I recently published a post to my blog newsletter for the first time in a year, and mentioned a writing group that I had started. One of my readers asked for more details about it. So in this post I’ll talk about how our small writing group of around ten people helps keep each other accountable and encourages each other to write more.
In August 2015, I decided to write more and more regularly. My writing backlog had increased quite a bit but I was not paring it down much. I had some recent experiences with a weekly fitness challenge and a weekly social media challenge (details to come), so figured something like a weekly writing challenge would work well. Those challenges showed that social accountability helps me stay focused on a goal. Also, setting up a system where I need to do something each week is flexible enough that I can make progress but it is not too onerous to achieve.
I didn’t just want to write, though. I wanted to have the writing be accessible to others. So I figured something like a weekly minimum to publish would be good.
I didn’t really want to have a financial component like the other two challenges. I wanted to see if the motivation of writing for the group would be enough to get people to write. Plus, I didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of moving money around or setting up a system that was correctly motivational.
I sent a message to a few people who I know who write a decent amount or want to be writing more, and we correspond via a small private Google group. The current group composition is mostly software / product / marketing people with varying levels of experience.
The general process for the group is:
- publish something at least once a week
- make a short post per week on the thread of the week of the things you published
- (optional) respond to others’ posts with minor feedback, encouragement, personal stories, etc.
The goal is to make the process of participating in the group as small of a time commitment as possible, leaving most of the time for actual writing. To encourage people to write more, publishing can be anywhere, any time. It can be across multiple blogs / platforms / books / podcasts, etc. Any topic is fine. The key is just to keep writing and making public what you are writing.
Things went pretty smoothly from the beginning.
Since the group was self-organizing, we had a little trouble figuring out how to split up the email threads. A thread per week is helpful for remembering to post once per week. Amitai suggested that we use the Unix week as the boundary. Conveniently, Sunday night at midnight begins a new week. The week is fairly easy to figure out1.
Some people got hung up a bit on feeling bad or guilty that they were not writing as much as they “should”. Some wanted to catch up when they missed a week by posting twice the following week. Generally we recommend to just post once a week, and if you miss a week, to let it go. Otherwise it can be easy to fall into a downward motivational spiral (“haven’t published anything in three weeks, need to post three things or I’m a failure.”) The point is never to feel bad or complain, only to get writing out there, of whatever quality level or length the member determines is acceptable.
The results (so far)
I feel that as a group we have published quite a bit, and I have personally published at least ten times as much as I would have without the group.
Usually I have a lot of things that I know well enough that I can knock them out without too much work, but actually having a deadline helps me put in the time to write them out. There’s also the positive spiral of doing something every week.
I think the group dynamic is great, with people contributing feedback of the high level points and not getting hung up on small formatting points. Every week I read great posts that I otherwise might not have seen. The publishing has covered podcasts, books, works of fiction, technical blog posts, book reviews, role-playing writeups, heartfelt honesty, training material that is hosted on Github, and even some highly voted Hacker News comments.
One additional thing I like about the weekly publishing deadline is that it forces me to make definite progress each week. For example, I can’t say “I’m working on my book” for six months without writing anything up. I need to think about how to incrementally publish my work, publish bits and pieces or the artifacts of it, or write up other ideas.
Create your own groups
Trying to do something and want more chances to succeed? Consider forming a group with like-minded people that has some sort of daily or weekly requirement. Some of the members of the group are thinking about starting other groups with similar philosophies around product development, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
You can even form your own writing group. I would be happy to hear about it!
Does a writing group like this seem appealing? Would you like to join? Can you commit to writing something each week? Send me an email (domain name minus the .com at gmail.com) with what you are generally interested in writing about, and we can try to add you to the group!
If someone is the first to post for the week, they make a new thread with the week of the year. You can do this with
date "+%V"if you are on a Linux-like machine. If you have Ruby installed,
ruby -e "require 'date'; puts DateTime.now.strftime('%V')"also works. ↩