Why I hate Shut Up and Write (SUAW)

Photo by Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Spoiler alert: I don’t actually hate Shut Up and Write (SUAW). Well, not anymore. But, for a long time, I thought I did. So, this isn’t purely a clickbait headline, it’s more of a reflection. Hopefully, it’s grabbed your attention whether you are a SUAW evangelist or a SUAW sceptic.

If you’ve never participated in a SUAW session, you can find out more about how it all started and how it works for researchers at La Trobe. You might follow those links and think: “Hey, this sounds pretty good!” In which case, great! Sign up and we look forward to seeing you at a SUAW session soon. 

If you're like me, though, you might feel quite a bit of resistance to the whole thing.

I’ve successfully avoided SUAW sessions for most of my career. These weren’t available when I was completing my PhD and, by the time I was lucky enough to end up at an institution with generous colleagues running SUAW sessions for staff, I found plenty of reasons to tell myself (and them) that it just wasn’t for me. Some reasons were more rational (for instance, I like to write in my pyjamas and I often write about distressing data), and some were – in retrospect – more about avoiding accountability and not wanting to think about my own writing practice.

Looking back, one of the biggest lies I told myself was that writing was, and should be, a solitary task. That I should be able to write on my own without any structure and that somehow working alone in this way was a sign of strength. I’d fallen into the trap – prevalent in the managerial, masculinised academy – of the solitary scholar. Even if I was writing collaboratively (and – gasp! – sometimes even enjoying that experience) writing in the presence of others felt confronting, so I dismissed it as somehow inferior.

At one point, I even went to the effort of Googling “criticisms of Shut Up and Write” in the hope that I might be able to intellectually justify my own defensiveness. Turns out there aren’t really any big criticisms. Mostly, I found people helpfully suggesting how they’ve tweaked or modified things to work better for them. It started feeling as though I might have to try it out.

And I did. Initially, it felt a bit weird. I note this not to put anyone off, but to acknowledge that it might also feel a bit weird the first time (or times) you come along. I didn’t have a good sense of the way things worked or how the rhythm of sessions flowed (turns out that’s fine; sessions are very welcoming, and new folks tend to get the hang of it quickly). I didn’t want to have awkward conversations with colleagues or be interrupted while deep in concentration (turns out you don’t have to have forced chats and you can work through breaks). I didn’t always feel organised enough to have a specific writing task to work on before turning up (turns out I’m not the only one and sometimes participants sort this out at the start of SUAW sessions).

A lot of the other benefits spruiked about SUAW proved true for me, too. I generally found the sessions to be very productive. I felt more connected and part of a community. And I watched the underrated magic of SUAW unfold as researchers offered each other useful hints, tips, and advice during breaks and shared in celebrating things as minor as finishing the 200 words you said you’d write that day or as big as handing in a completed thesis.

But the biggest change was that SUAW made me rethink how I go about writing. Like plenty of other academics, I’d fallen back on the fallacy that writing (or good writing) can only be done in the right mood; as though this is a state beyond our control. I’d accepted procrastination as a big part of the process and too often relied on all-nighters to reach deadlines, usually after piling on so many layers of guilt that the avoidance became more overwhelming and unbearable than facing the task itself. It was a miserable way to get things done and, I realise now, often made hard work even harder.

Sure, SUAW sessions can’t change the fact that writing can be hard. What they did change, for me at least, was how hard I had been on myself. So, if you’re a fellow SUAW sceptic or you’ve been hovering at the edges and afraid to jump in, I get you. But consider this your sign to give it a go! You’ve got nothing to lose but your writing-based guilt.


Dr Meagan Tyler is a Senior Lecturer in research education and development with the RED (Research Education and Development) team at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.  

Her interdisciplinary research work has focused mostly on analysing gender inequality and violence against women across a range of social, organisational and policy contexts. 

She’s passionate about public engagement and building better universities.