Gillie Bolton author of Inspirational Writing for Academic Publication gives us some practical and motivational advice.
Dear Academic Writer
Getting going with writing is really hard. I’d find myself at the other end of the house doing something else. Or agonising that it’s impossible.
In order to make myself get on instead of doing other things (tackling every email possible in the fullest possible way), I made myself rules: instead of fiddling about or panicking, I HAD to work through my strategies.
Before this, I had to figure out the process of writing: break it down into workable stages for myself.
Imagining I’m writing publishable words all the time is frightening: they clearly aren’t good enough. If I can break it down into stages towards those fantastic definitive published words, I can allow myself to write much more. So here’s what I worked out:
What the Process of Academic Writing IS
Academic writing worked best for me when undertaken in 3 phases. Only after the last one can I see what my audience will read.
Phase 1: Write for myself. This is where I try to get down what I want to write about, what is significant about it, what really fires me: my ideas, theories. What’s wonderful about seeing it as just a phase, is that it doesn’t matter if my ideas are half-baked, or seemingly unsupported by data as yet. I can write anything at all now, because it will ALL be redrafted, reworked, edited. What freedom!
Phase 2: Write for my readers. Now I ask: Who are you my reader? What, out of all I scribbled in Phase 1 do you want to hear? Why and How do you want to hear it: how can I explain and arrange it so you can grasp it? This is redrafting.
Phase 3: Write for my publisher. Now I check all the grammar etc. Now I rewrite my abstract so it’s clear, punchy, concise, to the point. Now I check all my references and so on. This is editing.
Some people work through these phases until they reach the end, and bingo there’s a publishable paper. Others, like me, get through Phase 2, or even 3, and realise there’s a great chunk missing and have to go right back to Phase 1 to work out what it is and then Phase 2 to address my reader appropriately. Or I find some needs much more than editing and I return to say it better for my readers. Or, my co-author Stephen Rowland found, for example, that he used the word ‘clearly’ when he wanted to persuade the reader it was clear, when he was very far from clear about it: he had to return to Phase 1 to rethink it.
Leaving out any of the phases, or rushing to Phase 2 or 3 too soon can make writing dull and lifeless, not communicating well. Academic writing is a conversation. Working out what we want to say, and then to whom we want to say it, why, and how – is vital.
Now I’ve given you my writing structure. In my next post I will tell you some of the self-advice which glued my bottom to the writing chair.