Why these events have rules at all

If you’re looking to get structured input into your writing habits, or just need help getting something written, the writing events I offer may fit the bill. If you’re unsure whether they’re right for you, I hope this page will help make it clear either way, as well as help you make the event as useful as possible if you do decide to sign up for one.

All the writing events I run are based on years of learning about why people succeed or fail in making time to write, succeed or fail in focusing on the actual writing when they do make time for it, and feel good or bad about their writing regardless of much they’re getting done. Some of this learning comes from writing-specific contexts, some of it from my wider work in physical and mental health and behaviour change. I’ve tested out lots of methods for helping people change habits that aren’t working, even when those habits are deeply ingrained, and I’ve found that a group setting is one of the most solid foundations on which to add other “active ingredients”. 

Lots of writing groups and events are more free-form and democratic than the ones I run. Sometimes there are few explicit rules and guidelines (though there are never none, they may just be unspoken); sometimes the rules and guidelines are actively negotiated by the groups’ members. But doing that kind of negotiation well is rarely quick and depends on a high level of commitment from everyone. And structures that are too fluid or implicit often don’t work well despite feeling nice to start with. 

So in these writing events, I communicate rules, I explain them, and I enforce them. I do so because I believe that abiding by this specific set of rules will help your writing (and you). I love to hear suggestions for ways to adjust them—some of the current structures are direct results of comments and suggestions from past participants—but that’s a separate process. 

Yes, I’m using the word “rules” a lot, and it isn’t a word with particularly nice associations. But I call these writing event structures rules because I like to be clear about their non-negotiability. For myself, however much I may like the idea of retaining freedom of choice for every single minute and hour, I in fact reliably find it a relief to impose expectations on myself (or let others impose them on me) that mean there’s simply no option to do other things for some span of time dedicated to a particular thing. I hope you will too.

What are the rules, and what exactly do they do?

A lot of the structures of these events are centred on the simple attempt to reduce the distractions that give us excuses not to write. We know that in a home-working environment not all distractions can be eliminated, but practising the skills of 1) eliminating the distractions that can be eliminated and 2) refocusing after disruption is crucial to sustaining meaningful personal activity during stressful times. 

Others are geared towards helping you prioritize simply showing up, or towards letting go of attitudes and other mental habits that get in the way of you writing, and enjoying writing. In reality, most of the rules do several jobs at once.

Please understand that by making an event booking, you are confirming that you have read this document and accept the principles they’re built on and agree to abide by the rules they depend on. 

Writing event rules:

  1. Please arrive punctually and stay until the end of the event. If you’re late, you may not be able to join us. This protects the event for everyone else, as well as hopefully incentivizing you to prioritize this event over everything else you’re doing and ensure you carve out the full time it needs.
  2. For in-person events: Be ready to switch your mobile phone off or on flight mode for the entirety of all sessions and breaks and put it in the communal phone tin! Or if you prefer, you can just leave it at home. For Zoom events: Unless you’re using it for the Zoom call, get rid of your phone as decisively as possible (e.g. on airplane mode in a deep drawer). I know that being completely uncontactable can be a source of anxiety—and also that having chunks of time protected from intrusions dictated by other people is crucial for us all. If you need to be contactable in case of emergency, please tell me in advance, and we can make arrangements.
  3. I’ll ask you to switch off all pop-ups and other notifications from email and social media apps on your laptop for the entire event. The only exception is if the event includes an admin session and you want to use it to tackle some email tasks in a planned way. Otherwise, enjoy having no option to do any of it for a few hours!
  4. You should use the internet only as strictly necessary for your writing. For in-person events, I recommend simply switching off wifi: This means there’s only one global decision to make. You can save up for later anything you realize want/need to look up. When we’re on Zoom, you can’t do this, but I strongly encourage you to close your usual browser and make your default not opening another.
  5. We all write during our writing sessions, and we don’t try to carry on writing at other times (e.g. during breaks, group discussions, admin sessions, etc.). “Writing” can be defined in broad and varied ways, but you should know what you mean by it, and respect your definition.
  6. Please obey me in all things!
  7. If at any point obeying me feels hard, impossible, or nonsensical, please say something. We can step out of the room and have a chat.
  8. Be patient with others’ perspectives and their difficulties known and unknown, in your words and your actions. None of us knows everything that’s going on for anyone else, and writing is the kind of thing that can bring difficult things to the surface, especially if we’re systematically removing most of the usual distractions from sustained and clear thinking.

One purpose of all these rules is to create a temporary but close-knit community of focused writers. There’s a reliable power that comes from sharing time and space with other people who have the same basic aim as you. That power of shared focus and commitment is weakened as soon as one person treats the rules as optional, so remember that your focus and commitment help sustain everyone else’s as well. The flipside of this, of course, is that you can have confidence that in the event you take part in, everyone else will be prioritizing things that will also be helping you.

As I said, much of what these events are designed to do is to free your mind from standard distractions so that you can write better. This freedom may feel deeply uncomfortable, especially if—as has been the case for many of us—the pandemic and its many knock-on effects have compromised your ability to focus even more than the modern world in general already did.

If the contrast between how we work together during the event and your usual way is particularly strong (for example, if your digital tech addiction is particularly severe at the moment), you may not find that abstinence instantly helps you write better, because you may not reach the end of the withdrawal phase before the event ends. If you notice that this is the case, we’ll do as much as we can during the event to put in place plans to help you work through to more sustainable habits independently, e.g. planning for systematic practice of the things that are difficult but without which you can’t write undistractedly. Your time, patience, and determination in freeing yourself from this dependency (or at least substantially weakening it) will be well rewarded.

My commitment

Good-natured enforcement is not an easy job. I will, however, attempt it. I may do so by, for example, pressing you to articulate a writing goal more clearly, or asking you to stop using your phone or to stop writing at the end of a writing session so we can all focus on the stretching and mind-clearing. Keep in mind that the point of all of this is to help you write better, in a way many of us struggle to do on our own, and thus improve your life. This is the entire point of me running these events, and it informs everything about their design and execution.

The best way of enforcing rules is to make people able and keen to abide by them. I am always available to talk (e.g. by chatting before, during, or after the event) about any difficulties you’re having or changes you would like to make. Beyond the rules, the structural components of these events—writing-related exercises, stretching sequences, designated break times, a time-keeping bell—have been designed to make it easier for you to follow the rules and to benefit from them. Specifically, they’re all intended to make learning new habits easier by making our time together a departure from your norms that’s at least partially pleasurable!

A final way of framing the point of all the rules and structures is that they free you temporarily from the burden of choice, so that you can devote your full mental energies to the writing itself. Everything else is out of your hands. That may be daunting or frustrating at times, but focusing on just one thing is also a great luxury.

Please contact me if you have any questions or observations on any of this. I’ll be very happy to talk things through.