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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #25 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Notes to self. Overwhelm and disorder are common to the writing process. Not only is it a challenge to keep papers, books, and electronic files in order so they are easy to access and use, it is also easy to get distracted. Sometimes a question will lead to an hour-long rabbit hole of searching for another source or pursuing an idea not immediately relevant to your writing project. An easy reminder to stay on task is to write your thesis statement on a sticky note and post it on the corner of your screen. It’s not there to nag you but to help you stay focused.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #24 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read out loud: another old standby. Reading out loud can reveal your clunky sentences, your unclear ideas, and your weak transitions. Reading out loud can also reveal a beautiful turn of phrase, a just-right articulation, and a resonant idea. A few variations on the theme may be useful as well: have someone else read your work out loud so you can hear a different articulation of your writing. Or, by recording yourself reading, you can listen to what you have written and be able to make notes and edits at the same time.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #23 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Print out a hard copy. An old standby, but a good one. When you need another perspective on your writing, print out a hard copy and read off of the page instead of the screen. A hard copy is helpful for both proofreading and editing, and can also be a useful way to get at seeing significant changes you might want to make to the piece you’re writing. Bring scissors, tape, highlighters, colored pens, and whatever tools might be helpful to the table.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #22 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Tell your Mom. This is an idea inspired by my friend Gil Rodman, who challenged his students to write complex concepts in readable terms. If you’re struggling to sort out your theories or ideas, pick up the phone or sit down with someone who is not familiar with what you are researching and tell them about it. There’s no better evidence that you know your material than being able to explain it to someone…and perhaps even interest them in the topic at the same time.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #21 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Set early deadlines. A brief anecdote: my cousin asked if I could drop him off at the airport to travel home. When I asked what time his flight was scheduled to depart, he wasn’t entirely honest with me. By modifying the flight time, he built in a cushion of comfort so there was no panic about getting to the airport on time.

Set early departure times for your abstracts and article submissions. Putting something on your calendar the week before it’s due will bring it to your attention earlier. Additional time to start thinking about and working on your submission might potentially alleviate last-minute, rushed writing.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #20 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Have your day of hate (bear with me). Mentors will say you should select your research topic carefully. If you choose to study something you love, you might end up hating it. It happens. Should you find yourself having a serious wrestling match with your topic, wanting to scrap the whole thing, and wishing you had made a different choice, go with it. Throw yourself into the negative space until you exhaust all of the possible complaints. Then go for a walk, play a video game, or engage in some other activity you enjoy. Don’t think about or go back to your project until the next day. See how you feel when you come back to it, and plan to have a day of reconciliation with your work.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #19 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Keep a recycling file. Whether in the process of moving material from an outline to the document you’re writing or editing a piece toward completion, it’s likely that you’ll be deleting some significant chunks of text. Instead of trashing them, put those sentences and paragraphs in a recycling file. “Unused” or “save for later” work just as well. Later in the revision process, you may find a place for that concept or quote. Or, it may spark a new project or be just the idea you need for the next essay you’re writing.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #18 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Go ahead and clean the kitchen. Many academic writers talk about how when it comes time to sit down and write, they are distracted by the whole list of things they have to do first. Instead of sitting down with a clenched jaw, determined to stave off distraction, take a few minutes to review your draft or your notes. Then go clean the kitchen, wash the car, or tend to whatever physical task distracts you. If you do that mundane task or put your space in order while you are already thinking about your project, you might find yourself coming up with epiphanies rather than distractions.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #17 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Use Post-its. Many years ago, I read an article by the author Michael Ventura in which he talked about writing bits of scenes and dialogue on Post-it notes and putting them on one wall of his office. As he used a bit, he moved it to the other wall. He could also easily stand in front of the wall with the notes to see where he might go next, and move ideas around, physically. Being able to step back and take a long look at your ideas can help tackle difficult organizational issues.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #16 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Consider your props.  If changing your shoes and putting on a sweater like Fred Rogers seems a bit much, consider changing your outlook with a small change. Years ago I saw Anne Sexton’s eyeglasses on display at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. Oddly, it was deeply affecting. What does your writer’s outfit look like? Try a hat, a headband, a particular piece of jewelry, and see what works. If you have a lucky shirt that you wear hoping your favorite team will win their game, why not a lucky writing shirt too?

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #15 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Dress for work. If you’re writing at home, it can be difficult to separate your writing and research time from the flow of your everyday activities. The children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would always open with Fred Rogers changing his shoes and switching out his coat for a sweater. What change of clothes or accessories might denote your change from one environment to another? The physical act of getting ready to write can prompt the intellectual and psychological transformation as well.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #14 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Make notes while reading. While seldom an advocate for multitasking, this is an instance where I would recommend decompartmentalizing: we often think of research and writing as two separate steps in a linear process, or a cyclical one. I’d like to suggest that writing while reading can have great benefits. Instead of underlining, highlighting, or marking in the margin, what if you put down the book and wrote a memo that ties your research to your writing? Focus on what inspired you to mark that passage in the first place. It’s much easier to remember why you wanted to refer back to another text when you have a meaningful prompt. And, you’ve already started writing that part of your essay/book/thesis/dissertation.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #13 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Write a memo. Credit for this goes to Cheyanne Vanderdonckt. Sometimes an idea, a thought, an epiphany even, takes shape when you’re not in the midst of writing. Or, you are in the midst of writing but working on another idea. Those ideas can be fleeting, and may not even seem relevant or useful when they magically appear. Take a moment and take a memo. Whether in another file, on paper, or whatever method works best for you, jot down that idea. If you try to figure out how it fits in or where it goes in your document, it may slip away from you. And if it ends up not being relevant to your current project, it may be the seed of the next big idea you develop.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #12 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Schedule a meeting (or seven). As a new year is beginning, and a new semester for many, you may be looking at your calendar for 2014 to fill in your standing meeting, appointments, and classes. Now is the time to schedule your meetings with your projects. Setting a routine meeting can be a good way to ensure you sit down to work on research and writing. The key is to block the time and lock it in: don’t let anything take precedence over the time you’ve set aside. So rather than thinking, “I want to write on Tuesday and Friday,” set a specific time of day that can’t be interrupted.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #11 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Write by hand. It might seem passé, but finding a pen that fits your hand and writing style is a valuable addition to your toolkit. You may already know the right pen, but haven’t had one around for awhile if you’re a person who does most of their writing with a keyboard. Whether you write on a napkin, the back of an envelope, or in a notebook that you’ve also added to your arsenal, writing by hand can open a new line of thought. It’s an embodied experience that draws on different creative muscles and body memory than typing. When you form those words and sentences by hand, they may take shape in unexpected ways.