Professor Helen Sword (The University of Auckland) is the author of the hugely popular Stylish Academic Writing. Below is an excerpt from her book which offers her top 10 tips on using creativity to keep the words flowing.
1. “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” 19 Novelist Philip Pullman exhorts writers to read widely and voraciously, without necessarily worrying about whether a given book or article will be useful to their current research. Later, you can make a conscious effort to integrate ideas drawn from your outside reading into your academic writing
2. Freewriting is a generative technique advocated by Peter Elbow and others as a quick and easy way to get your creative juices flowing.
a. Grab a pen and paper (I favor high-quality fountain pens and attractively bound notebooks, but many writers are not so fussy), settle yourself someplace where you will not be disturbed (a park bench or café would be ideal, but an office with the door closed works just fine too), and resolve to write without interruption for a predetermined amount of time.
b. As you write, don’t allow your pen to leave the paper for more than a few seconds at a time. Your goal is to keep writing continuously until your time is up, without stopping to correct errors, read over what you have just written, or polish your prose.
c. You may feel emotional barriers rising or falling and unexpected thoughts surging through your head. Whatever happens, keep writing.
d. Afterward, you can shape your words into something more coherent—or not. The process, not the product, is the point of the exercise. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to free writing.
3. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to freewriting.
4. Make a list of all the ways your research arouses your passion, stokes your commitments, and gives you pleasure.
5. Write about the funny side, the absurd side, or even the dark side of your research project.
6.Write a poem about your research – anything from a confessional poem about your own scholarly struggles to a series of haiku about your research subject.
7. Make a mind map of your research, starting with your central thesis or research question and working outward from there. (For more detailed instructions on mind mapping, see Tony Buzan’s Mind Map Book or any of the many computer programs that include mind-mapping software).
8. Color code your research: for example, by using colored highlighters to signal connections between themes or ideas.
9. For a new perspective on your research, try looking at your work while wearing each of Edward de Bono’s six “thinking hats”: the white hat (facts and figures), the red hat (emotions and feelings), the black hat (cautious and careful), the yellow hat (speculative-positive), the green hat (creative thinking), and the blue hat (control of thinking).
10. Ask colleagues from other disciplines to recommend work by the best and most accessible writers in their field. As you read, consider form as well as content: What strategies do these authors use to engage and inform their readers? Are those strategies different from the ones commonly used in your discipline? Can you spot any new techniques worth borrowing?