— a group of faculty who met every week to talk about their writing, set goals, and report on their successes and struggles.

This was the first of several WAGs that I have belonged to, and they have varied dramatically. The best ones were incredibly effective; I learned how to set better goals and be more effective in time and expectations. I could never have been as productive as I am without the support of my colleagues in the Writing Accountability Group.

Sounds good, right? In order to develop (or overhaul) a WAG, here is a list of features that every good WAG will have:

1. Meetings at a regular, set time: while it can be difficult to arrange a time to meet on a regular basis, especially in the midst of teaching and institutional responsibility, those serious about meeting their goals will block out a set time each week to meet. This meeting does not have to be in person (I've belonged to numerous WAGs online as well as in person), but it does need to be regular and one must be committed. A periodic miss is bound to happen for anyone, but it should be an oddity, not the rule. I recommend once a week for 45 minutes if you have 3 participants; increase the time if you have more.

2. Clear Expectations: At your first meeting agree on (or review) expectations. For instance: Each person gets time to review their successes/struggles from the previous week; struggles should be discussed with the group (see below). Each person gets some time to set SMART goals for the following week (see below). No discussion of teaching (unless relevant to goals) or unrelated situations/events should happen during the actual meeting. Note that if you are a friendly group, you may want to set aside some time at the end to discuss teaching-related struggles, personal struggles/celebrations, etc.

3. Come Prepared: Come to the meeting having already thought about—and written down—what you want to accomplish for the upcoming week, and what you did (or did not) accomplish from last week's list. If you struggled to meet your goals, reflect before the meeting as to why you had this trouble.

4. Set SMART goals: I've discussed SMART goals before, so I won't go over in detail what that means here. For the WAG each person should have a semester/summer plan that they periodically reflect on in terms of their weekly goals. They should also have SMART goals for set for the week.

4. Ask Questions & Discuss Struggles: You may think up until this point that these are things you can do on your own. It's true. But here's where having a group comes in: this meeting isn't just about you. When it is someone else's turn, listen carefully. Did they accomplish their goals? If not, can you offer thoughtful suggestions as to why they did not and what they might do differently? For instance, if one person did not meet their writing goal to write every day for 30-minutes, but you also know they are going through some personal struggles or that they are on two search committees and on the tenure & promotion committee, perhaps their goals aren't SMART. Being in a group means helping one another identify problems, set realistic expectations (e.g. the week after the midterm is probably going to be grading-intensive; perhaps not the best time to set lofty writing goals), and asking if there are ways you can help one another (e.g. setting up a write-on-site or volunteering to check in via text once a day). Yes, this is work. But when it comes to your turn, you'll appreciate the work others will do to help make you successful!

5. Celebrate the successes: Too often in academia we finish something and then move on to the next thing without much more than a pause and a sigh. It's important to celebrate the successes, no matter how small. In the groups I've been in, when someone overcomes a hurdle, we acknowledge that in some way. When someone submits a piece of writing, we cheer for them and tell them what a good job they have done. Any success is met with encouragement and celebration, reminding us that this is not easy, but that we can do it! At the end of the semester/summer we often celebrate with an informal get-together over drinks or brunch.

While each Writing Accountability Group will be different in its personality and make-up, each of the features listed here are essential for success.

If you are interested in weekly writing accountability through a coach, this is an important service that I offer. I will meet with you (e.g. phone, skype, etc.) once a week for 30-minutes to talk about your goals for the upcoming week, what you have accomplished, and what you have struggled with. I will help you set more effective goals and streamline your writing time. Contact me for more information or to set up a free no-obligation consultation to discuss how I can help you.

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