Be inspired. This may seem like an impossible request for those of us who struggle to come to the page and begin writing. However, where inspiration appears difficult, it can be made simple. Imagine your positive outcomes. Imagine your success. Imagine yourself deeply engaged in the flow of writing and thinking, and how satisfying that feeling can be. Some of us are inspired by process, others by product. Figure out what works for you and imagine yourself in a space where your goals are easily achieved. It may seem far-fetched, but it can also be inspiring.
It’s going to be hard. If writing and research were easy, would we value our publishing successes so much? There is quite a lot of advice across the Internet (and certainly plenty here at PhD2Published) about how we might make these processes easier. But the work might begin best by acknowledging that it is hard. Perhaps that can minimize the frustrations that arise when what feels like it should flow ends up stalling, and when it is hard to find the place to start.
Consider being generous. Awhile ago there was a discussion about Tweeting during conference panels and whether doing so was making scholars’ research public outside of their established intentions. Academics are generally trained to be very protective of their ideas, their data, and their scholarship: there’s a reason for the term “intellectual property.” The inverse would be to apply the ideas of generosity and publicness to scholarship.
Michelle Moravec conducts her scholarly work in open places, inviting engagement and comments from others. She notes: “Writing in Public is my small contribution to making visible the processes by which history making takes place. I draft all my work in documents shared with readers for comments and critique.”
Author and artist Austin Kleon makes a similar pitch. His latest book is titled Show Your Work: 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered. Kleon encourages readers to “think about your work as a never-ending process, how to build an audience by sharing that process.”
What might you gain from being generous with your scholarship?
Finish. Consider finish as both a verb and a noun. Many Western cultures lack good means for coming to closure, whether in telephone conversations or in wrapping up a writing project. The old adage “nothing inspires like deadlines” is as much about creating a terminus as it is about expediting one’s work on the page. Set a date to finish your writing project, and stick to it. When you meet your deadline, celebrate it.
Looking at finish as a noun is also to look at final, as in final chapters. A wise scholar once suggested that beginning your reading with the final chapter of a scholarly book will demonstrate whether the book is useful for your research. The finish line of a good monograph reviews all of the arguments, the conclusions, and the shortcomings of the preceding text. Start at the finish and save yourself some research and reading time.
Exhale. For many readers in the Northern spheres, it’s the season for Spring Break. While a good number of students use the week off for time at the beach, the park, or other leisure activities, faculty might use the week to catch up on projects, cram to meet deadlines, or take care of outstanding teaching responsibilities. If you have time off, make sure you take time to exhale. Take a deep breath, put up your feet, sleep in an extra hour. Relaxation can be a prime remedy for preventing burnout.
Determination. For its multiple meanings and applications, determination is a helpful quality to consider in writing and research. On the one hand, determining precisely what you want to accomplish is a first step in bringing those goals to fruition. On the other hand, approaching your work with a sense of determination and drive can put you in a frame of mind that pushes you toward completing the goals you set out to accomplish. To determine what you can accomplish in a particular block of time, figure out what the best measure is (word count, page count, time committed) and set realistic, manageable goals.
Craft and care. It’s sometimes difficult to find the best word to describe what we do when we’re engaged in academic endeavors. Terms like “craft” seem to fall into the domain of creative work, with responsible ownership by the poets and novelists of the world. “Writing” and “research” lack the aspects of craft, care, and concern that academic authors bring to what they create. It’s more than “work” too: that word evokes a kind of drudgery that falls short of embracing the deep immersion, the discovery, and the pleasures that academic craft can bring about. Would it be revolutionary to think of ourselves as academic craftspeople? A different term might bring a different perspective–not only for others, but also for ourselves.
Be bold. Look back through your draft and see how frequently you use hedging language. How often does the word “seems” appear? Is there a good bit of “maybe” and “might”? If you have invested substantial time, intellect, and creativity in developing your argument and arriving at your conclusions, be bold in reporting your results. If you seem doubtful or skeptical, your readers will be as well.
Make Arrangements. Making, arranging, organizing: creating the spaces in which you write can be a first step to starting a new project, finishing a forgotten one, or moving forward with work already underway. How you arrange your space can make a difference in your comfort level–physically and otherwise. Being mindful and deliberate about how you make arrangements might lead to a more engaged writing experience.
Create an emergency. Noting the similarity between “emerge” and “emergency” inspires some word play that leads to creative thinking about deadlines. Many writers will agree that deadlines can be a strong motivator: when you finally reach the point where you absolutely must get your writing done, there is little choice but to put everything else aside and focus on meeting that deadline. Now imagine creating a microdeadline that is an emergency: I absolutely must finish this paragraph/abstract/outline/chapter before I do anything else. On deadline, we’ll excuse ourselves from obligations to family and friends, let the call go to voice mail and let email go answered. What might emerge if you create a small space of no contact with an urgent deadline for yourself?
What will you call it? When I teach public speaking, I encourage students to title their speeches in progress, often as a first step in writing. That title may never be spoken, or known to anyone but the speaker, unless someone read a written version of the speech. Perhaps even better than writing a thesis statement (which often seems to vex undergraduates), the title helps students remember what they are working on and stay on target as they are researching and writing. This method can be useful for any essay or manuscript in progress. Giving it a title is also a way of making it manifest.