Lots of us spend a lot of our time working inefficiently and feeling bad whenever we’re not working. Maybe we wake up with good intentions, get sucked into email or news websites or some easy admin tasks just to get them off our plate, and find it’s coffee time and we still haven’t got back to that chapter or article. Maybe when we do get down to it, we're impatient about not having made progress, expect too much of ourselves, are disappointed when we don't manage all we hoped, or work for so long we get exhausted. Then we retreat back to easier things, promising ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow, or next week.
What if you could make your work time reliably effective, feel satisfied with your achievements once you stop, and have more time for rest and play and everything else?
Writing isn’t the only form academic work takes, of course, but it’s often one of the easiest to defer and worry about. Committing to regular distraction-free writing sessions with someone else – writing independently, but not alone – can be a brilliant way to get your working habits working better for you. Coordinated by TORCH Research Associate Dr Emily Troscianko, the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme allows you to register your preferences and find someone to meet and write with – at a café for a couple of hours on a Friday morning, first thing every weekday at the Bodleian, or whatever rhythm works best for you and your writing partner.
Taking part in the writing partnerships programme may help you in all kinds of ways, including:
- taking writing seriously by scheduling dedicated time for it
- injecting structure and variety into your working routines
- enjoying protected writing time free from distractions and supported by your partner’s concentration
- feeling less isolated in your working life
- understanding that other people have problems with productivity, efficiency, and motivation sometimes too
- clarifying how much writing you’re actually getting done
- ensuring that reading and note-taking feeds regularly into structured writing
- increasing your confidence in your ability to get things done
- appreciating your achievements by keeping a record of your progress and sharing your goals and your successes with someone else
- building good writing habits with your partner that extend naturally into other working time
- building flexibility and confidence in your working preferences and routines
- developing your ability to write clearly, concisely, and with a style appropriate to the task at hand
- gaining new intellectual perspectives from someone outside your (sub)field
- improving your capacity to talk clearly about your current writing projects
- setting aside regular time to think and talk about how your current writing feeds into your wider professional and personal ambitions
- devoting time and attention to your wellbeing and coming to understand better what affects it and how you can nurture it
- supporting someone else in achieving benefits like these too
So what does a writing meet-up actually involve? The simplest version is to arrange a time to meet (ideally keeping it constant week by week), have a quick catch-up, note down your writing goals for the session, describe your goals to each other, and write for a set length of time (around an hour or a little more). Then stop for ten minutes, compare progress, maybe go for a coffee if you want a longer break, and do another session afterwards. There are lots of variations you could try, though, each with slightly different benefits. Our guidance document provides an outline of some basic principles and ideas to try – for both your writing partnership and your more general writing practice.
The programme also offers a range of other support alongside the core service of finding you a writing partner. There’s a termly orientation session to introduce strategies for scheduling, planning and prioritising, tracking progress, writing well, and enhancing resilience. Ideally, you’ll have met up with your partner at least once before this session (see below for this term's schedule). Emily also sends out writing tips to give you ideas for how to make your writing meet-ups effective and enjoyable, and weekly reading suggestions to give you different perspectives on writing, goal-setting, professional development, and wellbeing. She's also always happy to meet up for a coffee if you ever have writing-related questions or difficulties she might be able to help with. Finally, writing bootcamps are scheduled for outside full term to provide more intensive opportunities to change and reflect on your working habits in a group setting: they include food and drink, guided stretching, and planning and reflective tasks alongside timed writing sessions.
To help us assess the effectiveness of the scheme, as well as to encourage you to reflect on your working habits and wellbeing and how they change, once you sign up to the programme you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire about your working habits, productivity, wellbeing, and career confidence before embarking on the programme, and at intervals throughout the year. Your responses will be used to create reports on the scheme’s efficacy, to refine the scheme for the future, and to generate a clearer picture of graduate and early-career practices and priorities in the Humanities. We hope it will also be an interesting prompt for personal reflection.
The programme is primarily for Masters, DPhil students, and early-career academics in the Humanities, though others are welcome too. To find a writing partner, please email firstname.lastname@example.org saying what your research area is and what your preferences are for meeting up: what days/times work or don’t work for you, how often you’d like to meet, whether you prefer working in a library or a college or a café or some other environment, and any other preferences or needs you’d like to register. If you have (mental) health-related problems that are affecting your work, feel free to mention these too. Emily has long been involved in Oxford University welfare provision, and other strands of her professional life focus on eating disorders. She will treat anything you tell her in confidence (except where there’s an imminent risk to you or others), and will take what you share into account when selecting your partner. Otherwise, the pairings will be made primarily on the basis of scheduling compatibility (and to a lesser extent subject area), and you may be paired with someone at a different career stage from you. Just let Emily know if you have preferences in this regard too.
The events confirmed so far for Trinity term 2019 are:
- Writing bootcamp: 0th week (Wednesday 24 – Friday 26 April), 9am to 5pm
- Writing bootcamp: Thursday of 1st week (2 May), 9am to 5pm
- Writing breakfast: Tuesday of 2nd week (7 May), 8:30am to 11am
- Orientation session: Tuesday of 2nd week (7 May), 3pm to 5pm
Please get in touch with Emily if you have any questions or ideas about the programme, or to request a writing partner match. You can also visit the Bookwhen booking page to book a place at any of the events, and download our guidance document for tips on scheduling, planning, and other writing-related practicalities.