Shut up and write – one year later

My app of choice – Pomodoro Lite

It has been about a year since the regular “shut up and write” sessions started on our campus. Jonathan O’Donnell wrote “Writes well with others” last August, and the number of on-campus groups blossomed to three open ones, then levelled back to one open and several ‘closed’ (e.g. School-specific) gatherings.

Elsewhere, across the East Coast and with at least one North American and one UK group that we know of, these sessions have grown and prospered. Many of the regulars swear by the meet-ups as prime productivity points in themselves, as well as  constructive triggers for more work afterwards.

I know this sounds a tad cultish, but it’s gratifying to see a new attendee’s glee at thwarting writer’s block or overcoming their spiral of procrastination after just one “shut up and write” session (that had, perhaps, two pomodoros spans – 50 minutes of focused writing, editing, or reading time in total).

The most constant group I attend – Fridays from about 9am, at RMIT’s Pearson and Murphy’s cafe – is going strong. We’ve also established a fortnightly “shut up and blog” group that is meant to provide a ‘brains trust’ with peers who are involved in blogging at all stages (newbies, stalwarts, wise elders).

On the Fridays, clusters of morning session attendees are sometimes there after lunch, still pomodoro-ing and writing. It’s a sight that’s both enviable and admirable!

As an advocate of the “shut up and write” sessions, it has been great to have my general feeling of engagement and buzzyness backed up by evidence that crowded cafes have a positive effect on creativity. Occasionally, there’ll be one loudmouth in the cafe and that’s when you realise the value of an even level of background noise: the normal rhythm of coffee grinding, milk-heating, and cyclic conversational modulations don’t intrude the way a braying, look-at-me laugh can.

Given that it’s around the 1st birthday of our Friday sessions, I thought I’d commemorate it by presenting the Top Five things I like about “shut up and write”:

1. Breeds productive habits

It may take a session or two to get into the groove with this set-up. A few people can’t shake off the distraction of the background noise, others attend only one gig and decide it’s not for them. For those who come along to the sessions regularly, the pomodoro focus spills over into their other writing and work time. Quite a few regulars tweet their pomodoros and have virtual “shut up and writes”.

Getting started on editing or writing tasks that I’ve been putting off smooths the way for crossing more things off the To-Do List. It ushers you into a more productive frame of mind, and I inevitably feel better about what’s left to do (and there’s always more that’s left to do).

2. New peeps

The weekly get-togethers are fluid and dynamic things – there is no set group.

There are certainly some stalwarts who will probably be there, but there’s no obligation for anyone to turn up week after week. Along the way, new folk are introduced and invited, random people from Twitter decide to bite the bullet and give it a try, or academics’ teaching schedules change each semester.

It’s nice having a surprise set of people every Friday. It’s also great to meet up with other pomodoro converts who don’t come along to our “shut up and writes” (preferring their own school gigs), and bond about how effective it can be. I did just this with a lovely prof the other day; she’s led the way in her school in adapting these techniques and fostering a culture of collegial productivity.

3. Keeping in touch with ‘old’ peeps

One of the best things about the sessions is that they keep me in touch with my work buddies. We all work on the same campus, but times between lunches or meetings can sometimes be quite lengthy. The weekly gig makes meeting up more likely and we’ve progressed and hatched all manner of plans thus far.

4. Touching base with the other half of RW

It’ s not like Jonathan and I don’t talk or email. Working each day in different Colleges, though, means that we don’t usually cross one another’s path. Running the blog and juggling posts has benefited greatly from the weekly meet-up. “Shut up and write” is, after all, the time we put aside each week to draft and edit our RW posts. It also gives us the chance to catch up on blog news and doings.

5. It’s a great start to Friday

I like office-going. After years of precarious, fixed-term roles and regular doses of career angst, I love my office job.

Even so, it’s lovely knowing that almost every Friday  morning means heading to the cafe rather than the office to start the day. A guaranteed couple of hours’ engagement with savvy people who are interested in getting on with things is a reward in itself.


So, it’s great to acknowledge that the Friday sessions are going strong – and getting stronger – and that the productivity ‘experiment’ that Thesis Whisperer started on campus has taken on a life of its own.

I’ve met excellent people from across my campus and the city in the various “shut up and write” sessions. To me, they mean productivity and fun. And that’s a combination that can’t be beat.


  1. Thanks for this Tseen – it’s great to reflect on what we have all achieved this year. If it wasn’t for your ability to turn up on time week after week I think our group would have lost focus. I just want to take this opportunity to publicly thank you for your quiet commitment to the cause 🙂


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