Sunday, October 18, 2009

Writing advice for profs - get into a regular routine

Much of the writing advice we blog about here is directed towards students.  For a change of pace, here's some advice courtesy of Inside Higher Ed that. although directed at Ph.D candidates struggling to finish their dissertations, applies equally well to busy LRW profs trying to find time to write an article.  It's the first of a four part series and we'll bring the rest as the entries are published.  For now, here's the first bit of advice:

Myth #1: Writing can only occur in large blocks of time. I don’t know how many times I have heard this from students and know I have heard it too many times from new faculty members. From where I stand, there are two problems with waiting until you have a large block of time to write. The first is “How long?” Do you need four hours? Six hours? Ten hours?

. . . . [The problem with waiting around for] large blocks of time to write is that [it's] just another excuse not to write. If you write one hour a day, you have five hours of focused writing time by the end of the week; 20 hours by the end of the month; and 70 over the course of the semester. If you have two hours, that doubles to 140 hours over the course of the semester. As you are working on your dissertation, you have to put in as much productive writing time as you can. Often, you will be writing for an hour in between the courses you are teaching, while you are waiting for experiments to finish, or while your infant daughter is sleeping. Even if you have a lot of free time as a doctoral student or as a post-doc, chances are in an academic job or a professional job, you won’t have that luxury, so now is as good a time as ever to resurrect what may have been down time (checking Facebook??? Twitter???) and to use it productively. Of course check Facebook and Twitter, just after you have completed your writing.

Myth #2: Writing can wait until motivation washes over you.I wish this were not a myth but instead that it was a universal truth. Imagine if we lived in a world where we were motivated to do all those things that are good for us. I need to write for three hours today and I feel inspired and motivated from the very first moment to the 180th minute! Today is my day to do 50 sit-ups after I finish 45 minutes on the treadmill, yahoo! I feel inspired to sort through the piles of papers in my spare room, and by golly, today just happens to be the day that I also planned to clear out the room! Mind you, I try to talk myself into being inspired to do the things I need to do, and sometimes it works. But sometimes, no matter what, doing 50 sit-ups doesn’t inspire or motivate me. Nor does writing for my two hours per day.

I wish I could mix a potion that makes me want to do the things that I haveto do. Fortunately, there is a potion, at least for writing. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as bringing a flask to your lips and taking a long gulp. Motivation in writing comes from prewriting, prewriting, prewriting. Motivation occurs when you have done the necessary planning steps so that when you sit down to write prose, you have had time to subconsciously play around with the ideas and you only have to retrieve and type down the ideas, not to think them up. Motivation occurs when you have a very detailed long outline, filled in with citeable notes, by your desk that guides your writing. The citeable notes are short phrases (written in your own words) that remind you to insert the appropriate references into a particular section.

Even with all the necessary prewriting completed, there will be times when you just don’t feel like writing. As Rick Reis said in the quote I presented above: “Forget about whether you feel motivated or not.” When this happens, you’ll have to lean on pep talks from writing partners and the negative consequences of showing your blank writing graph to your writing group. Plus, you’ll have to have some tools in your toolbox ready for when perfectionism, procrastination, impatience, or depression/dysphoria threatens to disrupt a potentially productive writing session.

You can read the rest here.

I am the scholarship dude.


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