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Why Scholars Should Never Write Alone: Pandemic Edition

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If I have learned anything from working as a scholar and an academic editor, it’s that excellent writing is rarely a solitary act. Many of us struggle to find time for our academic writing and would benefit from some accountability. A second pair of eyes can also be crucial for helping to flesh out an argument, developing a compelling narrative, or just curbing a propensity for em dashes. The bottom line: writing in community with others can demonstrably improve both your productivity and the quality of your academic writing.

So what are some of your options, especially in the midst of a pandemic?

Traditional & Virtual Writing Communities

The most obvious choice is to share your work with a colleague. The problem: most likely, they are as busy as you are and desperate to find time for their own academic writing. This is especially true during the time of COVID when many people are trying to balance new teaching demands, increased caretaking responsibilities, and just staying safe and healthy.

The standard advice to join or form a writing group or a write-on-site group has become a lot more complicated now that many of us are relegated to our home offices. Therefore, more than ever, people are looking at virtual writing communities and writing accountability groups (WAGS), which have proliferated since 2010.

Just be sure to find a group that fits your specific needs. As with traditional writing groups, the main items that you’ll want to consider are the group’s purpose, size, and structure including the type and frequency of feedback. While some provide more formality and structure and cost money, many are still free.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking “I became an academic so I could spend big chunks of time reading and writing alone.” I get it; I’m an introvert, too! But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from a virtual writing community. Thanks to Twitter, you can follow and participate in online groups, such as #acwri and #getyourmanuscriptout. Another option is the increasing number of opportunities for virtual writing retreats.

I am also a strong proponent of finding an accountability partner. It helps to pick someone who is at a similar stage of their career. A one-on-one relationship with someone you already know might provide a stronger sense of accountability than a group of strangers. Whatever form your choose, having someone to answer to can dramatically improve your productivity.

And at some point, we’ll be able to return to write-on-site groups, such as the now-famous Shut Up and Write! The primary advantage to these groups is that they force you to get out of your house or campus office and interact with people in the “real” world. This is also a great solution for folks who work best with some background noise but apps like Coffitivity are no longer cutting it. But for now, they are simply not an option for most of us.

Academic Writing Coaches & Editors

Last, but certainly not least, is the option to seek out a professional academic writing coach or editor. The advantages to hiring a professional are numerous. Two major benefits are the lack of guilt (you’re not asking for any favors from someone who is as overcommitted as you are but instead are paying for a professional service) and convenience. When you work with a professional, you are largely in control of the terms of the relationship. Maybe you’re wary of the commitment of a traditional writing group and are just looking for occasional feedback from an experienced and unbiased reader.

In the last decade, more scholars have been turning to academic writing coaches and editors to improve their productivity and the quality of their writing. My goal as a writing coach is to help clients to establish a regular writing practice. I work with clients to identify realistic writing goals and to develop a sustainable academic writing schedule. (For some ideas on getting started, check out my recent post.) In addition to personal accountability–in the form of emails, phone calls, or video chats–I offer strategies to enable clients to meet their goals and to overcome common writing challenges.

As an editor, I approach my work as a collaboration to make my clients’ scholarly writing the best that it can be. Whether it’s a journal article or book manuscript, your final product will be demonstrably more polished and effective when you find the right person with whom to work. (Looking for tips on how to choose an academic editor that’s the right fit for you? I’ve got a post for that.) Consider professional academic writing coaching and editing as important investments in your career.

But for now, what concerns do you still have about challenging the myth of writing alone? Do you have any experience with being a member of a writing group or working with an accountability partner or academic writing coach? What are your strategies for combating isolation and lack of productivity during the pandemic?

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