Writing Accountability Groups

[Please Note: in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, Writing Accountability Groups will be facilitated virtually through video conferences for the foreseeable future] 

What is a Writing Accountability Group (WAG)?

A writing accountability group is a small group (~4-6 members) of people who meet once a week to write and generate achievable writing goals for the time between meetings. Writing accountability groups are not social hours, sounding boards, peer review groups, workshops, or other kinds of writing exchange. 

Graduate students who have completed Dissertation Camp or a Dissertation Workshop or MFA students from the Writing Program working on thesis projects are eligible to sign up for a Writing Accountability Group. Graduate students can also assemble their own independent WAGs on this model, and if you do that we ask that you register your WAG with Moriah Kirdy at morah.kirdy@pitt.edu.

How are WAG sessions structured? 

The agenda for each weekly session is the same: 

1. In the first 5-15 minutes, group members gather and record writing goals in a shared document (BoxNote or GoogleDoc) public between group members. 

2. Writers spend 30-40 minutes writing in silence (the time to write depends on how efficiently members established and recorded their goals). 

3. The final 15 minutes are spent debriefing. Members share whether and why not their goals were met and discuss their objectives for the following week between WAG sessions. 

This structure follows the model outlined by Kimberly A. Skarupski (see resources, below) and as followed by the WAG programming at Johns Hopkins with minor adjustments. Skarupski’s method involves discussing the last week’s goals and setting new goals out loud when the group gathers. Your group, however, might benefit from initial goal setting in silence (apart from a hello when members arrive). It can be tempting for group members to engage in social chatter or to pre-emptively debrief about how the week went, which eats into writing time. Goal setting in silence also allows members who arrive slightly late for some reason to catch up and they are only cutting into their own writing time. 

What Goals are Set? 

Each participant should articulate three goals each week: 

1. A goal for the WAG session (the 30-40 minutes spent in silence writing) 

2. A schedule-based goal articulating how often and how much time the writer plans to dedicate to writing in a week. This can be 30+ minutes every day, or specific days with specific times, depending on the writer’s schedule. Writers should consider dedicated writing time as an inflexible appointment with themselves to work on writing. Encourage WAG members to set small time goals rather than binge-writing sessions, which invite distractions and may even delay progress. 

3. A content-based goal for the specific project/portion of a project that the writer intends to work on during writing time that week, which may include a specific end-goal (e.g. “Send draft to dissertation committee chair”) or a more abstract sense of progress (e.g., “Figure out what I’m trying to do with the second chapter section”).  

Note: Individuals must decide what “counts” as “writing” based on their own process and what they most feel to be a productive writing session. For example, while reading and listing quotations is an important part of the writing process, some writers default to this practice to avoid trying to figure out what they want to contribute to the scholarly conversation. Such writers might decide that reading notes do not “count” toward their allotted writing time. Another writer may feel that brainstorming is generative and moves the project forward, so for this writer more freeform writing will always count toward their writing goal. 

How Do Group Members Hold Each Other Accountable? 

Accountability in WAGs takes several forms, though primarily members hold each other accountable by attending their scheduled WAG time reliably and by productive peer encouragement (call it peer pressure if you like). Group members can help each other acknowledge when goals are too big or help members troubleshoot roadblocks by sharing strategies for breaking through common challenges. This is where a facilitator who has already established a writing routine can be especially helpful, as they’ll have strategies to share and advice for breaking through common writing roadblocks and challenges. 

Feedback from Participants in Our Pilot WAG Program 

“[The WAG has] helped me realize I don't need to devote a full day to writing to make progress. I can actually make progress on really ‘sticky’ tasks in one hour during the WAG meetings, which has encouraged me to take this approach more regularly. Helps me stay motivated and get unstuck, at least 50% of the time. A small but significant improvement!”

“My WAG definitely helped me move past my idea that the first draft needs to be perfect. In talking with other grad students who were going through the same process, I learned how they utilized their committees and other support systems to take a decent first draft to a good final draft. Also, the actual meeting of the WAG helped: it was hard to report on progress if I didn't do anything during the meeting, and that helped me overcome the fear of imperfection. Small chunks of writing in the WAG confirms that I can do something every day.”

“[The WAG members’] support was instrumental in allowing me to complete my [dissertation]. I’m not sure that I could have done it without the support of our small group meetings, so thank you very much for the space, opportunity to write together, and the discussion of progress over last semester!”

Resources 

• Skarupski’s independently published book on WAGs, WAG Your Work: Writing Accountability Groups: Bootcamp for Increasing Scholarly Productivity

• Skarupski, Kimberly A. and Kharma C. Foucher, Writing Accountability Groups (WAGs): A Tool to Help Junior Faculty Members Build Sustainable Writing Habits,” The Journal of Faculty Development, vol. 32, No. 3, Sept 2018.