I wanna write with somebody (Tseen Khoo)

Image from The Coherent Team | unsplash.com

I often hear from researchers that they really wanna write with somebody (pace, Whitney Houston). 

I'm not talking here about co-authoring or collaborating on a piece of writing but about being part of a writing group or community, feeling the solidarity of fellow writers and knowing you're together for a purpose. Often, folks who want these communities are interested in combining productivity, some socialising, and a foundational level of support for one another's endeavours. 

There are many ways you can establish this for yourself and this post offers models that you can tailor to suit your personality, location, and preferred style of working. What you choose to do may be in-person or online. 

For example, my preference is for online sessions, using the pomodoro method, with a relatively organic take on attendance (that is, groups that aren't too uptight about strict attendance for a duration).  I don't mind who's in the mix as I normally keep the socialising to a lower level. You may have different priorities. I know some of our researchers are hankering for in-person writing sessions, others prioritise the socialising in the breaks a lot, others still just like having others around them but don't need to have conversations. 

It's worth working out whatever the setting is that enables you to work at your best. This post offers a few ideas for ways to write with others that you can tap into straight away, or which you can tweak to suit you better. 

Shut up and write sessions

My go-to suggestion if someone is hunting for a writing group or writing companionship is always 'shut up and write' (SUAW) sessions. These are now well established as a part of many university research environments. Here's a SUAW overview, giving you more information about what they are and how we run them online. We host many sessions here at La Trobe University - one every day of the week, in fact! You can check out those sessions here. Basically, SUAW is a group of people who get together regularly to work on their writing projects and the event format is structured by using the pomodoro technique

If you prefer a smaller group that is more local or known to you (e.g. your department or School), then  see if there's a SUAW already around. If not, think about starting one up! Here are some SUAW guidelines for how we run our sessions that can be a starting point as you think about creating your own - adapt them to suit you! The people you'd like to gather for SUAW sessions could be a range of combinations: you and a single buddy, peers in the same discipline across different universities, anyone who wants to come and heard about it from your colleagues...it can be as open or closed as you'd like. 

Loosening the time 

Pomodoros can be different durations if you'd prefer longer focused stints (e.g. 40 mins rather than 25 mins). Indeed, you don't even have to run writing groups in a typical pomodoro / SUAW style. You can still have the accountability and sociability by setting much larger, looser blocks of writing time. For example, you can: 

  • Meet up in the morning, 
  • Have a chat about what you're doing, 
  • Go and do your stuff, and 
  • Meet up again at lunchtime to decompress and debrief. 

This works for in person or online and can be rinsed and repeated through several days if you'd like to have a low-key multi-day writing retreat. 

In addition, you could write alongside others without any kind real structure at all. There are researchers who meet up with writing buddies regularly, often online, and just hang out with each other for a work day without structuring that time beyond turning up and leaving at the end of the day. It can be enough to know that someone else is 'in the room' with you. Bronwyn Eager wrote about the concept of 'body doubling', which is the "practice of having another person present while you try to complete a task", and this is exactly what some researchers are after when they are looking for writing companionship (read Bronwyn's full post here). 

Writing accountability across a month

A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to the 'Monthly Weeklies' - find out all about it and how to run one in this post by Jonathan Williams. This alternative writing group model is asynchronous and online so could include anyone from around the world. Basically, it "runs in monthly cycles with weekly check-ins" (Williams). I was part of one group, off and on, for a couple of years, and it really helped hone my goal-setting skills. 

Being asynchronous, and our group being distributed across the world on various timezones, I was initially sceptical that I'd get to know other people at all. But the check-ins, and how folks embraced the sharing around what worked for them in a given week, what the challenges were, and how that might modify their next set of goals - all that helped in learning about others and their approaches, personalities, and priorities. It was a wonderful revelation. There was capacity for commenting on each others' check-ins and progress and that's where a lot of the bonding happened. 


So, there you have a few ideas for finding or creating the kind of writing companionship that you're after. Writing with a group can make a huge difference to how much you achieve, and it's usually a great way to get to know new and existing colleagues better without any big 'I am networking' vibes.


Dr Tseen Khoo is a Senior Lecturer in research education and development with the RED team at La Trobe University. Melbourne. She researches in the field of critical university studies and has published on early career researcher experiences, digital academic identities, and racial diversity issues. 

Tseen created and manages the Research Whisperer with Jonathan O'Donnell. She's on too many social media platforms as @tseenster.