Writing partnerships

Your writing partnership is your anchor for experimenting with habit change.

What’s the point?

A writing partnership might seem like an odd concept: what’s so helpful about having someone to schedule writing dates with? If you’re not co-writing something, and maybe they’re in a totally different field, how can it be much use?

Sometimes simplicity is good. It’s remarkable how much difference it can make, just knowing you have a two-hour writing meet-up scheduled for Wednesday morning (or whenever). It puts writing in your calendar. It means you need to have something you can write on, so you might do more directed reading on Tuesday. It’s a chance to try out setting goals and ridding yourself of distractions in a way you wouldn’t bother to on your own. It’s a chance to talk about writing, and everything that relates to writing, with someone who may have similar and/or different experiences of the good and bad, the easy and hard, of academic writing.

You may be surprised by how much can change from the simple starting point of one protected writing session a week, with someone else who’s protecting it too.

I think that the most revealing aspect is that writing can be a 9am-5pm job, as long as one finds the people and structure to make it such. This makes work that I enjoy all the more enjoyable, because the writing meet ups allow me to keep to a schedule and have less stress of staying behind in my writing. More importantly, the structure of our meetings has allowed me to prioritise my writing work over many other work activities that I usually devoted time to in the past, and indirectly by discussing healthy ways to do our work with my writing partner, to allow more time for myself after writing and by not always accepting other working activities to do. I must also say that my particular writing partner has been the most helpful aspect of our meetings, as we understand each other very well and are able to respond kindly, with respect, but also proper prioritisation to each others’ writing needs.

2020 participant

5 top tips for a successful partnership

  1. At your first meet-up, make time to talk about what you both want from this, and what you can give. (See the cheat sheet on the Resources page for more on this.)
  2. Before your first meet-up ends, schedule regular meet-up slots for the rest of term upfront, and put them in your calendar, then protect them as you would any other meeting.
  3. Be reliable and punctual, and communicate if you can’t be.
  4. Join us for the termly orientation session to put a framework around your partnership, and to learn more about the 7 principles of making “sitting down to work” (with your partner and without) work well for you: scheduling, chunking time, setting goals, rewards, reducing distractions, taking breaks, ruthlessness versus flexibility, and zooming out. (If you can’t make it, take a look at the orientation slides and content outline, and the guidance booklet, both on the Resources page.)
  5. Contact the coordinator, Emily, if anything isn’t going well or you want any help with anything (even vaguely) writing-related. Send that email sooner rather than later.

It’s been really good to know that there’s a pre-existing structure to a week, that involves meeting a person outside of my immediate friend and family group. It has meant that I can step out of whatever immediate emergence/drama that is happening close to me—and these are usual—and step into a different block of time with my writing partner. It allows me to be accountable about my work, as well as see other problems in perspective compared to my writing.

It gives me a feeling of connectedness, which has been very important as I am working at home. I also enjoy hearing about my partner’s work-in-progress as it helps motivate me to work on my own projects.

The writing partnership has been most helpful in maintaining a sense of social connection despite the pandemic (especially having just uprooted to move abroad for a new postdoc) and blocking out time from service and teaching commitments.

We’ve both been good at holding each other accountable for the tasks that we want to achieve in our writing sessions, as well as enforcing quick breaks to make sure that we don’t burn out.

The writing partnership is extremely helpful for helping me set aside dedicated writing time with no distractions. It introduces structure and accountability to my now limited writing time. During periods of lockdown we’ve continued working remotely and even this contributes to my feeling of connectedness, which is extremely important for keeping me motivated to work. I actually look forward to writing thanks to the partnership.

In the context of the pandemic, it was particularly helpful to meet with someone to share progress, projects, and challenges, in order not to get engulfed by indeterminacy and gloom.

Writing partnerships competition

In Michaelmas Term 2020 we ran the inaugural writing partnerships competition! The second round is open to anyone on the programme mailing list in Hilary Term. The winners will receive a Mad Hatter tea and a writing-related book. There are two categories: best veteran partnership (if you’ve both taken part in the programme for at least one term before now) and best novice partnership (if you’re both new this term). In-between cases will be eligible for either category. 

The process

The idea is that you and your partner preregister your writing goals for the term sometime before the end of 2nd week (Friday 29 January), along with a description of the strategies (solo and shared) you plan to deploy to achieve your goals. What do you want to have written by the end of term, and how will you help yourself and your partner do so?

We suggest you nominate one person to complete the start-of-term and the other to do the end-of-term reporting. Everyone who’s taking part will be invited to review their goals in 5th week, and to revise if necessary.

At the end of 8th week, you’ll have a chance to submit a list of your writing achievements together with a few lines on how you both used your writing partnership and worked on your individual writing habits to help you achieve what you did. The final deadline will be end of 9th week (Friday 19 March).

The judging

The criteria will include:

  • ambition and/or realism of initial goal-setting
  • readiness to revise at the halfway point if necessary
  • openness to experimentation with individual and shared routines to support your writing
  • broader evidence of genuine partnership
  • effort to observe, learn, and adapt, independently and together
  • anything else that strikes me as important in what you report on (surprise me!)

I (Emily, the coordinator) will be the sole judge, and my decision will be irrevocable. I’ll gladly offer feedback if you’d like to discuss how your term went, and why you did or didn’t win.

Submit your entry

The survey link to enter will be posted here soon.

Sample meet-up formats as described by recent participants.

In-person meet-ups

(those in bold have been managed during COVID restrictions)

Once a week, approx 3 working hours with breaks. In person when this was allowed but also on Skype when not. We found that meeting outside for a break (when permitted) was a good way of getting fresh air and getting a proper break away from our desks.

We meet for 2 hours every thursday, usually with cake. We write for 2 x 45 minute sessions.

Morning sessions of 3.5 hours (8.30-12) three or four days a week.

Our sessions last 90 minutes. We normally spend the first 10-15 minutes checking in, then work for a block of about 30-40 minutes, followed by a brief check in, another block of writing, and a final brief wrap-up.

We use the very helpful goal-setting template designed by Emily. We write down and then discuss our goals with each other. We then take out a stopwatch for one hour. Then write!!! After the hour is over, we discuss our progress. We take a 15 minute break stretching and going for a cup of tea or coffee. Then we go for another hour of writing.

We met in a coffeeshop to talk about what we were working on at the moment. Then we headed to the library to work (for around 2h or so usually).

We met at 10 am, then had one writing session for 70 min, a longer break (around 20 min) and then a second session, typically 60min

We meet in my partner’s college, where she has booked a room for our sessions (which is really helpful). We do a bit of catching up at the beginning, although it never takes up too much time (which feels good) and then we have two 60-minutes writing sessions, with a break between them during which we go outside for a short walk and/or to get some tea and a biscuit. We informally chat about our work and career plans, but also about hobbies and other personal things. I think we strike a great balance between being work-focused and relaxed.

We found a coffeeshop we both agreed on very early, and have since then been meeting there each Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30. Usually, we start by talking a bit about what we’re planning to do, very content-focussed, and then start writing for about 30-45 minutes. Afterwards, we both leave, or sometimes one writes more and the other one has to leave.

We generally met at the Taylor Institute. We would write for an hour, then take a break together and talk about what we were working on, what we were hoping to accomplish that day, how things had gone in the first writing session, and what we were hoping to do in the second session.

We meet, make tea or coffee and simply focus on writing. We make occasional breaks together (for refilling tea/coffee) and chat about work or our lives.

We meet up, discuss our schedule and then usually do one writing session of around 60mins, have a short break in which we discuss our progress, do another 60mins session and have lunch together afterwards.

We would meet up on Monday mornings in a cafe and work for 2-3 hours. It wasn’t very structured, but that was okay for me. I find the most helpful thing for me is often just the company of a writing buddy.

We would meet in the morning from 9-12:30am in a library for 2 writing sessions of 75 minutes and a break in the middle to share.

My partner and I met up at her college and worked in pomodoro sessions on Friday afternoons (since this is a difficult time in the week to get work done). We worked on both writing and reading tasks.

We spend the first few minutes settling in and setting objectives for the day. We devised our own double-sided work-session log, which includes sections on the back that incorporates many of the tips obtained from the bootcamp with the osteopath, including taking a few moments to ‘vomit’ our anxieties, swear, and jot down observations about work habits. We break for coffee and to use the tennis ball on our feet, do 1-2 more sesions of varying lengths, then eat lunch together to discuss progress, revisions, and future goals. We have become friends, but this does not interfere with our productivity; rather, it helps it, because our friendship is grounded in our need for writing support, which has translated into associating the writing itself with friendship.

We’ve been meeting at the Weston Library, mostly on a Tuesday for a couple of hours. We have been tending to go straight into the session without much discussion about our plans, which thinking about it would be good to do more of going forward.

We always meet in the morning, at my partner’s college, and do two one-hour writing sessions for which we share goals and results. In between, we take a break and go outside (if sunny) or to the MCR to have cookies (if not).

Remote meet-ups

We normally meet in our college library at 2pm on a Friday and catch up and set our goals for the first session, then work for about an hour or an hour and a half, take a 15 minute break, then work for another 60-90 minutes. Sometimes we do a third session too. We check in with each other in the middle and at the end to see how we have got on. At about 6 we do a ‘weekly review’ together and do some planning for the next week. Sometimes this term we were able to book to go to lunch in hall together, or have a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

We booked a Friday morning slot at a library together, would spend 10-15mins or so before going into the library by catching up about our work and describing our plans for the session, followed by the session itself (usually without interaction since we were in a library). After the session, we would catch each other up briefly about what we got done, and sometimes we would have lunch together and add another session in the afternoon.

We met at the library and outlined the target to each other. It was helpful that my partner was close at hand and that made me avoid distractions as I was set to complete my writing task. We checked on each other midway and at the end of the session to compare the work we were able to do.

We usually meet at a cafe, get something to eat or drink, briefly check in with each other about our ongoing projects, discuss upcoming deadlines. Then we agree on how many sessions we’d like to do (usually two 45 minutes sessions) and the goal for each session. We take 10-minute break in between sessions and check-in about the progress we’ve made or challenges we’re facing in our work.

We met on Friday afternoons, which was excellent as it provided structure on an otherwise random and kind of aimless weekday. We would meet for at least two hours — usually it ended up being closer to 3 or 3.5! — and would state our goals at the beginning of the session. We would take “stretch breaks” as needed, so as not to disturb the other person’s flow, but would check in with each other when we wanted help wording a phrase or trying to explain a thorny concept. About halfway through we’d ask each other how we felt, and then again at the end of the session. We met at my partner’s college cafe, but are hoping to branch out more this term. 🙂

My writing partner and I would meet at 9 am at the central Bodleian. We would start with a long writing session (75 min) and then pause for 10 min (we would walk outside when not raining). During the break we would comment on the previous session and share our goals for the coming one. We would then do a 60 min session. We would have a longer break for lunch and continue with 60 min or 50 min sessions until around 5 pm.

My partner and I met in the Bodleian, her usual place of work. We usually worked 2 sessions of 50 mins each, with a 10-min discussion break in between. I’ve found the very structured suggested format (set timed goal, work, measure) very helpful after some initial resistance, but my partner found it stressful, so we stuck to the basic format of focused work for a set period.

We meet most weekdays in the Bodleian during the times when we are both free. We then do a series of work sessions ranging from 45 to 75 minutes, with scheduled breaks in which we take a walk, get some tea, or just generally talk about what we’re working on and how things are going. We don’t usually set rigid goals for each individual session, but we discuss what we want to achieve that day and that week.

We would meet at 9am, have a quick meeting to talk about our goals for the session and our work progress. Write for about 1h30, then have a coffee break to evaluate our progress and have a bit of fresh air. The remaining time was used to complete any outstanding tasks, and we would finish at 12pm. We met once a week.

We would meet, chat for ten minutes about what we wanted to achieve then work for 50. we would then have a coffee and chat for another ten, and repeat the process for a few hours.

X arrives around 2.40; if one of us is late we wait a few minutes for the other person. We set goals together in the library vestibule and then write for 1.5hrs ish. Then we have tea and cake and discuss how we got on, and any questions that are coming up in our work. Then we usually do another hour.

We link up every Tuesday & Thursday morning at the same time via Zoom. We have two sessions of an hour each with one break.

Usually a phone call over whatsapp to plan a writing session and share goals and then a phone call at the end of the session to give updates on what we’ve accomplished

3 sessions of 1 hr everyday

We met via skype one afternoon a week and did two or three sessions ranging from 60 to (more rarely) 70 minutes, between which we would take 10 minutes breaks and just chat or sometimes stretch. We regularly followed up on each other’s progress in broader terms than session goals.

We were meeting 10 minutes ahead of time to plan the two sessions, which lasted for an hour each with 15 minutes break in between.

We met at a scheduled time on Zoom, spent ten mins or so catching up, before setting goals together. Then settled into timed work sessions, and checked in at the end.

We had a call on WhatsApp, worked independently for 1hr15-1hr30, had another check in via phone, then worked for another session before checking in by WhatsApp message.

We usually meet once a week (via TEAMS): we say hello, do one writing session for 70 mins; check in, get coffee; do another session for 60 mins.

Usually 1.5 hour session on Skype per week discussing ideas and giving feedback on writing with some writing as well.

We check in with each other including with our plans and how things are going and then do 50 mins of writing. After a short check in we do another 50-55 mins of writing and then we wrap up at the end with reflections and forward plans.

we would meet at 9.30 and work for two hours. we would have a 10 minute break in the middle. we put our microphones on mute.

We met once a week on skype and usually had two 60 minute sessions, sometimes a 70min and a 60 min session.

We catch up, outline what we’re working on and our goals for the session (10 mins); writing (70 mins); break (10 mins); writing (60 mins); quick chat and agree next meeting (5 mins).

We chat for a few minutes, tell each other what we intend to do, then work for 50 minutes. Then we take a 10 minute break, chat for a bit, and work for 50 more minutes. At the end we evaluate what we got done and sometimes tell each other briefly about ideas and books we’re working with.

We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 1pm and on Fridays from 3 to 6 pm. All session were structured in two one-hour sessions with a longer break in between, and we had a moment at the beginning and end of each working session to say what we wanted to work on during the hour and then how it went.

The day before we met up, we sent our writing goals to each other via email. Sometimes we also sent a piece of work to review. During the meeting, we spent the first 10 minutes discussing writing goals and how the week was going. Then we wrote for 20-40 minutes, had 5 minute breaks, and repeated this for about 2 hours. At the end of the meeting, we reviewed our progress and often discussed any issues we had with work.  

We would get together twice or thrice a week, for 3 hours each time. We normally write in three short bursts of 1 hour each, and in between we have a very brief discussion of what we try to achieve. With my first writing partner, we also managed to discuss about how we work and bring together ideas on improving the ways we write.

My partner and I have met up on Tuesday and Thursday for between 3 and 4 hours. We usually begin each hour with some goal setting and then check in after an hour to see how much progress has been made. Sometimes the meet-ups have involved reading, or other administrative tasks, but largely they focus on writing up.

We spend between 30-40 minutes discussing what we achieved, future goals, and tips and techniques. 

We meet through Teams, chat for a bit and share our goals for today’s session. We then keep the camera on and work for around 2h, then share very briefly whether we achieved our set goal or not.

We have met for two hours on Saturdays and we take ten minute breaks every fifty minutes. Works out great for both of us.

One of us would call the other on Skype, we would catch up a little bit first and then get to work–60 minutes, followed by a short recap (how we thought it went), then a 10-15min break to get coffee, use the restroom, etc, followed by another 60 minutes. Before each block we also talked about our goals for the session.

We usually meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, while also leaving other weekdays open depending on our needs for the week. We have 10-15 minutes of catching up on the goals we shared in our last meet-up, or on our chat (where we share goals more regularly). We begin timed writing sessions, usually of 1 or 2 hours, or 30 minutes if there is a need to finish a task more quickly. We have brief interludes to say how it went or that we would like to keep going on the same or a next goal. Sometimes we work without goals. At others, especially close to deadlines, we keep a goal diary (using the template sheet Emily provided) and try to keep to them.

R and I meet at Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-12. We have two 50-55 work sessions, agreeing goals with each other each slot, and then for the days between sessions. We both often use the slots as work rather than specifically writing slots.

For some time post March, we would meet twice a week for three hours in the morning over Google Duo. It was a little clunky because of the technology involved (My phone was prone to running out of battery!). The regularity of it was also frequently interrupted by life crises on her end or mine.

2-3 hours of writing. We support each other through deadlines and maintain 2-3 structured writing sessions including time for emails/admin. We write down goals using worksheets based on your diary charts. Our work is very different but we find useful, stimulating points of convergence.

We usually met up for 2-2.5 hours in the mornings, either once or twice a week (Tuesday/Thursdays). One of us would keep track of the time and we would usually write for 50 mins, take a 10 break, and then do another writing session. We did not really talk a lot during the breaks, but we would usually do a check-in at the beginning of each meeting.

We start by a general update of stuff we’ve been working on in the days leading up to our session, and then go on to talk about our aims for the session. We then set an alarm for an hour and work with our cameras on but our mic muted. We take a 15 min break during which we’ll spend a few mins discussing how we’re progressing. We will then set the alarm for an hour and work again. In the end, we’ll spend 5-10 mins discussing how the session went.

We would send each other a piece of writing on Sunday or Monday, and meet via microsoft teams on Monday or Tuesday to discuss our work and provide feedback. We did this for about 4 sessions and then stopped meeting.

Typically we’ve done morning sessions, usually after one or two failed attempts earlier in the week because of things coming up. We chat, set goals, challenge each other on goals (!), write for an hour or an hour and a quarter, then rinse and repeat. We were much more effective in ‘deep lockdown’ when things were (ironically) more predictable.

We normally meet at either 8:30 or 9 am and work through until 11:30 or 12 noon in 2-3 timed sessions, with 10-15 minute breaks in between (depending on timings). The first 15 minutes is spent catching up and setting goals and we reflect on our progress and our writing at the beginning of the breaks and we normally spend 10-15 minutes closing off each session. We have also recently implemented a shared google sheet to track progress.

We met on Teams, talked for a bit, then got to working, keeping our cameras on. We met in person when it was possible.

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