Find Your Coven

This post is entirely inspired by Mirya Holman whose newsletter you should subscribe to asap. I sent her “Get Yourself an Academic Coven” letter to my writing group, and we immediately renamed ourselves “Writing Coven.”

Art by Red Pen Black Pen. Drawing of a card eitb heart in background and eyeglasses in foreground with text saying "I've read your work." And #AcademicValentines

This is good advice no matter what you’ve got going on in your professional life: find an accountability group. I know “accountability” feels a little smarmy, but that’s what you need. Trust me.

It all started in graduate school when I seriously didn’t think I’d be able to finish the dissertation. Some of my cohort decided to make a writing group. Best decision I could’ve made at that time. Our group didn’t always function exactly, but it was definitely better than going it alone.

It’s not just about accountability, but also advice, support, and camaraderie. Especially if you are in academia because academia doesn’t really follow normal professional guidelines. I can’t tell you how great it is to talk about something that happened in class or with an article I’m writing or a department meeting I sat through and see instant recognition and empathy.

My current Coven is more than just a writing group. We talk about everything. Send each other leads. Encourage each other’s ambitions. Workshop each other’s writing (of course). I am really lucky to be in a group with these awesome, powerful academic witches 🥰

I don’t claim to be an expert on making groups like these work, but I do have some food for thought if you’re considering making your own Coven.

Think about what you will do at these meetings. Are they for actual writing, chatting about your writing goals, or giving feedback on one another’s writing? Or some combination? Mine is a combination most weeks.

Getting/Giving feedback can be tough because of the pressure to send the work out early enough ahead of the meeting to give your Coven time to read it, and, on the other side, making time to read your fellow Coven member’s work. One group I was briefly a part of solved this by devoting 30 min of the meeting to both reading and giving feedback to shorter pieces of writing (thus eliminating the need to send or read work ahead). My current group does this for small pieces of writing, but sends bigger pieces out a week head.

Making time to write in the meeting can be a boon especially for those of us with heavy teaching loads. In some cases that 30 minutes of writing time is the only time I can get to write at all in a given week. Incremental progress is still progress.

My favorite part of every meeting is catching up with my Coven. Hearing their udates on life, teaching, writing and other professional goals just energizes me in a way I can’t quite explain. We also use a Google sheet to record our goals for the next meeting, track who is sending work out for feedback, and celebrate one another’s wins🏆

Do you have advice or questions about starting a professional Coven? Leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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