Lone writers: Let’s get together

Writing is an essential part of academic work. The writing process usually involves a team, yet the drafts and their revisions are often produced independently by one author. This is, for example, due to the need for intense concentration, improving the coherence of the text, and maintaining a consistent style. However, this makes the writing process rather lonely.

Working towards a doctoral degree can therefore become a lonely process for many individuals. Changing work can also produce quite a shock to individuals who once worked in the context of busy clinical environments and of late have found themselves working alone at home due to global pandemic restrictions. Both, objective and perceived social isolation, have been associated with a higher likelihood of mortality (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015) and in the context of the global pandemic, social distancing regulations have challenged the stability of our social bonds (Okruszek et al., 2020). In many academic institutions around the world, the health and social wellness of doctoral candidates began to teeter on the edge of safety.

Loneliness in the writing process became an accepted part of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to feel that we, as health scientists, did our part to keep society safe, we stayed home, as the strong lone writers. The pandemic changed the writing environment. The remote working and social isolation limited the opportunities, for example, for casual guidance from supervisors or daily support from peers. Random looks over your shoulder by peers giving positive and constructive feedback were absent while we pressed on, creating our manuscripts and proposals. This new normal highlighted the need for social support in the writing process for us nursing science doctoral candidates.

To tackle this problem of loneliness in writing, one of the authors (RM) invited a group of doctoral candidates to an online writing group. The idea for initiating this type of activity was inspired by a lecture from Dr. Karol Kiriakos, who provides psychological coaching for writers. Writing groups are small groups of people who gather together regularly to share and discuss writing. The theoretical background for writing groups is based on peer learning, collaborative learning, and the social dimension of writing (Li & Vandermensbrugghe 2011.) Academic writing groups can be a great way to provide peer support for postgraduate students and they can help to form a writing routine and make progress (Kiriakos & Svinhufvud 2015). Members of the writing group can share common writing-related concerns and needs, provide constructive feedback, and support each other’s writing development (Li  & Vandermensbrugghe 2011, Kiriakos & Svinhufvud 2015).

Our writing group sessions follow a routine. We have a Zoom session once a week, which is open to invited doctoral candidates. We begin with a brief introduction of the work we are writing at the session. Sometimes we define a goal for the day. Next, one of us sets a timer for 20-30 minutes for a writing round. Everyone mutes their mics, turns their cell phones on silent mode, and starts writing. When the time is over, one of us informs us in Zoom. Next, we discuss how the writing progressed. We choose to either talk about our general experience or discuss a specific problem someone is dealing with. Then we repeat the writing round.

Every writing group session is different. The writing can be anything from a small course task to a summary of the doctoral dissertation. Usually, everyone has their own individual work instead of a shared project among the participants of the group. The optimal number of participants in one session depends: if there are only two, the discussion can meander but if there are too many, the time for discussion must be limited. The number of writing rounds also varies, depending on everyone’s schedules and plans. Everyone is free to come and go whenever suitable for them.

The writing group has been a great benefit for us. It encourages and even forces us to attempt progress toward our writing goals during the doctoral training. Especially during the social isolation because of the pandemic, the writing group provided a much-needed social activity and peer support. It is also an opportunity to meet and work together when we live in different cities and countries. Moreover, the writing group is a way to make new contacts and collaborate (for example, in writing this blog post).

One activity that occurred because of our writing sessions was personal reflection of our own writing pieces. One of the writers (JA) takes a minute now to reflect on the piece we have written together and is touched and feels remarkable meaningfulness from the co-creation and social bonds that emerged as a result of our times together over Zoom writing. Two of the writers (JA and SI) had a chance to be in person at our shared working space during the final phases of writing this blog piece and as the memories of the social isolation fade and we get to be near one another again, this writer feels like she is backing away from the edge and the ill effects of loneliness seem to dissolve.

We encourage other lone writers to organize a writing group. These sessions can be done in person, but also, if you have distance doctoral candidates, we encourage a zoom or hybrid format to provide support to those near and far. For us, it has been an accessible, flexible, and memorable way to support the writing process in these last two years.

Jennifer Auxier
Saija Inkeroinen
Reetta Mustonen
Doctoral Candidates, Department of Nursing Science, University of Turku

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352

Kiriakos, K., & Svinhufvud K. (2015). Tohtoritakuu. Kirjoittamisen opas jatko-opiskelijalle ja tutkijalle. 2nd edition. Art House: Helsinki, 190–195.

Li, L., & Vandermensbrugghe, J. (2011). Supporting the thesis writing process of international research students through an ongoing writing group. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(2), 195–205.

Okruszek, Ł., Aniszewska-Stańczuk, A., Piejka, A., Wiśniewska, M., & Żurek, K. (2020). Safe but Lonely? Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression Symptoms and COVID-19. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 579181. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.579181