For the panel, I'd been asked to reflect on a couple of questions:
1. How did you decide who to invite to participate with you?
2. How often do you meet? for how long each time?
3. What 3 things have contributed most to your group's success?
4. What advice would you offer people thinking about starting their own group?
I thought that for this blog post I'd re-state some of my answers, since it's a new semester and it's time to try to build a new group, as two of the members finished their thesis projects, as well as emphasize some of the themes of the panel discussion, which were very complimentary to my own thoughts on having a writing group.
|Rainy UVic campus leaves—beautiful if one pauses to enjoy them! :)|
I was essentially adopted into the writing group that I now have. The writing group core existed, and by good luck I was invited to one of the writing sessions, and invited to stay. I very quickly became one of the organizing members, actively seeking meeting times and locations, and helping to make the writing group work well. The writers were graduate students, a mix of PhD and master's, all of whom wanted to make progress on their thesis i a supportive environment. We had the agreement to do Pomodoros together (perhaps not every session), but the goals each time were to either make progress on a piece of writing for our theses, or clear the plate on some of the necessary things that we needed to address in order to set ourselves up for writing on our theses. While there was a small core group of the membership, we invited others to join us with great flexibility, including colleagues, and other members from other thesis groups. At our largest, we had about 8 people come to a session.
Our meeting times were variable; we tried for 3-4 times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, about 12PM to 5 or 6 PM, and sometimes on Sundays. Wednesdays there's free coffee and goodies at the Graduate Student Centre in the morning at 9:00AM, so we'd try to make it there for that for an earlier start.
Some of the main things that contributed to the success of our group include the environment that we created: it was supportive, welcoming, positive, and flexible (flexibility is something that was consistent among the comments of the panel members). We wanted to get Pomodoros of thesis writing done, but if someone had to write emails or read some journal articles, or do some edits on a chunk of writing, that was all really great.
Having our scheduling fairly consistent (the three days a week), even if the venue changed. And having that planned up to a week in advance, or at least having a good way of communicating to the group when and where we were meeting (we used Google Calendar).
Two of the members of the core group from last semester have finished up their thesis projects, and I am so happy and proud of them! We had a very small celebratory meet at the end of last semester, and I got a holiday email from one of the two of them. I wish them all the best with their future endeavours (one has moved back home already), and hope that I'm able to make these friendships last (and even if they don't, I am content that there are two more wonderful people with great ideas out in the world, and I'm grateful for the time we were able to spend together).
And advice that I'd pass on to other people thinking of starting their own group: go ahead and do it! But be clear about the goals and intentions of the group. It was great to have a group of people that were committed to hard work and getting things done, and we were able to stick with that, have breaks throughout, and build friendships from the group.
A few of the members of the panel had writing groups that were structured differently: in one, it was very small (3 people) who shared writing, met every 2-3 weeks, and there was an expectation that writing that was shared would have been read, and that when the group met, they would discuss the writing, and set up who would submit next. What really made that group work was the commitment to it (also it's flexibility if they were unable to meet in 2-3 weeks), but recognizing that it had a very set structure and required the members to follow through with their commitments to the group.
I would also add that it only takes a little bit of leadership to get a group going. I have a few people that I'm going to reach out to in order to make my writing group this new semester get going, and I know that it's an email's send away to start setting up writing dates.
Having a writing group makes the entire experience much more real, much more doable, and really shifted my perspective to feeling very positive about the writing I was doing. At some point, it would be great to share my writing with a colleague, my partner, or someone else from my department before I send the next chapter off to my supervisor, but I know that even if I don't manage to make that step happen (which is more personal preference than anything else), then my supervisor will provide great feedback, much as he has done in the past.
So here's to starting off a new writing group, and new semester!