Or. What I’ve learned about setting up and running a Write Club at a UK university.
First things first.
What even is a Write Club? Well, in this instance, our Write Club is a place where people come to write. Writing is like many so other activities, it can be done all alone and on your own. However, it can be much more productive, and much more enjoyable, when done in a group setting. The analogies that I have been using are running, knitting, gaming, cooking, music and weight management but I’m certain that examples of your own solo activities have also sprung to mind.
Aims and names
As you can see from the title of the post, our writing group is called ‘Write Club’. In UK universities many similar groups have gone with the more direct ‘Shut Up & Write(!)’. ‘Shut Up & Write’ groups were first started by creative writers but they have been embraced by academics, so much so that they have a day of the week dedicated to it. ‘Shut Up & Write Tuesday‘ is a virtual, worldwide, writing club that you join via social media. On Twitter follow:
@SUWTues – Shut Up & Write Tuesdays
@SUWTUK – Shut Up & Write Tuesdays in the UK
@SUWTNA – Shut Up & Write Tuesdays North America
and look for or use the hashtags #SUWTues #SUWTUK #SUWTNA
You’ll also see university writing clubs or writing events branded as ‘Writing Retreats’, ‘Writing Days’, ‘Writing Groups’… I’m certain that there are more. After all, it’s not like universities ever have any sort of debate over names or definitions.
As I wanted this ‘in-person’ group to be as welcoming to as many members of the university as possible – foundation student to professor, creative writer, academic, proposal wrangler – I went with the name ‘Write Club’.
It was very handy for visual branding:
(Despite a 1999 release date, there does still seem to be an awareness of the movie, even if it’s only an awareness of the eight (!) rules.)
If we move away from the name thing, I have some aims for Write Club.
As well as the ‘open for all’ idea, I also had these aims for myself and for any attendees:
- to get stuff written
- to normalise writing as part of professional practice
- to use writing to reflect on professional practice
- to foster a community of practice for writing
Virtual beginnings – how Write Club got started
Although a tried and tested narrative conceit I did wake up one morning and think, I’m going to start a Writing Club! I had been to a Librarians Group (University Science and Technology Librarians Group, USTLG, brilliant, go) where a speaker had described how they had hosted a club. I knew of at least one other person in my library who might attend a thing if I started one so I figured, what is the very worst that can happen?
My first thought was definitively library-support related. How about running research sessions that could support someone else’s writing sessions? After all, I know naff all about hosting writing groups. This first thought was swiftly countered by a perky little chirrup from the back of my head reminding me that I was based at a satellite site in
the sticks wonderful Oxfordshire countryside,
and attendance at such a thing would be a problem. When a third voice joined the conversation to remind me that ‘you have experience of working in distance education, mayhaps you could circumvent the bums on seats problem by hosting a virtual research/writing event?’ It was decided. I set up a virtual write club.
What does Virtual mean, in reality?
In reality, starting a virtual write club meant creating the most basic of sites on our Virtual Learning Enviroment (VLE) and invited folks to attend twice a month. I stuck with that initial idea of the first session being for ‘research’ and the second session being for ‘writing’. There was minimal instruction, the idea was you committed to doing something for a couple of hours. I suggested a timetable:
- say ‘hello’
- share with the group what you are going to do
- (voluntary) warm-up exercise
- feedback to the group how it went
Being on a VLE I suggested times to attend the Club with the intention that you might interact with each other in (almost) real-time. However it was very possible to ‘attend’ at a time that suited you and to write and interact asynchronously. Although I was testing it out on a relatively friendly audience (library staff), and I thought that I had at least one ally, I had NO IDEA if it would work.
It did. People signed up. People wrote things. We interacted with each other. It was lovely. I’d do it again. We did do it again. I ran three clubs over five months and then took a break.
Making it real
When reflecting on how the virtual write clubs had gone I was also thinking about widening participation and trying to find out who else in the University might have a hand in writing support. It turns out that lots of folks are interested in and try to support writing. At Brookes this support does not yet have an official hub or centre but everyone that I have contacted has been interested and open to working together. I made a key contact (waves to M!) who runs Writing Days and who, along with others, encouraged me in my idea of an ‘in person’ club that was open to all.
And that’s where we are now.
I have been holding monthly in person Write Clubs since October 2018.
In the first Club we wrote in sprints, so the time was split something like this:
- Arrival and voluntary sharing of intentions – 5-10 minutes
- Sprint – 25-35 minutes
- Break – 5-10 minutes
- Sprint – 25-35 minutes
- Report back and end – 5-10 minutes
In that first club, we had some folks who worked together in sprints and some folks who worked on their own. Coming with some writing already planned seems to work best for us. In some creative writing environments there might be more of an onus on me as the convener to offer some inspiration. Should anyone require this I have been bringing a selection of images with me each month. An attendee (hi N!) also suggested Writing Prompts on Reddit. Interastingly, although I always come with a writing sprint timetable in mind, I’ve not had a group work that way since the first session.
Other brief practicalities:
- Get folks to sign in. You can use this to create a contact list and start to build a community.
- Bring posters for the doors.
- Bring treats. Chocolate is a great incentive and a great reward. I try to go vegan, gluten and dairy free to be as inclusive as possible, but I have cracked and taken the Cadbury egg route today.
- Watch out for locked doors, particularly if you have the same pressure on space as we have, prompting you to have an outside of office hours start or finish time.
- Thinks about the location, time of day and facilities. Do your writers need access to PCs? Wifi? Coffee? Toilets? An inspiring view?
What I have learned
They Work. Write Clubs, whether they are virtual or in person, work. I have got things written that I would not have found time to write without taking the time to attend Club and sit and write.
Interaction is good and provides support. In the virtual environment it’s easy to see evidence of folks interacting with each other and offering advice and support. With the in person events the support is less easy to capture and evaluate. However, I feel strongly that it is there.
After today, there is one more Club before the end of semester. It’s then time to evaluate. Where next? More of the same? Attendance to the in person clubs has been modest but it has attracted folks from all over the university. My feeling is that I need to keep going but I might tinker with the time and place. A key ally and keen supporter (greetings T!) suggested running the virtual write club again. Would running a virtual club in tandem with the in person club work? I guess we’ll only know if we try.
‘Til next time scribblers!