By Matt Shaw

We agree: the likelihood of writing King Lear during the current situation is unlikely at best. Our experience of quarantine is rather different to that of William Shakespeare in 1606 (if that is what happened). Despite the gain in time from commuting for many of us, the experience of working from home under lockdown is not an easy one, especially when compounded by worry, the need to prepare emergency remote teaching, caring responsibilities and practical issues, such as the loss of physical access to libraries and coffee shops.

But we have something that may help in some small way, especially if, say, you have an MA dissertation to finish.

Since autumn, the IHR library has been running what we call ‘Shut Up and Write!’ sessions: two hours on a Wednesday in the Americas room, offering the chance to sit together in one room and focus on some writing. The sight of others fruitfully tapping away is a great encouragement to get on with your own writing.

We follow the ‘pomodoro method’, which derives its name from the common tomato-shaped clockwork timers found in many kitchens. We write for 25 minutes of distraction-free focus, then have a 5 minute break to chat, look at Twitter, do emails, have a stretch or a coffee. We repeat this for four half-hour sessions.

Rather than a tomato timer, we use, and as the library has the potential for some distracting sounds in the distance, we also put on some ‘productivity’ background noise from

And that’s it. As part of the #VirtualIHR, we are moving online. If you want to join us and work away at home then on Wednesday, 13.30-15.30:

  • set up your writing space. Perhaps use some books or a cushion to adjust height of keyboard and screen. We know it can be hard to find a desk or writing spot at home, but there are lots of online resources that can help with posture, such as this one.
  • Head to and follow the clock and alarms.
  • Open up the IHR library twitter stream, and try and avoid being distracted by other tweets.
  • Follow the timer and WRITE!
  • Join in the chat, if you like, on the Twitter thread.

We’re also looking at other tools, such as online video streams, but if you have any ideas how this could be improved or other comments, do let us know.

Matt Shaw is Librarian of the IHR.