Co-writing – creating shared experiences and supportive environments

Co-writing – creating shared experiences and supportive environments

Many doctoral students face feelings of loneliness during their doctoral studies. This issue might have been even further exacerbated by the social isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. I hear about doctoral students that have been left to their own devices during lock down, with no support from their supervisor or no contact with peers. Luckily not all cases are this extreme, but even those doctoral students that have had some contact with other people, still report feeling lonely and finding it hard to get work done.

This might become a vicious circle where the doctoral student has trouble working and ultimately is so ashamed of the lack of productivity, they do not want to contact their supervisor. It’s therefore important to create safe spaces and places for social support, self-compassion, and for getting things done.

A problem with the isolation is also that academic work is already so unstructured (at least in the dissertation writing phase, which I wrote about in an earlier post), that trying to figure out what needs to be done next, is almost an impossible task when left alone. This then influences motivation and makes it difficult to be productive.

In my work, I often hear from doctoral students that writing is the hardest task to get started on and the easiest task to procrastinate doing.

If you are having problems getting started with writing, I first suggest that you familiarize yourself with my advice for time-management: set realistic writing goals, chop those goals into reasonable tasks, prioritize important writing, and schedule writing time.

My second advice is that you create or join an existing co-writing space. Research has shown that co-writing with others increases the feeling of sense of community and decreases the angst associated with writing in solitary – which is usually the norm in doctoral writing. It also provides a space for positive experiences and an opportunity to develop one’s academic identity.

Co-writing also helps to turn writing from a private process to shared work. This might help reduce anxiety relating to getting feedback or presenting one’s research to the general public. When the focus shifts from private to public, comments on the text might not feel as bad as when the text is perceived personal and private.

So, the benefits are three-fold. Co-writing helps create:

  1. A safe space to write without judgment but also to practice emotion regulation – let your creativity flow!
  2. Social support from peers and sense of belongingness to an academic community – realize that you are not alone!
  3. New skills in time-management, like setting goals and creating routines for writing – get things done and be proud of your progress!

Co-writing might therefore be the solution to tackle loneliness and procrastination in academia.

I am going to organize a co-writing event every Thursday in May and June, called “Theses and Tomatoes“. The aim of this co-writing space is to provide opportunities for doctoral students to work independently on their thesis and on self-specified goals alongside others in the same situation, creating a shared experience (see e.g., Beasy et al., 2020).

Theses and Tomatoes

I challenge other research institutions and departments to create similar spaces for doctoral students. I am happy to give more information on the practicalities and facilitate creation of shared experiences and safe environments for writing.

Remember, these spaces and events do not even have to be so elaborate – all it takes is to reach out to your peers and schedule a time.

References:

Beasy, K., Emery, S., Dyer, L., Coleman, B., Bywaters, D., Garrad, T., … & Jahangiri, S. (2020). Writing together to foster wellbeing: doctoral writing groups as spaces of wellbeing. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(6), 1091-1105.

Maher, D., Seaton, L., McMullen, C., Fitzgerald, T., Otsuji, E., & Lee, A. (2008). ‘Becoming and being writers’: The experiences of doctoral students in writing groups. Studies in Continuing Education, 30(3), 263-275.

Mewburn, I., Osborne, L., & Caldwell, G. (2014). Shut up & write. Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond, 218-232.

Wilmot, K., & McKenna, S. (2018). Writing groups as transformative spaces. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(4), 868-882.

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