Character  &  Context

Writing Like Your Life Depends on It

Image of a group of men and women around a table writing

Despite the fact that most academics’ careers (or professional lives) depend on writing and publishing prolifically, many new faculty would rather do almost anything but write. Natalie Sabik, who researches social identity and health, and has created a writing accountability group, jokes that some days she would rather fold laundry than start writing. Sabik’s writing accountability group, which serves as a supportive online community for tracking research and writing goals, and keeping each other accountable has been operating for about 2 years, with three members, each at different institutions.

Sabik explained that a writing accountability group is a sustainable way to stay on-track with your writing goals because the group can be tailored to the members’ needs and preferences. Sabik clarified that her group is process, not outcome focused: they track their goals and reflections on the writing process, but do not necessarily share or provide feedback on the products of their writing.

“You have to state your goals out loud to others in order to be accountable to them”, explains Sabik. The group not only ensures that each member stays on-track with their goals, but it also serves as a way of learning how much time writing actually takes. Diana Betz, who studies stereotyping and prejudice, and is one of the members of Sabik’s writing group, explained that “the writing accountability group has made me a better collaborator”, as she now knows how long various tasks take, and can create more realistic deadlines. As Sabik explained, often we have a warped conception of how long writing can take and how much time we spend on different stages of the research process.

To actually create their writing accountability group, Sabik explained, one of the first steps was to decide who they wanted in their group: a supportive, non-competitive group of colleagues is key. In her writing group, Sabik explains they have a shared spreadsheet (with tabs for each individual member) where they track their goals, schedules, and reflections.

Betz emphasized that though the group provides feedback on each other’s reflections and goals, they do not share their writing with one another. For them, this provides an environment that is more focused on supporting than pushing each other. Betz noted that regular check-ins with fellow group members can be useful, as it provides an opportunity to gracefully bow out of the group if the fit is not right.

At a time when publishing regularly is critical to tenure and promotion, finding a group that can keep you on track can be a life saver.

Written By Aviva Philipp-Muller
Natalie Sabik, Assistant Professor of Health Studies, University of Rhode Island
Diana Betz, Assistant Professor of psychology, Loyola University, Maryland


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Character & Context is the blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). With more than 7,500 members, SPSP is the largest organization of social psychologists and personality psychologists in the world.   

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