I write a lot in my everyday work life, and then I write on my own time to pursue, share, create, respond to ideas. As a professional – a “full time academic” – I respond regularly to other writers, whether graduate students completing teaching-related course work or doing dissertation-related composing or my colleagues seeking readerly responses for all sorts of academic writing.
I like writing. I love responding to writing. I like fielding questions and sharing resources with people who are setting up peer reading and response groups – some that meet face-to-face, some that primarily meet virtually. And, in my own writing life, I miss the reciprocity that comes with being part of one of those on-going peer reading and response group. The very sort of group that made it possible for me to write with comfort and fluency as a dissertating graduate student.
Doug Belshaw’s post on “The Silent Writing Collective” (which you can find here while his main blog is “having issues”) was my WOW over the weekend as Belshaw (who works at Mozilla) presents both a strategy – that Silent Writing Collective – and a tool – Pirate Pad – that colleagues, advisees, consultees – and my own self – could call on in the midst of generating new articles, chapters, books, possibilities in writing.
Here’s the idea:
- A group of people set up a weekly time during which they will all gather for one hour to generate some new bit of writing and/or respond to something others in the group have written or are writing.
- People make use of the same technology tool / platform – such as Pirate Pad – so that others can be invited in to read and respond. Only one rule about this writing and responding work: NO deleting.
- The writers in the group move in and out of their own pads to leave comments in the pads where others are writing or to use the chat feature to ask about resources, specific comments, and generally, well, chat a bit.
With Google Suite apps, it’s Google Documents that can be useful for collaborative reading and responding. See Educational Origami’s Starter Sheet on Reviewing in Google Documents if this is new to you. And if you wonder at the potential for robust commenting/feedback/collaboration, see the MOOCification Manifesto (now closed to comments but quite lively during the composing, something you can still witness). With these tools, writers and responders can always be in “the same room” for a specified space of time each week, however scattered around the world we might be.
Do you have to have an established response group to make this work? Nah, tho it does help. And you can make use of a strategy like this even if your existing peer response group doesn’t want to ty out the technology route.
People are always looking for writing company. And often the writers I work with in an ordinary week are looking to practice writing by taking on subjects not related to their academic work, or want to try out the online space for writing in general before setting up something with known collaborators. Two great routes for either testing out online writing and responding spaces – or adding something online or differently focused to your existing peer response group:
- 100 Words – developed from a once-upon-a-time-in-the-1990s journal hosted at the University of Iowa, this online space where individuals aim to accumulate a monthly “batch” of writings that are each 100 words in length. I like writing in the 100 word increments to test out an idea, to find the essential message that comes from mingling several ideas and resources living in my brain in an unorganized way. As a reader, I value what others post for poaching ideas about how sentences can work, for seeing verbs that I’ve forgotten to use, and for noting how others build intellectual excitement into such a short space.
- Sunday Posts – allows writers to post ideas to a “Help Me Write” page during the week, then select from this pool for some Sunday writing, and – through a platform called Medium – respond to one’s own and others’ writing. I like the Sunday Posts space partly because it targets bloggers wanting a place to gather for idea and word and response swapping, but largely because the essay form blog posts can take is one that I like using when I’m ready to turn from a collection of 100 words to a first full draft of something that will become an article, presentation, or post.
Finally, if you’re new to setting up a peer reading and responding support group of any sort, these are two great starting places:
- Advice on Setting Up and Working with a Writing Group – from setting up the group to responding to other’s writing and inviting responses to your writing.
- Tips for Successful Writing Groups – on building something more than “just another meeting.”