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 simple 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 small 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.

I submitted my Dphil thesis this term. It was loads of revisions and writing and the writing partnership helped me complete the project

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.

My writing partner has a great writing structure and has helped me a lot when talking about writing as a process, debunking fears around writing. I have also learnt about new ways of readings and of organising notes – which has been very insightful. Generally, I learnt a lot about having organised writing processes and reference managements which seem to make life a lot easier!

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.

This term, I have written an essay worth 25% of my degree to a standard I don’t think I could have achieved without my writing partner.

Writing partnerships: Your commitments

We ask all prospective participants to agree to the following statements before submitting their request for a writing partner. They help maximise the probability that you and your assigned partner will make a success of your partnership.

  • I understand that a writing partnership is a serious commitment, for myself and for the person I am matched with.
  • I confirm that once I am matched with a partner, I will do my best to make the partnership a success, by prioritising our scheduled commitments, practising good communication, and paying attention to my needs and preferences and my partner’s.
  • I confirm that in the event that for any reason I wish to end the partnership before the end of the term, I will inform both my writing partner and the programme coordinator Emily Troscianko as soon as possible, so that my partner can be matched with someone else if they wish to be.
  • I confirm that at the end of term, I will decide together with my writing partner whether we wish to continue the partnership into the vacation and/or next term.
  • I confirm that I will complete the end-of-term feedback survey to report on my writing programme and partnership experiences this term, and to register my preferences for next term.
  • I consent for the information I have provided here to be used to find a writing partner for me.

In a term that was at home, with very little structure (and incredibly bad mental health unfortunately) my two writing sessions were the only thing that I managed to do consistently. Not only did this give me a guaranteed and accountable few hours of good work a week, but I made a friend along the way, who I now really treasure 🙂

My writing partner is awesome! I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Not only have I gotten more work done and experienced the value of structure/accountability, I’ve also gained a good friend in my writing partner 🙂

I have found it really useful to have a writing session on Monday mornings to get through the Monday-itis and get started for the week again, plus it’s been great to have a catch-up at all our regular sessions and not feel so isolated.

We chose to meet on Fridays because that being the last working day of the week, it usually is a day when we are unable to focus and work. It was great to exchange tips on how we work and write together.

I seem to have worked my way through several different people now, including informal as well as formal partnerships. I suppose what I’ve realised is that it takes effort to maintain a healthy and useful writing relationship, which can be worth doing. But if things aren’t working out, sometimes you can’t force it, but you can look for alternatives. 
For example, if your partner isn’t in a writing phase of work, or is busy with other things (e.g. conference organisation), but you really want to write with someone else who is writing, you can consciously take the pressure off with the official writing partner, and use the time/energy to build up a relationship with someone who wants the same things as you.

Sounds silly but… [the single most helpful/revealing element was] Turning up on time. I recently noticed that my partner and I were increasingly turning up late… Being late meant I would lose time and start off feeling negative about myself. Turning up on time means I get the maximum benefit – in terms of not losing time, but also in terms of respecting “writing time” in my schedule – giving my writing the space it needs in my busy week. I feel calmer and less scatter brained if I start on time. So since realising that recently means I’ve had the motivation to be more disciplined. Of course, turning up on time is also important to respect my partner’s time and help them be more productive too.

Sounds silly but… [the single most helpful/revealing element was] Turning up on time. I recently noticed that my partner and I were increasingly turning up late… Being late meant I would lose time and start off feeling negative about myself. Turning up on time means I get the maximum benefit – in terms of not losing time, but also in terms of respecting “writing time” in my schedule – giving my writing the space it needs in my busy week. I feel calmer and less scatter brained if I start on time. So since realising that recently means I’ve had the motivation to be more disciplined. Of course, turning up on time is also important to respect my partner’s time and help them be more productive too.

The realisation that setting a time-frame for undisturbed work (signing out of e-mail, putting phone on air-plane mode), with scheduled breaks, helps me to get more work done – this may sound ludicrous (I’m a grad student, surely I’ve learnt this by now?!) – but honestly, it’s been monumentally helpful, and it’s not something I had ever really committed to before. Being with someone else – even just virtually – held me accountable to the commitment, and so I did it.

I had one writing partner during the three terms and it was great to see how much we opened up to each other and our relationship developed from a sort of « productivity driven » to « support and nurturing »

Each writing partnership is unique and the whole experience is quite different depending on the people involved in it.

Sample meet-up formats as described by recent participants.

In-person meet-ups

(those in bold have happened during COVID)

In the beginning of the term, we have been meeting up online via Teams, twice a week. We would turn on our cameras in the beginning to discuss our goals, and again by the end to see how we’ve achieved them. As social distancing regulations were slightly lifted, we had a couple of offline meet-ups. There was an afternoon when we sat together at the Exeter College hall, reading, writing, or typing. I remember that the hall was freezing, but it was such a lovely afternoon, productivity-wise, and in every other aspect. By the end of the term, we mostly just drop each other a message at the beginning and the end of each session, since writing at that time period has become a habit.

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 didn’t have a structured meet-up pattern this term, partially because my partner was away from Oxford for a while. When we did meet up, we usually sat somewhere near each other in the library, having coordinated the booking of library slots beforehand. We didn’t set goals together, but after the session we would catch up about our progress during the session and our work more generally. We often got coffee/lunch together as well, which provided a nice environment to talk about work progress, rant about our theses or get advice.

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.

A 3 hour session in 45 minute to 1 hour bursts with discussion at the beginning and middle and end about how we were doing and what our thoughts about our work were. We would meet up and go to a cafe – before cafes opened indoors we had some very chilly outdoor meet ups! We would spend a few minutes chatting and catching up – we got on really well so this was always nice. Then we would set our goals for the session and talk about how likely we were to meet them and how much input/accountability we needed that day. Then we would do one or two writing sessions, and chat through what we’d achieved at the end of the session.

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’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 usually send each other a Zoom link in advance, chat in the beginning about how things are going, and then we tell each other what we plan to get done in the next hour. Then we chat again, break for a bit to stretch our legs/get a snack, and then get going again for another session or two! It’s been so fun to have a sense of companionship through the writing process.

We meet on Zoom once a week for one or two hours and set times for ‘sprints’ where we describe what we will write beforehand and then after the time is up we assess whether or not we got it done.

We would set goals, write for 50 minutes, break for 10, then write for another 50. Something I did not expect were nice convos about difficulties we were each facing (either with our writing, or the topic at hand). That was super helpful, and relieved me a lot that I’m not the only one!

Typically we’ve arranged a meet-up a couple of days in advance, usually in the mornings; we log onto Skype and share goals over coffee. Then we write, keeping the sound and video on (which I find really helpful), then after usually about 1 hr 15, we check in again. If we have time, we do another hour after that.

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 sessions 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. 

how are you/chitchat, short goals setting, writing, check-in, repeat

We met every Friday morning at 9:30am on Zoom. We would update each other on the past week, what we are working on, and what we hope to achieve. We then worked for 50minutes and rested for 10 – we did 2 sessions like that for every meet up.

This term, x and I have called each other to set writing goals, then had a check in session, and finally a session at the end where we do the professional review. 

My writing partner and I usually meet on Tuesday mornings from around 9.00am to 12.00pm. We start the session by outlining our goals for the morning and then start working. Every hour we have a break to discuss how we’re getting on with our tasks and have a chance to refuel. At the end of the session we discuss our goals for the rest of the week. 

We usually meet for three/four hours. We begin by setting hourly goals and inputting them into the chat and then we take a five minute break, check in and assess progress, and then start again. This has helped in what is one of the more problematic aspects of working – knowing how long a task will take! We also brainstorm and talk through problems in our work.

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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