Browsing the blog archives for November, 2011

Luc Reid – The Will to Write: Getting Past the 6 Most Common Obstacles
Posted by pdonahu2

Luc Reid is an author and blogger specializing on  habits and motivation found in recent psychological and neurological research. Visit his website for more writing tips, or his Amazon page to see his work. You can also follow him on Twitter (@LucReid).

Having done the preparatory research or critical thinking for a paper, article, or book, it would seem as though the hard part should already be over. The rest is just putting things you already know or have available into words, something we all do regularly throughout the day. When we enter into the realm of writing, however, often new obstacles appear as though out of nowhere. By understanding these obstacles, we can gain a new ability to clear the path to successfully completing the work.

Below I’ll describe the six most common obstacles to successful writing along with tactics for getting past them.

Emotional conflicts

Why are you doing this project in the first place? Is it something for which you have enthusiasm on your own, or are you doing it because you feel you have to, because a colleague has railroaded you into it, or because you think it’s what someone in your position should be doing?

We all are sometimes faced with projects that we wouldn’t take on if it were entirely up to us, and typically it’s harder to find motivation to complete this kind of work. To improve focus, motivation, and enjoyment for these projects, it helps to list out our personal reasons for getting the project done, along with reasons for not doing it.

It’s important that the reasons we list are our own. For instance, if a senior colleague invites me to collaborate on a paper, my reasons for accepting might have little to do with my colleague’s reasons for inviting me, and could include “cultivate a professional relationship with my senior colleague” and “learn from collaborating with someone whose work I admire.” My reasons for being reluctant might include things like “Will delay work on my own project” or “Have differences of opinion with prospective co-author.”

Once reasons are listed out clearly, it’s easier to make a conscious choice to accept the drawbacks and to pursue the advantages—or to realize that the advantages don’t outweigh the drawbacks and so choose not to pursue the project at all.

Lack of belief

Whether for logical or emotional reasons, it can sometimes be difficult to believe on a gut level that a particular project is even possible. Belief can be undermined by past difficulties; by a long-term pattern of fearing failure; by hesitation about tasks that are new to us; by lack of support from family, friends, or colleagues; by organizational problems; or in other ways. If these concerns aren’t addressed, a continuing lack of belief that the project can be completed will sap enthusiasm and focus, sometimes to the extent that the project fails for that reason alone.

While the factors that can contribute to lack of belief are too numerous and substantial to address here, the essential task when belief is an obstacle is to recognize the reasons for lack of belief and to bolster belief by other means. Some ways of doing this include talking with supportive friends and colleagues, talking to someone who has completed the same kind of project in the past, putting in additional organizational effort, and visualizing a successful result.

Anxiety about the quality of the result

In the same way that it’s sometimes difficult to feel confident that a project can be completed, people are often impaired in their efforts by worries that the end result will reflect badly on them. Sometimes this can be a result of feelings of unworthiness, unfamiliarity with some of the subject matter or tasks, unsupportive comments from others, high stakes, and related pressures. As with lack of belief, it’s important to get clarity on the reasons for any concern about results and to marshal resources that increase confidence. It can also be helpful for this kind of concern to find a person or group who can review the work before it becomes widely available and can either allay concerns or offer constructive criticism.

Inability to focus

If you’re committed to the project and fairly confident that you can produce good results but still have trouble focusing when you sit down to write, your distractions may be internal, environmental, or both.

Internal distractions often include conflicting priorities or lack of a specific identified task to do next. It can help to set aside a specific block of time during which you have decided your writing project is the most important task. If concerns about other things that need to be done arise, a reminder to yourself that you’ve already considered doing other things and have chosen this as the most important task can sometimes help. If you find yourself stopped by not knowing exactly what to do next, shift into organizational mode: identify the tasks and sections involved in your project and put your efforts into ordering and clarifying them. While this kind of structure isn’t always needed, it’s very often much easier to work from an outline or task list than from a pile of notes.

To minimize environmental distractions, try to choose a place to work where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. A library or coffee shop may in some cases be a more productive choice than home or office, both because people are less likely to interrupt you and because you have fewer of your own distractions available.

In many cases it can be helpful to find a place to work where you don’t have ready access to the Internet, although admittedly this is becoming less and less possible over time.

Trouble finding the time to write

Writing is often not assertive in the way other tasks can be. Meetings and scheduled events have time frames during which they automatically occur. Preparation, for instance for a lecture or presentation, tends to have deadlines. By contrast, writing deadlines, when there are any, are often far enough in the future that the project can be delayed much longer than is reasonable or effective.

Finding the time to write, then, requires creating shorter-term deadlines or generating ongoing enthusiasm for the work. The latter approach is especially useful: by visualizing the benefits of completing the work or taking even a few minutes to dwell on the aspects of the project that are attractive to us, we can create situations in which it’s natural and pleasurable to work and make progress.  In terms of creating deadlines, it can help to enlist the assistance of someone who is willing to take a look at the work before it’s due for feedback. Another useful technique is to spend time at the very beginning defining tasks and milestones, with deadline dates for each milestone.

Lack of enthusiasm

Natural enthusiasm for a project is one of the strongest means of creating the will to write, so it’s unfortunate that this is often in short supply. Lack of enthusiasm for a project can point to emotional conflicts of the kind described earlier in this article or can simply be an unavoidable feature of work that’s necessary but not a particular favorite.

Some techniques for generating additional enthusiasm include

·         Visualizing positive results

·         Identifying a specific element of the project you’re looking forward to

·         Reflecting on the impact of doing the project well on your career as a whole

·         Reviewing the reasons you want to do the project in the first place

·         Talking with someone who shares some of your interests having to do with the project

·         Identifying changes or additions to the project that could make it more attractive

While there are any number of factors that can adversely affect willpower and drive, the underlying deception is that whatever mental state we’re in now is the real or permanent attitude we’ll have toward the goal we want to achieve. In truth, our mental state is subject to many influences that are under our own control, so that a state of confusion, pessimism, or dread can be replaced by one of  focus, anticipation, and satisfaction.

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Weekly Wisdom #64 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

REVISE PAPERS  QUICKLY. As an author, you don’t help through time to publication if you take a long time between receiving reviews of your paper and submitting the revised manuscript.



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Michael C. Munger – 10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly
Posted by pdonahu2

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This post is by Michael C. Munger, chairman of political science at Duke University, a position he has held since 2000. 

Most academics, including administrators, spend much of our time writing. But we aren’t as good at it as we should be. I have never understood why our trade values, but rarely teaches, nonfiction writing.

In my nearly 30 years at universities, I have seen a lot of very talented people fail because they couldn’t, or didn’t, write. And some much less talented people (I see one in the mirror every morning) have done OK because they learned how to write.

It starts in graduate school. There is a real transformation, approaching an inversion, as people switch from taking courses to writing. Many of the graduate students who were stars in the classroom during the first two years—the people everyone admired and looked up to—suddenly aren’t so stellar anymore. And a few of the marginal students—the ones who didn’t care that much about pleasing the professors by reading every page of every assignment—are suddenly sending their own papers off to journals, getting published, and transforming themselves into professional scholars.

The difference is not complicated. It’s writing.

Rachel Toor and other writers on these pages have talked about how hard it is to write well, and of course that’s true. Fortunately, the standards of writing in most disciplines are so low that you don’t need to write well. What I have tried to produce below are 10 tips on scholarly nonfiction writing that might help people write less badly. Continue Reading »

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Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon Techniques Part IV
Posted by Charlotte Frost

The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Get Rewards

Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest.

—Ralph Ransom Continue Reading »

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Weekly Wisdom #63 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

TURN YOUR REVIEWS OF OTHER PEOPLE’S PAPERS AROUND QUICKLY. Reviewing is both a scarce resource and important work. You will want your work reviewed quickly. You should offer the same courtesy to others. Don’t be too busy to review. Turn your reviews around quickly.


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Matt Might – Writing Productivity Tips for Academics
Posted by pdonahu2

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Matt Might is a professor in the School of Computing at the University of Utah. He blogs at blog.might.net and tweets from @mattmight, here he rounds up some of his great advice on writing productivity for academics.

Academics must become productive, efficient writers.

Yet, many fledgling academics struggle to produce even a trickle of words (let alone the flood) that is required.

Fortunately, a few small tricks generate an outsized impact on the output of technical words per minute.

[These tips are an amalgam of my posts on crippling technology to boost productivity and general academic productivity hacks.]

Find your place

Measure your words per hour in your usual spots. Where do you write best? Is it at home? The office? The back yard? The coffee shop? The park? The library?

Once you’ve found the best place for you, make it better:

  1. Move your books to your place. This is a forcing function. You’ll go to your place more often because that’s where your references are.
  2. Get an ergonomic chair. Nothing beats the Aeron chair.
  3. Get a high-quality ergonomic keyboard. If you’re going to write a lot in a short amount of time, protect your wrists. I highly recommend the Kinesis Advantage. Continue Reading »

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AcBoWriMo Motivational Speech!
Posted by Charlotte Frost

How’s AcBoWriMo going? Written an insane amount yet? No? Not good enough people so I’m dishing up some tough love…

When I was about eighteen months away from finishing my PhD I had a phone call I will never forget. It broke the news to me that my oldest friend had died in a car accident with her boyfriend.

A couple of months later, as all writing productivity had ground to a halt, I tried to think of a way to motivate myself. Family and friends did an amazing job of keeping me going through this intensely difficult time, but the drive to succeed in my PhD – in anything – was definitely gone. Continue Reading »

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Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon Techniques Part III
Posted by Charlotte Frost

The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Get a Cheering Section

We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

—Will Rogers

We write more when we connect with others who are writing productively. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, a recent study on friendship and obesity suggested that having just one overweight friend increases our chances of being overweight. Other recent studies suggest that happiness is also contagious. It just makes sense that having one friend who writes like mad increases our chances of doing the same. The success of NaNoWriMo suggests that writers get more done when they’re connecting with other writers. Other writers offer valuable support. Or, you are who you connect with. Continue Reading »

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Rebekah Sheldon – Writing Game for AcBoWriMo
Posted by pdonahu2

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This post comes from Rebekah Sheldon who earned her Ph.D. in English from the CUNY Graduate Center, where she did work on contemporary American catastrophe discourse. She is presently the Provost Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

My husband lives a few hours south of me, in an eastern time-zone. So it was 7 am my time when he called to ask me to write two sentences on the political theorist Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bare life for a paper he’s writing. Now, two weeks ago, in the lead-up to a presentation on biopolitics and maternity, this same task took me several whole-day stretches before I gave up in disgust. This morning, however, out of the blue and with nothing at stake, I wrote two hundred words in less than half an hour.

They were not my most perfect sentences, but I got to the crux of the issue faster and more lucidly than I had in a week of working. In looking it over, I realized that I had just found my first AcBoWriMo strategy: the feint. Here’s what I propose as a way to trick myself into putting on paper what I know that I know:

On a bunch of paper scraps, write down writing tasks — anything from footnotes and edits to descriptions, analysis, and conclusions. Make them as specific or as general as your own needs and the needs of your audience. Mix them up in a basket or bag, and make sure to include a few rewards as well. Whenever you find yourself tempted to flip over to Facebook, or shifting the words around in the same few sentences, reach instead for the writing task bag. The important part is to do the task, whatever it is, as soon as you get it.

Or you can try Dacia Mitchell’s writing game instead, anything to keep those ideas flowing…

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Weekly Wisdom #62 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

PUBLISH EARLY AND OFTEN as they say in Chicago. Begin writ­ing for publication while you are still in graduate school. Data shows that people who publish while still in graduate school usually con­tinue to publish at a faster rate after they graduate than those who didn’t publish while still a student. Furthermore, published papers and monographs help you get your first job.

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Nina Amir – How to Complete a Nonfiction Project in 30 Days
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This post is by Nina Amir, Your Inspiration-to-Creation Coach, who inspires writers to create the results they desire—publishable and published products and careers as writers and authors.  She inspires writers to combine their purpose and their passion so they Achieve More Inspired Results. The author of the forthcoming book, How to Blog a Book: How to Write, Publish and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books, April 2012) and the author of the popular workbook How to Evaluate Your Book For Success, Amir is a seasoned journalist, nonfiction editor, consultant, and writing, book, blogging, and author coach with more than 33 years of experience in the publishing field. She writes four blogs, including Write Nonfiction NOW! and How to Blog a Book, and two national columns at Examiner.com and serves as the weekly writing and publishing expert on Michael Ray Dresser’s popular radio show, Dresser After Dark (www.DresserAfterDark.com). For more information: www.ninaamir.com or www.copywrightcommunications.com.

November can constitute a busy month. It includes the end of Daylight Savings Time, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving as well as the beginning of the holiday shopping period. Writers could complain that there’s no time for writing. Continue Reading »

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Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon Techniques Part II
Posted by Charlotte Frost

The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Create Your Research and Development Team

Half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.

—David Gerrold

“You can’t research and write a nonfiction book in a month! There’s not enough time!” said my client. Continue Reading »

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Weekly Wisdom #61 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

WRITE A CROSS-OVER BOOK. Professors build their reputations by publishing articles and books in their specialty. Almost always, their only readers are other professors, graduate students, and their own family. Sometimes, however, a faculty member produces a successful crossover book, a work respected by, and receiving laudatory reviews from, his or her academic colleagues while also selling well with the general public.

Such books are difficult to write, however. If your book is to fly off the shelves at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, it has to be both readable and entertaining. Few people reach the level of clear and creative writing required. Furthermore, even among highly skilled professional nonfiction writers, New York Times best sellers are rare. Nonetheless, some university scholars have written best sellers. They include  Peter Drucker, Margaret Mead, Paul Krugman, Gail Kearns Goodwin, and Stephen Hawking. We believe that professors who produce crossover books perform a valuable public service. Unless you become a world-class public intellectual like the people in the above paragraph, you may be denigrated by your academic peers as a mere popularizer. A false equation that does not work mathematically, but still describes the behavior of many misguided professors:  excellent technical productivity plus commercial success is respected less than excellent technical productivity alone.

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Editors Love Authors Who Understand Publishing – Patrick H. Alexander in the Chronicle
Posted by Charlotte Frost

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Patrick H. Alexander (Director of Pennsylvania State University Press) has written a really useful article for the Chronicle entitled:  The Less-Obvious Elements of an Effective Book Proposal. He points out all the important things about getting your pitch right, making a thesis-based manuscript less thesis-y and, of course, not making any silly spelling mistakes.

Perhaps particularly interesting, however, is that he mentions the need for scholars to understand publishing and ‘get involved’. Regular readers of PhD2Published will know that this is one of the main reasons I set up this website. It seemed crazy for me to pitch a book to a publisher without knowing more about what publishing entails. How could I hope to be a part of a publishing engine if I didn’t understand what all the other parts did and how we’d work together? So I was really pleased to see Alexander point out that ‘editors love authors who understand publishing’. Continue Reading »

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Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon Techniques Part I
Posted by Charlotte Frost

The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Discover Writing Strengths

Every writer has strengths and weaknesses in the process of converting the ideas into words on a page. Some writers excel at research, others love doing the rough draft, and some revel in the rewrite. Even professionals struggle with stages of the writing process. For the purposes of the twenty-six day writing marathon, we are looking at strengths and weaknesses in the five stages of the writing process: research, prewriting, writing the rough draft, revising, and proofreading. Note that most writers do not move through the following five steps in order. Most writers repeat the steps during the writing process, sometimes multiple times. Continue Reading »

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