Some colleagues have asked me about our weekly lab practice of writing together. Below is a thread I posted on Twitter about it and some of the guidelines that we have used over the past ~3 years. I would love if others who have adopted this framework would share in the comments and/or write a post for this blog. Email me, if you would like to do the latter to share your group's modifications, challenges and successes.
(Note: I am writing this blog post as one of my SMART goals for our writing retreat today 4/2/2020; I thought it would take 30 min, but going on 45 min now!)
Here is the general set up:
Each Thursday at 9 am we meet at the library, which has sound-proof working rooms that we can reserve. There is a coffee shop in our library learning commons and I buy everyone coffee and/or pastry. I figure it is the least I can do to make up for the disparity between my salary and that of my trainees. But one could forgo this, because peoples’ budgets vary widely depending on life situation.
We start by briefly sharing our SMART goal (see document link below) for the 2-hr session. A writing task can be anything that advances research (abstract, proposal, paper, website, presentation). The one caveat is that we aim not to use graph making and data analysis as a way to put off writing (“procrasta-graphing”). If we are graphing and analyzing, then we should be writing methods and figure legends as we do this. Ultimately words on the page is what we are working towards.
Then we write quietly for 2 hours. Strongly enforce the quiet time. Don’t work with each other, as it will distract others, and we all need the time to get 2 hours of writing done on our most pressing projects. We share successes, products and challenges after we write.
At the end of 2 hours, we briefly share the goals we met or didn’t meet and why we may have not met goals. This part is really important for accountability. It only took a few months for everyone to get really good at setting SMART goals.
The entire session requires a ~2.5-3 hr block of time on your calendar (and you should put it there, recurring with no end in sight). For the entire 3 years, we have kept the same day/time of the week and part of the success comes from this consistency. In the first year, it may mean that people will miss some sessions due to classes and teaching. We were surprised how quickly we all developed the habit of never scheduling things at this time. It has become sacred.
I am attaching a SMART goals info sheet, a strategy called the “publication pipeline” that I think is awesome (google or use twitter to see examples of ways people make and use these), and a writing practices presentation that I have given variants of at meetings, workshops, professionalism classes etc. I credit a lot of my ideas on this front and summarized in the presentation pdf below to Prof Brian Waters at UNL. You can follow him on Twitter @WriteScientific, too. I have also benefited from working with and learning from Dr. Meredith Steck, Associate Director of the UNL Writing Center.