When I started A Meeting With Your Writing, co-working groups for academics were practically unheard of Shut Up and Write didn’t exist yet. The most popular “accountability group” for academic writers, The Academic Ladder, didn’t include co-working. There is now a proliferation of options, both specifically for academics, and more generally.
It is common to describe co-working groups as accountability groups. I am very uncomfortable with that term, for reasons that include those explained in detail by Cathy Mazak, in Making Time to Write: How to Resist the Patriarchy and Take Control of Your Academic Career Through Writing, and Devon Price, in Laziness Does Not Exist.
I’m less interested in the why and more interested in the effects. Framing these things in terms of “accountability” tends to make writers feel like there is something wrong with them. You are not broken. The system is.
Accountability seems to me to be irrevocably tied up with productivity in ways that take the writer away from their own needs, enjoyment and identity. It is too easily linked to product-based goals that are externally focused.
Breaking these goals down into product-based session goals too often leads to feelings of inadequacy about the writer’s ability to plan their projects, which takes emotional and cognitive resources away from the content of the writing.
In particular, difficulties estimating how long specific parts of the project will take lead to feelings of inadequacy about your ability to write and thus to do this job. If you are good at project planning and time estimation, writing becomes a chore.
You may feel like you need “accountability” either to help you motivate yourself to do this chore, or to help you fix your inadequate project planning, or both. You might end up feeling resentful of how little time you have to do it and your need for this external “accountability”. The thieves of joy abound.
You want to write.
Yes, writing is often difficult or frustrating. In the right circumstances it is a satisfying and even enjoyable challenge.
You may resent the institutional pressures to write particular types of things, for specific types of audiences. You may resent that those publications may be used to evaluate whether you get access to the resources necessary to keep doing this work you want to do.
Those pressures may make it hard to access that desire. But that desire to write is part of what got you here.
What if, instead of looking for “accountability”, you looked for things that would help you reconnect with your desire to write?
What if you assumed that having support to protect time and help you turn that intrinsic motivation into actual writing was just a need you have? Or, what if making it easier to protect time and turn your intrinsic motivation into actual writing is something you want?
- It’s okay to want to write.
- It’s okay to want it to be easier.
- It’s okay to want support.
When intrinsic motivation isn’t enough
Wanting to write and enjoying writing, doesn’t mean it’s always enjoyable. Writing is often difficult.
You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t like a challenge, though.
You like the particular kinds of intellectual challenges that your writing provides. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating and difficult to actually work through those challenges.
In the face of frustration and difficulty, it’s normal to look for something else to do instead.
A co-working group, like A Meeting With Your Writing, helps you overcome this desire for distraction in a few ways.
- Having booked and paid for a thing gives you extra motivation to turn up.
- The opening prompts create a transition ritual that helps you bring your focus to this project.
- We specifically prompt you to think about focus and what might help optimize it.
- There are other people in the (virtual) room working on their projects.
That last one is much more helpful than you think…
Have you heard of Body Doubling?
I was introduced to this term by a Studio member with ADHD. It’s one of the reasons they find A Meeting With Your Writing so helpful.
Body-doubling is simply having another person in the room with you, working quietly alongside you. They can work on something similar, or something completely different. They can read a book or knit. They’re not there to judge you or nag you, they’re just … there.
Procrastination and low motivation make productivity difficult. Body-doubling might help
Some people have hypothesised why this works, but I’m less concerned with the why. There is plenty of evidence that it does work. In virtual contexts, as well as in person.
Doing hard things is easier when there are other people there also doing hard things. There is no bar for “hard enough”. If you find this helpful to do a thing you want to do, then body doubling is a strategy to try.
BTW, it also works for those tasks that you have to do yet find tedious or boring. Meeting a colleague to do your grading together might make it easier for both of you. Or, do some of those tasks at the kitchen table while your kids do the homework they are struggling to focus on.
There is a similar term, “parallel play”, in which the emphasis is reversed. For adults, the focus is often on leisure activities. And the benefits are less about the activities themselves, than on how engaging in them with other people affects the social relationship.
Shared struggles and shared triumph
The advantage of something like A Meeting With Your Writing over some of the general co-working services, is that the other people in the group are doing similar work.
If your attention starts to wander in the middle of the session, you look up and see other academics writing.
Sometimes you might look up and see someone else staring into the middle distance as they think about what to type next. Or with a look on their face that indicates that maybe they are struggling with this bit too.
They are still there. Doing the work they want to do while you do yours. That little reminder helps you come back to the task at hand.
At the end of the session the host asks you to make notes about what you did, how much of it you did, and how it moved your project forward. Don’t worry we’re not grading you, it’s a chance for you to reflect.
We remind you that thinking counts. We remind you that this is enough and you are allowed to be pleased with this progress.
And then we invite you to share something about that in the meeting chat.
You get to see that other people had a slow day. And also that some people had a good writing session today. That someone figured out how to solve a problem that they were having. You also see that someone who struggled to write 200 words last week, wrote 1000 this week. You dare to imagine that maybe one week that will be you.
The purpose of the meeting is to write, so we want to help you do that. The host of A Meeting With Your Writing is always available to help you get started or unstuck.
- Sometimes that means talking through whatever emotional issue is making it hard to do this next bit.
- Sometimes that means talking through what you are trying to do with someone else. Just trying to articulate it might get you unstuck. Or, the host might have helpful questions or observations that will move you forward.
- Sometimes you just need a bit of encouragement or reassurance.
The host is a paid Studio staff member. You aren’t disturbing them, the way you might fear disturbing a colleague.
The host is familiar with academic writing, even if they aren’t in your discipline. Sometimes this makes a difference.
We now offer 4 sessions per week!
From Monday 21 August, we are adding another session of A Meeting With Your Writing!
The variety of options make it more likely that one session fits in with your other commitments and your preferences, and is at a reasonable time in your time zone. The price assumes you only come once a week, but you are free to attend as many as you like.
3 of the 4 sessions are on Mondays because it’s nice to start the week with something you want to do. Writing at the beginning of the week when you are fresh(er) is really different from doing it at the end of the week when you are tired.
And let’s face it, on Wednesday when you are feeling swamped it’s a lot nicer to be able to say “I’ve already done some writing this week” than to wonder whether it’s going to be possible at all…
The 4th session is on a Thursday, in case Mondays don’t work with your other commitments. Or, you can use it to help you protect a 2nd session, if your workload makes that reasonable.
This post was originally sent to the General Newsletter on August 18, 2023.