Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Writing inspiration: writing group wisdom

For the first time since my dream about the Mad Men writing group and Dame Eleanor's group a few years back, I am in a writing group.  Hooray!

It's really an accountability group of the kind that Boice and Silvia have separately recommended. We're not reading drafts, but we set goals and hold each other accountable for meeting them. "No excuses" is Silvia's motto, and it's ours, too.

I'm starting to think that the process of thinking about writing--the act of analyzing what you do when you write--is a recursive process, much as the act of writing itself is. When I read old "writing inspiration" posts here at this blog and elsewhere, it helps me to think about the process, which in turn helps me to think about the writing I'm trying to do.

The writing group is already helping with this, in these ways:

1. You work harder when you know you have to look into the eyes of a group and say, "No, I didn't meet that goal this week."

2.  They can cheer you on when you get things done.

3.  They can also fix you with a mildly stern gaze and point out that taking on too many low-hanging fruit-type writing assignments can leave your main project behind.

4. Since these are people in approximately my general field, I can ask for and give suggestions about publication venues.

5. Seeing how much everyone is accomplishing when not on sabbatical is a bracing reminder that I ought to be accomplishing more and to set goals accordingly.

This is the sixth year I've kept the Excel spreadsheet to keep track of writing, and there's a separate page where projects and deadlines are listed. It really does help. But I can choose not to open the spreadsheet, whereas the writing group is going to expect to hear from me.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Yay! Both kinds of groups are really helpful. I've fallen off the spreadsheet wagon lately; thanks for the reminder to get back to it.

gwinne said...

I haven't done a spreadsheet like that... maybe I'll give it a go.

I haven't felt the need to have any kind of external accountability, as I'm pretty good about keeping myself honest. Writing down WHAT I work on, though, and how much, might be revealing...

Z said...

I must be the only one who reacts so poorly. I like research groups, getting together to talk about research, and the side effect of having these keep that on track, and as a side effect of that, keeping writing moving ahead. But ever since this "accountability" came into fashion, I hate to write. I guess I already had enough discipline, and the overdose just makes me want to smash the state! (I'd been really good with research and writing schedules from 6th grade almost toward tenure. Then the damned Boice fashion hit and everyone started to preach at me, as though I had never gotten a degree before, or published before.)

Z said...

...but I *do* like reading drafts. The fact that it is my day and that someone will ready does in fact motivate me to write (having to "report" just makes me want to hit someone, I am not in kindergarten and I already have to report enough, everywhere). Also, I find that it helps people. My most stuck colleague, in another field, I read his piece and asked a question (I really did try to understand the piece) and he said: oh. wait. yes. thinking about that, I see where to take this such that it is non-boring. Then *that* was the insight that got him to go to the first conference in years. And it is because I actually read and took an interest, as opposed to sit there and glare at him and tell him to write.

undine said...

Dame Eleanor--It's a "pants + suspenders" approach, but I'm hoping it works.

Gwinne--if you're good at keeping yourself honest, you don't need this stuff. I'm not, which is why I do it.

Z--I know you've written about this on your blog before, and usually this kind of stricture makes me balk. (Ask me about when I 've tried to write down foods to control my weight, for example.) I'm sorry that people are preaching at you about it but glad that your colleague got unstuck.

My issue is that when I write down the number of words, I write more. It's that simple. Writing in the morning makes me almost unbearably anxious (though writing at night doesn't), but I can do something, at least, if I commit to putting words, however awful, on a page.

The writing group is, I think, more about meeting with people to talk about writing, even if incidentally. For years, I have heard "I sent this to a trusted reader" or "I shared this with my writing group." This is standard advice everywhere.

Well, I have never had this in my career, not even once. No one reads my stuff before I send it out. No one reads and discusses drafts, since I'm too unwilling to impose on anyone to read something. I have no trusted readers. Not one.

That's why this appealed to me: it may develop into this kind of writing circle or at least trusted readers that I have heard about all my life and that (seemingly) every other academic I know has as a part of the research and writing process.

Z said...

I think I see something about this - I think I react as I do because of an anxiety condition. It is my flash of insight for the day and I am going to post about it.

Anonymous said...

@Undine-- My mom's productivity went way up when she joined a writing group. One of the first things that I did when I started my job here was starting a weekly research group. It's just really nice to have people to talk to when you're stuck so you don't stay stuck forever, especially in a formal setting where you don't feel like you're imposing.

I totally failed at a writing challenge this February. But March is a new month with even shorter deadlines, but presumably no surprises that knock me entirely off my game like last month.

Anonymous said...

p.s. #2 on my blog and I have been reading each other's drafts since high school. It really is seriously helpful to have someone.

Z said...

Yes. You really have to be able to talk about research and drafts. I have an example of this from today that I would narrate were it not so mundane. (It's a revelation only because I have spent so much time trying to convince myself that one can live without these things)

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--March is a whole new month! Good luck on your writing challenge. I know that I'm working a lot harder now that I know I'll have to report next week if I didn't get things done.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to talk about my work with someone, usually at a conference during a coffee break, it's been wonderful in the ways you describe. Those have been some great and heartening conversations.

Z--it makes sense that the anxiety would be about the demand that writing be done in a certain way. I'll look forward to your post.