Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 1)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)
The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s no doubt that ‘Shut up and write’ (#suaw) sessions have spread happily and organically across academic institutions. The Whisperers are big fans of #suaw and have written about it with zeal a few times:

Many university graduate schools and researcher development units coordinate sessions, and consider them as crucial parts of a healthy academic writing community. Many PhD researchers know about them and look for them wherever they are. When they don’t find them, they start them. They become embedded weekly events, and can be spontaneous gigs, too.

#suaw formats are as diverse as how the pomodoro segments that organise the sessions are used. As well as shutting up and writing, my colleagues and I have been known to ‘shut up and blog’, ‘shut up and edit’, and – periodically – ‘shut up and review Australian Research Council grant applications’.

It has been almost five years since I attended my first #suaw session at RMIT’s Pearson and Murphy’s cafe.

From our collective memories, the first one started after Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) had heard about #suaw from her sister Anitra Nottingham (@anitranot), who had come across them in San Francisco. The general feeling was, ‘why not give it a go?’. It was a spontaneous writing community initiative that garnered enduring, multiple rewards and required zero cash investment and no committee meetings. Win-win!

Our original crew over that first year was a blend of professional staff, academic staff and PhD students. The researchers were from all kinds of disciplines. They came from RMIT, Monash University, University of Melbourne, and La Trobe University. The Thesis Whisperer blog went from strength to strength in that time. The Research Whisperer was hatched and found a keen audience. Many regular attendees have now finished their PhD or Masters theses, completed their book manuscripts, submitted and had papers published, and applied to major grant schemes.

I thought it’d be a good time – not to mention kind of fun – to do a quick round-up of various long-time members’ perspectives on their #suaw experience, and how it has lived on in what they’re doing now. As you’ll see in this 2-part series, I provided a series of prompts. Some respondents chose to follow them with zeal, while others provided narratives with their own formats.

My initial plan was to edit it all down and just have a few pithy quotes from those who had written back to me. Because they’re all wonderful peeps, they all wrote back! I liked the diversity of voices and perspectives so much that I decided to keep their statements intact.

Dr Jason Downs (@jasondowns)

2011: Associate lecturer in Management, RMIT University / PhD researcher (RMIT University)
2016: Lecturer in Management, RMIT University

A regular #suaw crew is similar to having a gym buddy. Sometimes, you don’t feel like going but, if you don’t go, you feel like you are letting your compatriot(s) down. More than once, I went to #suaw only because I’d made a commitment to others. I wrote some good words on those days, too.

Best thing about #suaw, and the Pearson & Murphy’s cafe experience in particular?

There’s something special about colonising a table at a busy campus cafe. Arriving early and staking out the territory for the #suaw crew reinforced the feeling that what we were doing is important. Certainly, it was important enough to withstand the ire of miffed patrons who had to sit elsewhere.

Do you still #suaw + how?

Although I can’t make it to Pearson & Murphy’s (P&M) on the days that #suaw runs, I can easily reclaim the feeling by putting on my #suaw t-shirt. I had one printed up at Zazzle. Call me crazy, but it works for me.

I like how enough people know about #suaw that if you tweet out for a virtual #suaw session, someone is likely to take you up on the offer. Decide who is in charge of the timer, and go!

It’s great knowing that somewhere in the world someone is grinding out the words at the same time you are.

Dr Colleen Boyle (@theendeavour)

2011: Artist / PhD researcher (RMIT University)
2016: Artist / Sessional lecturer in visual arts

For me, #suaw was a kick up the bum.

It quickly put a stop to my procrastination and I managed to write the backbone of a journal article very quickly. It also made me realise that I didn’t have to sit at my desk for hours and hours in order to be productive. In fact, if anything, it made me aware that the opposite was true. Short bursts were more effective because I could see the end, and that end usually included a cuppa and a biscuit.

Best thing about #suaw, and the Pearson & Murphy’s experience in particular?

Well, the tea and biscuits were right there. There was also no excuses not to write when you’re surrounded by others. Having others sitting around you, diligently working away and tap-tap-tapping at their keyboards seemed to switch on a competitive gene in me somewhere and I just had to perform!

I also enjoyed the ambient noise. I’m not sure that this is for everyone but, being a terrible introvert, I found the noise enabled me to focus on my thoughts more while simultaneously feeling that I wasn’t missing out on being in the world. And meeting new and interesting people was fabulous.

Do you still #suaw + how

I do still #suaw when I’m suffering from lack of motivation and need to meet a deadline.

I recently used it in my professional life in order to get two staff members thinking about their projects. If I hadn’t set that little tomato ticking, who knows? I might still be waiting for their documents!

I’d highly recommend #suaw. I also used #suaw in some research assistant work when I needed to keep track of how much time I was spending writing for someone else. I think it’s a useful tool and there are many things that we haven’t even thought to apply it to yet.

Dr Kylie Budge (@kyliebudge)

2011: PhD researcher (University of Melbourne) / Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching (RMIT University) 
2016: Research Manager, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney

My experience of those first few #suaw sessions at Pearson and Murphy’s cafe was that they were an intellectual oasis that enabled me to find a community of like-minded folk: those keen to write, but to do so in a social space.

#suaw motivated me to produce words in ways I could never have imagined initially. Once my PhD study kicked in, I became a regular at these sessions, soaking up the enjoyable and collegiate atmosphere, so pleased to have company as I created those much-needed thesis and journal article words.

I felt like I was in my happy place each Friday morning at these sessions.

After moving to Sydney and taking up a new role at the Museum of Applied Sciences (aka the Powerhouse Museum) 14 months ago, I decided to start a regular Friday morning #suaw session there. I saw it as a natural extension of my role as Research Manager, and I wanted to create a space in the main cafe (which is lovely, light-filled and plays great music) for those who wanted to write, be they staff from our museum, University of Technology, Sydney or University of Sydney, the State Library of NSW (we’ve had people join us for #suaw from all of these institutions so far), or anyone else with a writing mission seeking company.

We’ve had up to 12 people at these sessions and one of our University of Sydney participants has since set up a #suaw session for her postgrad students. #suaw just keeps breeding!

Here endeth Part 1!

Part 2 of “Shut up and write – so hot right now” will appear next week, and includes the voices of Research Whisperer Jonathan O’Donnell (@jod999), Kate Warren, Amie O’Shea (@AmieOShea), and Quinn Eades (@quinn_writes).


  1. I’m keen to get #suaw happening in my group of undergraduate honours students. Has anyone any experience of #suaw amongst the younger demographic? What are the basic guidelines for getting started?


    • Hi Guinevere

      I recently started one in Cardiff – I sent a few tweets, targeting post grad accounts and history dept, a few like minded people tweeted to say they were interested, and we arranged a day/time/place that suited the most number of people. We are still a small group but growing steadily, and meet about once a month. We usually do 15 mins chat at the start, then 30 mins of ‘shutting up and writing’ (timed with a mobile phone), 15 mins coffee break and then another 30 mins writing. We’ve changed venue each time, but find a decent coffee shop with a big table is all you need – even wifi not necessary as that can be a distraction! Have made lots of new friends, and it also helps with counteracting isolation felt from living in different city to the one I officially work in. Hope that is of some help! Hannah X


    • Hi Guinevere

      I’d say starting one for Honours students is v. similar to starting any other SUAW group – the main thing is to get the word out about what day/time and have a designated person at the session to welcome, keep time, intro people to the format (if necessary). At least for the first month or so. After the day/time gets embedded in people’s schedules, the running of the session can be as tight or loose as you want. Sharing pomodoro duties is always a good thing – generates expertise for other SUAW groups to start up spontaneously. Good luck!


  2. As an external student, being able to attend ‘Shut Up and Write’ sessions on campus when I was there was a great way to experience peer support and collegiality. It also surrounded me with people who were interested in doing the same kind of things – even if it was an intensive writing session. I cannot thank the team who organised our sessions at ANU.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. Don’t forget all the online #suaw sessions too: @SUWTues in Australia, @SUWTNA in the US and @SUWTUK in – unsurprisingly – the UK. We’d love it if some of you could join us! @louca_mai, co-host of #suwtuk. See also #SUWTuesday #suwtues #suwtna

    Liked by 1 person

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