Shut up and Write!

Shut up and Write! turns writing from a solitary, to a social experience.

The concept is simple: meet up with others in a cafe (hopefully one with plenty of power points), and write. The concept originated in the San Francisco Bay Area, amongst creative writers, but, thanks to social media, has spread amongst research students around the world. The idea is to make the act of writing fun and relaxing, as the San Francisco group puts it:

No critiquing, exercises, lectures, ego, competition or feeling guilty

Anyone can start a Shut up and Write! group – you don’t need permission or any extra resources, but we have found it works best if you:

  • Meet at a regular, pre-arranged time: this means there is no organisational work required and anyone can join at any time. Have at least one person committed to turn up at the assigned time and greet new members. You might want to share this duty with another person so it doesn’t become onerous.
  • Create a contact point for new members. This can be someone’s email, or a social media presence, such as a Facebook page, which acts as a rallying point. Some groups even make posters advertising their sessions and put them up around campus.
  • Keep the writing sprints short. Use the Pomodoro Technique (a pomodoro is a 25 minute stretch of focussed concentration). Between the pomodoros, take as much time as the group would like to drink hot beverages, talk and eat. Have one person willing to act as “Pomodoro chief” who will do time calls (there are many free Pomodoro apps which you can use to keep time).
  • Work on anything, so long as it’s work — transcription, analysis, reading, organising your notes – even email (although we don’t recommend it). No exercises or judgment remember? The only rule is to be silent when everyone else is.
  • Accept that Shut up and Write! is not for everyone. Some people may only come once; others will be regulars. If no one else turns up, Shut up and Write! is almost as much fun on your own (it’s nice to work somewhere other than office every now and then).
  • Remember, it doesn’t just have to be PhD students who do it. Early career academics, professional staff and others need to put time aside for writing too. And it’s the perfect opportunity to create cross insitutional links – be open to people from other universities coming along.

Want to know more? read the original post I wrote about the concept at RMIT and a follow up post from our sister blog, The Research Whisperer “Writes well with others”.

Looking for a convivial cafe to write in? Have a look at this amazing map put together by Thesis Whisperer readers showing writer friendly cafes around the world, from London to Outer Mongolia! If you know of another great cafe for writing, share the love by dropping a pin.

You don’t have to start your own group, there might be an existing Shut up and Write! group near you which has a meeting schedule and a venue. It’s a great way to make friends during your study. Have a look at the Google Map below to see if there are any near you that you can join (please note, not all are regular):


127 thoughts on “Shut up and Write!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello Chris Happy New Year this looks like it might help me achieve my NY resolution! Perhaps we could add a Shut-up and write session to our agenda for the first couple if weeks. We could book one if ths rooms and make it weekly for 6 weeks and see how we go? What do you think?

  2. alisonwi11iams says:

    SPIRES (Supporting People who Investigate Research Environments & Spaces ran our first Shut Up and Write session recently – it was fantastically productive! And the quality of silence when we were all writing was awesome. Just the sound of the egg-timer (didn’t have a Pomodoro) and the brains ticking…..

    Right now I’m on a train between Edinburgh and London, and have been using a variation of this technique. It’s called Wake Up and Write. I doze for 10 minutes or so, then wake up and get writing for 20 minutes; then doze, then write, then doze…. I’ve got through a lot of writing this afternoon.

    • 'Funmi Adewole says:

      Thanks for the post….and Alison, I have been practicing the ‘wake up and write’ technique without even knowing it. I have been kicking myself for dozing off though. Now I shall celebrate it. Cheers.

  3. Tita says:

    Hi all,
    a group of academics from the UK Open University, a distance teaching uni, meet online and write every friday. After a couple of face-to-face writing retreats with the fantastic Rowena Murray, we decided to try it online as we are all rather spread out around the country. We meet on blackboard collaborate, as that is the paltform our uni uses, but it would work just as well on skype or google hangouts, I imagine… anyone else doing something like that? I´d love to hear from others 🙂

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  5. Alison Williams says:

    I have started a shut-up-and-write group in Edinburgh. we meet once a fortnight, just a few friends, in one of our living rooms; and it is working astonishingly well. I’m also, this week, in Seattle at the University of Washington, and will be running some sessions here too, and hoping it will catch on.

    I’m thinking of starting a weekly session in a cafe in Edinburgh – anyone interested? If I get enough interest I’ll get it going End March when I’m back from foreign parts

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I am currently in the process of getting a writing group going for grad students in my department. However, I’m getting a lot of resistance from my advisor. He claims that in the “real world” we wouldn’t meet up with others to get our work done, and that we should be able to motivate ourselves independently. We are required to be in the group office from about 9 – 4, and with the exception of classes, we are expected to tell him where we are/why we aren’t in the office. I would really appreciate some advice from other folks who enjoy a more free-range work style about how I can handle this.

    • Georgina says:

      unbelievable! your post was a year ago so maybe no longer relevant but that guy sounds like a complete control freak, and arrogant and tunnel visioned at that. Don’t put up with it – someone like that cannot be a proper advisor. Just do your thing! I am presuming you are an adult and therefore able to define your own existence.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think that this is not a surprising result. From an admin’s perspective, the uni already provides office space (ie. a quiet space), and yes, paid workers are expected to be motivated. For these reasons, proposing SUW forums can be touchy. SUW can be argued as adding value insofar as it: 1) offers ‘social writing´; 2) can be a teaching tool; 3) fosters the variety of ways that people write. Regarding this last point, while they may not admit it, really successful writers often have space to write – i.e quiet space at home, or not many commitments outside the office. Not everyone has this luxury – parents, single parents, in particular. In this regard, SUW might be interesting to gender/diversity representatives at the uni. A SUW is also an opportunity for Uni Admins to give active recognition that uninterrupted time be allotted to researchers. Measuring the products that come out of SUW sessions could also be, in turn, a way to get a better sense of what a reasonable work load should be – such as how many j. articles, book chapters, books, reviews, newspapers articles, per year is reasonable — all demand different levels of effort. After writers improve through SUW and increase their outputs, SUW sessions could even be used as a weapon by the admin against employees!

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  9. Anonymous says:

    @ Georgina. I ignored him and still continue to host a weekly writing group. Since last year, I graduated and have begun my PhD with a different advisor, but continue to work with several students still in that lab. We’ve had several writing-group-revised grant proposals accepted in the past year, and now the meeting is “approved” for his students to attend. I’m really glad I stuck with it!

  10. Olya says:

    Is there anyone from the Netherlands here who would be interested in starting the Dutch “Shut up and write” cafe? Around Utrecht perhaps?

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  13. ratima srisomwongse says:

    I am so excited to join the group and can’t wait to share and learn the techniques of writing and do research!

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