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Writing the Second Book—Week 2: Measuring Time and Energy Through the Writing Process by Allan Johnson

Writing the Second BookAllan Johnson is Assistant Professor in English Literature at City University of Hong Kong.  He is the author of Alan Hollinghurst and the Vitality of Influence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) as well as articles and chapters on an array of writers including James, Stoker, Conan Doyle, Shaw, Forster, Woolf, Eliot, Cather, Waugh, Doctorow, and Hollinghurst.  You can find ot more about Allan at his website: http://thisisallan.com, and follow him on Twitter @thisisallan.  Below is his reflection of writing process.

Last week I wrote about managing creative energy by dovetailing the drafting and rewriting phases so that one chapter or portion of work can be in the drafting stage while another is being rewritten and revised.  The primary reason for doing this is that these two stages of the writing process rely on very different forms
of thinking and commitment.  Spending a full day on just drafting or just rewriting is an easy road to burnout, but spending a little bit of time each day on both of these activities becomes much more manageable and keeps the project moving steadily ahead.

On an ideal day I would spend three hours on writing, three hours on rewriting, and three hours on teaching and administration, but, of course, that ideal day almost never happens.  Since the academic life is filled with commitments and interruptions that can easily whisk one away from research, I began to think about how best to manage my writing progress alongside these other responsibilities and while keeping the project on track.  While I still use the Pomodoro Technique during some parts of a project, I soon discovered that it perhaps wasn’t the most useful way to organise all aspects of the writing process.

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Because the drafting phase of any writing project is about creative exuberance, about finding the connections between ideas, and, ultimately, about using writing to think through the argument, focusing exclusively on the amount of time spent in the process may not be the most useful indicator of accomplishment.  When drafting a new chapter, I might be reading key sources, writing short summaries and observations, or developing my own lines of thinking and interpretation.  After the first or second week of drafting a chapter, I might not have written many words, but at the end of the three months I usually spend on drafting, I had better had something in the region of 10,000-15,000 words that can be further refined and developed during rewriting.

For this reason, I set incremental word count goals during drafting, based on weekly word count rather than time spent writing or daily word counts. By the end of the first month I aim to have at least 2000 words written (most of this time, of course, will have been spent in secondary research) and then in each subsequent week my goal is to complete an additional 1000-1500 words. Thinking holistically about words-per-week allows for the periods of additional research necessary for ideas to formulate while still keeping me on task.  And, as I try to integrate digital and analogue tools in my research for their best-intended purposes, I keep track of the growing word count in a rather old-fashioned sort of way: a blank monthly calendar pasted into my Moleskine.

But because the rewriting phase is much more connected to analytical precision, focusing on details, and, ideally, shaping the earlier draft into something accessible to others, I needed to set a much more regimented daily practice for myself in which could maintain focus and built forward momentum.  For this reason, I continue to use Pomodoro during the rewriting phrase.  I use Pomodoro Pro which not only provides all the necessary timer features, but keeps track of time spent on projects (very useful data for my monthly self-review, which I’ll explain in a future post).

Because drafting and rewriting rely on such different forms of the thinking and energy, it is important to track and evaluate progress using a method best suited for each stage.  While drafting, I use a pleasingly old-school method of noting my weekly word count in a notebook to allow for the rise and fall of creative energy through the week while still keeping my work focused.  And when rewriting, I use a rather more contemporary time management technique to keep forward momentum through the analytical precision required of rewriting.

On Structured Procrastination, and Why It Probably Won’t Work for Me by Vivian Lam

infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

I was going to start writing this post on procrastination yesterday, but then I thought, maybe later.

Procrastination sucks. We all know that. Professor John Perry from Stanford University coined the concept “structured procrastination”. The idea is that you can turn procrastination into a productive process if you spend the time not doing one important task by doing an apparently less important one. For example, in the time when Dr. Perry really should have been grading papers and filling book order forms, he wrote his essay on structured procrastination in order to procrastinate doing those top priority task. The essay would go on to win him an Ig Nobel Prize in literature fifteen years later, proving everyone procrastinates, including the Prize Committee.

Of course, Dr. Perry had admitted that “structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception”. For this to work, you have to adjust your mentality into thinking the task with the seemingly (but not really) most pressing deadline is your absolute first priority right now, so you would gladly fulfil other tasks to avoid working on that.

When I first heard this, I thought it sounded rather clever. Structured procrastination assumes that all chronic procrastinators always ditch the first priority for slightly less important work. It plays with our own psychology.

However, the problem, I believe, is the evil existence of some less flexible deadlines. Perhaps a conference coming right up, or, for a humble BA student like myself, assignment due dates. Unlike Dr. Perry’s examples, these responsibilities can’t be ignored and saved until some even more urgent matters pop up. It also depends highly on the procrastinator’s self-discipline. The fact that my method of procrastination, instead of accomplishing other marginally useful tasks, is to start a Doctor Who marathon definitely does not help!

Personally, I prefer the traditional ways to overcome procrastination. Bribing yourself is usually a good idea. Take a tiresome piece of writing: When in doubt, take a deep breath; sit down, and once you reach a certain word count you get a drink, or maybe snack a bit, or even reward yourself 2 pages of that novel you’ve been obsessing over – whatever floats your writer boat. I also find adding more details onto the outline whenever I feel like putting the writing aside helps motivate me to continue working.

Whether it’s for you or not, structured procrastination means one more option for all procrastinators out there. If you are interested, I would suggest first trying it out on tasks with softer deadlines. Be sure to let us know what you think about it. Do you have other great ideas for battling procrastination? We would love to hear about that too!

Meet Scrivener – Part 1 by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

I am not a techy. New programs are a nightmare I indulge in only on Halloween. Backing up my new laptop took a frantic struggle with a defunct external hard drive and far too much money spent on new external hard drives. Oh, and it took nine months after I bought the new computer. I could have born a child in that time frame.

I am not a techy. I am a writer and an academic and a student. I write. A lot. My projects vary from short articles to unwieldy term papers to an appalling thesis that thunders overhead. I get the challenges of organizing projects and arranging goals within the tangled mess of word documents and file labels and the notation fiascos and revision comments. I am the patronus of all non-techy writers. I am the struggle of man vs machine.

But a few months ago, I began to wonder what existed to help me that I had simply overlooked. Was there a program out there that could help my writing process? A program that would allow my messy structures to continue intuitively but suddenly renders them comprehensible and (of all beautiful things) searchable? It seemed a lot to ask from an inanimate object.

Then someone introduced me to Scrivener. They claimed it could solve all my problems and more. And if I could finally get that external hard drive to back up and open an account with Drop Box, perhaps I could learn how to use this new tool as well. Oh, and they offer a one month free trial. What would be the harm in trying?

Let me back up and explain exactly what Scrivener is designed to be. Scrivener is a word processor designed by writers for writers. But when I hear the term “word processor” I immediately think of Microsoft Word. In fact, Microsoft Word is merely a product name for just one of many word processors that exist out there. According to a Google Search, the technical definition of a word processor is this: “a program or machine for storing, manipulating, and formatting text entered from a keyboard and providing a printout.” It’s a very basic definition of what used to be revolutionary but is more humdrum to us now. We can use a program that let us see ourselves compiling words and then allow us to print those words on paper. Magic!

Scrivener is one just processor and one designed for writer and writing projects rather than a multi-industry interface like Microsoft Word. Is comes packed with odd and inventive features that I’m pleased to share with you like “Zen mode” (a focus viewer), split screens, brainstorming tools, and more. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Join me in AcWriMo as I share with you my first time, non-techy Scrivener user experience! I will share the ups and the downs, the positives and the negatives, some how-tos and what to avoid. At the very least, exploring Scrivener in AcWriMo will uncover plenty of important food for thought about the academic writing process and all the challenges of surviving it!

 

The Creative Touch by Professor Helen Sword


helen sword book coverProfessor 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?

 

Writing the Second Book—Week 1 by Allan Johnson

Writing the Second BookAllan Johnson is Assistant Professor in English Literature at City University of Hong Kong.  He is the author of Alan Hollinghurst and the Vitality of Influence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) as well as articles and chapters on an array of writers including James, Stoker, Conan Doyle, Shaw, Forster, Woolf, Eliot, Cather, Waugh, Doctorow, and Hollinghurst.  You can find ot more about Allan at his website: http://thisisallan.com, and follow him on Twitter @thisisallan.  Below is his reflection of writing process.

I was fairly certain that my second book would be rather a lot more straightforward than my first.  My first book, based largely on my doctoral thesis, began life during three chaotic postgraduate years throughout which I seemed to be writing every moment of the day, was next completely reshaped once I began my first academic job, and then finally went through several more revisions while working with editors and readers at Palgrave Macmillian.  It was nearly six years of false starts, abandoned topics, and the sort of writerly malaise that frequently besets persons of the tweed.

Surely the second book was going to be an easier undertaking…

For AcWriMo 2015 I have committed to finishing my second book, which, after nearly two years of flat-out work, is now nearly complete.  I began the project certain that I had learned from my previous mistakes and knew how to independently manage a book project.  When I was writing my first book I became obsessed with time management strategies, and read nearly every book on the topic (David Allen’s Getting Things Done is still a classic, and should probably be required reading for every new postgraduate student).  I learned how to manage goals, track progress, and plan my time, and with the constant, supportive motivation from my supervisor and the rest of my PhD cohort I was able to achieve what I had set out to do.  But when it came time to begin my second book, I realised that the core support network surrounding research student was no longer there, that no one would be pushing me to finish, and that suddenly I had to apply a very different type of energy to the project.

After several months of settling into a new city and trying somewhat unsuccessful to get to work on my second book, I began to read about the difference between time management and energy management, a theory developed by business writer Tony Schwartz.  If my second book was ever going to see the light of day, I needed to understand how to manage the energy required for the project, and, indeed, figure out what that energy even was.

Wisdom abounds about the difference between the drafting and rewriting stages of the writing process—it’s one of first things that composition students learn about—but to my mind, and especially when considered in the context of long-form writing, the vital difference between drafting and rewriting is the nature of energy involved.  Each stage relies on radically different forms of thinking, focus, and commitment, and taxes your intellectual and emotional reserves in rather distinctive ways.

Drafting Rewriting
Creative exuberance Analytical precision
‘Right-brain’ invention ‘Left-brain’ evaluation
Finding the connections Shaping the argument
Imagining the big picture Focusing on the details
Writing to think Writing to be understood

 

It’s a rare, perhaps completely imaginary, academic who can spend six uninterrupted hours committing words to the page in a first draft; equally as rare is someone willing to spend the same length of time revising and editing an early draft.  We’ve all managed to do that a few times with a looming deadline or a conference presentation the next morning, but ultimately it is not sustainable.

What is sustainable, however, is managing energy in a way which allows for these two processes to be interwoven.  With a bit of focus, it’s not too difficult to spend three hours drafting in the morning and then three hours rewriting something else later in the afternoon.  The schedule that I set for myself took this into account, and tried to make best use of my energy resources by dovetailing these two distinct aspects of the process.

Dovetailing the Writing Process (The Plan)

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The schedule I set for myself broke down the year into quarters, and aimed to allow time for the creative exuberance of drafting alongside the analytical precision required of rewriting without burning out.  Managing my energy by dividing my attention between these two unique taxing stages of writing meant that I could produce three chapters each year, and, ideally, a full manuscript in two years.  In practice the process was a bit less orderly.

Dovetailing the Writing Process (The Reality)

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I have kept an Evernote note to organise and record progress on my research since I began my job at City University of Hong Kong.  For three years I have reviewed and updated the table at the end of each month.  While the table reminds me that I am very close to finishing the second book, it also doesn’t allow me to forget that my writing in 2013 moved around chaotically between several different projects.  There was no clear strategy.   Two of the articles in which I invested some considerable time (referred to here vaguely as ‘Gatiss’ and ‘Joyce’, and about which no more shall ever be said) ultimately had to be abandoned.  I became quickly dazed during drafting and, with no clear sense of how to proceed with the work, left them behind.

But in January 2014 I began my first attempt at dovetailing the writing process in order to better manage my energy and avoid sacrificing any more writing.  Although my final record of work isn’t quite as orderly as my initial plans, I did manage to largely achieve what I had set out to do, and (if my AcWriMo goal is achieved) do it with one month to spare. By managing my energy rather than my time, I was able to produce considerably more work of publishable quality than I did during the wholly discouraging year before I began the second book.

 

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter M

BoxesHave a meeting. Rather than have a meeting about your project, have a meeting with your project. Maybe you’ve assigned a pet name to your research project, or otherwise seen that it has some anthropomorphic qualities. Imagine that your project has a persona. Fix it a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. Write an agenda if it would be helpful. Then you two can talk. What’s going well? Where does Project need more help? How has Project been successful? What resources can Project benefit from? What are your concerns? What do you need from Project? How can you help it along? It’s best recommended to not have this project meeting in public spaces…and you both might appreciate some privacy for your discussion.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #62 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Did you make a resolution? Now make a plan. A goal without a plan is likely to go unfinished. We’ve talked about setting microdeadlines here before, and breaking big goals down into small pieces can make clear how to meet your goals in a manageable system. If you set a project goal, try to get an idea of all of the component parts. You might then set a backward timeline: if you know that you want or need to have that article finished by mid-April, how much work do you need to do each day or week in order to complete it on schedule?

Is your resolution to write every day? If so, determine if you can adequately manage that. That some days are quite full with other responsibilities may make daily goals difficult, so setting them quite small can be helpful. And if you miss a day? So be it. Set it aside and get back on track. It’s easy to abandon daily resolutions when goals are met for a day or two. Don’t give up, and don’t give up hope!

 

Reflections on #AcWriMo by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

After a fantastic month in Germany, I am now back in the UK. Is it a case of proudly looking over what I’ve achieved, or licking my wounds after an unproductive month? Well I’m delighted to announce that it’s the former! I have had one of my most productive months of writing in the short history of my PhD.

It was always going to be a challenge working in a foreign country for a month, but they say “change is as good as a rest”, and the different scenery and culture helped a great deal with my productivity.

After my interim report stated that I’d made a solid start, things got even better in the following week, meaning—and I take a deep breath as I type this—I have returned to England with a final first draft of my PhD thesis! It’s an incredible feeling, and one I didn’t expect when I flew out on October 31st, but the month away has propelled me into a very strong position.

How did I make it work for me? Well, as previously highlighted, I made use of daylight hours by sightseeing, hiking, taking photographs and generally forgetting about research. Mentally and physically, this was important. Then, when it got dark at 4.30pm, I wrote until around 9.30pm each evening, with breaks for drinks and a meal. I repeated this Monday to Friday, and took weekends off.

Over the course of three weeks, I managed to write 14,000 words using this method. The final week, it was decided early on, would be a break as a reward for working hard. I cannot recommend taking a week off enough. It is the first time in over two years of PhD research that I have truly abandoned my research for a week. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t check emails, I didn’t even open my laptop on some days. The impact on my wellbeing was incredible. From feeling proud of my efforts, but also a little stressed to say the least, I returned to England invigorated, refreshed and as enthused as the day I began my PhD journey. As I tweak and polish my thesis in the run up to Christmas, I have already promised myself two weeks with no PhD over the festive break.

In conclusion, I look back with fondness on a country and experience which worked wonders on my PhD productivity, and perhaps there is something to be said for a 3 week/1 week working pattern, giving the body and mind time to recover before the next stretch of research.

What’s next?

puzzleIt’s been a busy Academic Writing Month here at PhD2Published.com! So many people set their intentions, set goals, got writing done, submitted work for publication…

Whether you set goals. met goals, or decided not to even consider #AcWriMo, the important takeaway is a vibrant, supportive community of scholars who are encouraging one another year round.

So we’d like to ask you, our community of academic writers, what we can do to keep that community going strong beyond November. Would you want a series of Twitter chats? A virtual Shut Up & Write session? Workshops? Tips? Please post your ideas here!

Looking forward to a productive December.

So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt II
‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

Keep things in perspective. So what if you didn’t achieve your goal today. Who cares if you spent valuable writing time on Facebook or went out on the night you’d promised yourself you’d write. These things happen. In fact, sometimes these things happen because we really need a break! If you ditch your writing for something else don’t beat yourself up about it, just see it for what it is: a bit of time out. Feeling guilty about not writing is a waste of your time and energy and it will only make it harder to write in the future. Guilt will gnaw away at your self-esteem and when you do actually get down to writing, you will be filled with thoughts of failure. Keeping a record (like our 2014 accountability spreadsheet) of your progress on a project can really help with guilt because it will keep things in perspective. It will also help you see patterns forming – if there are any. For example maybe there’s a reason why you regularly struggle to write at a certain time.

Say no to people in a way that shuts down negotiation. Many of us just can’t say no. For early-career academics it can be frightening to turn down an offer to contribute to something. We worry that we’ll get a bad reputation or that we’ll skip over something that might  be CV gold dust. We say yes through a fear of missing out, a really bad grasp of time management or worst of all, guilt. But if you want to finish that T/D/A/P/C you HAVE to say no and in a way that can’t become a yes, when you inevitably get a second begging email 2 days later. Don’t use language that allows for any wiggle room ‘I don’t think I can right now’ or ‘I’m really over-stretched’, phrases like that are just open doors to a good negotiator!  Don’t list the things you have on your plate right now because let’s face it, there’s no standard ‘to do list’ length. Sure you have 100 things to do, well big whoop because the person who asking for your help has 110! Quantifying like this is just a way of not saying no! And certainly don’t counter-offer with a reduced task because that reduced task is going to magically grow over night – and who’s to say that the person asking isn’t already giving you a reduced task in the hope of building on that. Just say NO! Keep it kind, quick and closed! For example ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me but unfortunately I am not able to contribute at this time.’ You know what, copy and paste that exact phrase right now and keep it somewhere handy because you’re going to need it!

Stow your inner critic. Many of us undo our good intentions by letting the critical voice inside take over. We write a sentence, we edit that sentence, we rewrite that sentence and so forth…Try it this way: write as much as you can of what you’d like to say. This will vary from person to person. Personally I like to get an entire draft done before I pick it apart. Other people find this difficult and do better writing a section or a set of paragraphs. Whatever you do, try and complete a substantial portion before you turn to your inner critic to evaluate things. In fact write it and leave it to marinade for a while if possible. Then return to it for a designated ‘editing’ session. Only now should you unleash all that critical power and get that text into better shape. Criticise too soon and you’ll get caught in loop.

Bring it! Being an academic isn’t easy but then, that’s kind of the point. We’re supposed to think really hard, I mean, that’s what we signed on for right? Sometimes this gets the better of us. We all  have moments of feeling over-stimulated, overwhelmed or over-stretched. And sometimes we need to seek refuge and and a bit of R ‘n’ R. The rest of the time however you gotta bring it! And what I mean by that is energy and a positive attitude. One way to do this is to try and start everyday with some positivity. Before your feet even touch the floor when you wake up in the morning, take a mental inventory of three things you’re grateful for. Any three things! You might choose people in your life or, if you’re like me, you might choose food! (I’m grateful for Hong Kong pineapple buns and milk tea nearly every day!) Notice how differently you feel when you start off like this, rather than from a state of stress. And notice how it impacts your writing if you sit down with the right attitude.

Get support. AcWriMo is all about building a support team. It’s all well and good having a great PhD supervisor or a lot of fantastic colleagues but they won’t always be there at 2.00am when you’re freaking out about citation styles. The beauty of AcWriMo is that you’ll virtually meet people from all over the world with a range different of experiences and many of those people will be online at 2.00am! Find people to connect with during AcWriMo and continue to nurture those relationships after the month is over. These are your people, treat them well! You might find them supporting and advising you on all manner of academic life. You might even find them inviting you to present your work at their own institution or letting you know about jobs that might suit you.

So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt I
‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260’ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

Organise your time. No matter how much of your time you’re able to dedicate to your thesis/dissertation/article/paper/chapter you won’t get it done if you don’t manage your time. In fact, it’s not about the time you have but the way that you use it. There are lots of ways you can do this. One is to use the Pomodoro Technique and divide your writing day into pomodori (25 minutes of writing 5 minutes of resting). Another is to notice which are your most effective writing hours. For example do you do best first thing in the morning or only after your third cup of coffee? Whenever is best for you, mark out that time for writing and fit in other tasks around it. And don’t over-do the amount of time you dedicate to writing – sometimes less is more if it stops you from feeling burnt out the next day.

Break. it. down. Of course your writing project is daunting if you continue to think of it as a T/D/A/P/C. Instead try to break it down into a set of components. I have started using the free Trello project management software to help me create a workflow of task cards and action columns. You can attach all manner of items to a card including Word and Google Docs, images, check-lists and due dates. You might like to have columns for research tasks such as reading, note taking, writing up, editing, and then pass a topic card (and attachments) through various stages.  Or maybe it makes more sense to you to divide up your project into chapter or section columns and sub-section cards. Perhaps you prefer to do this on a Whiteboard or using Post-Its? However you do it, the  important part is just to get yourself to see the project as a set of elements and then to see each element in terms of what you’re required to do for that part alone. Once you’re at that stage it is a thousand times easier to start, to keeping working away on each tiny task and, most importantly, to finish (and finish on time because now you’ve seen your work for what it really is – a set of tasks – you’re more capable of allocating the right amount of time to each task).

Set realistic goals. In November for AcWriMo we advocate pushing yourself harder than usual. For the most part this is because it is a diagnostic programme; we believe that if you put in twice the hours (words, projects etc.) you’ll find out what doesn’t work in half the time. Plus we build a support community to spur you on and who doesn’t want to finish their T/D/A/P/C that bit quicker? But in the main it’s important to set goals that you can meet so that you learn to manage your time efficiently and can keep up the momentum. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals you’ll feel bad about yourself and your writing, you’ll likely have a very erratic writing schedule and, you won’t be able to see what other tasks can be completed while writing is going on (you might even start to feel like you’re failing at everything and that’s not good). Use AcWriMo to find out what is realistic for you in terms of hours or words you can write and stick to that the rest of the year.

Put ya thing down. It often feels like academic writing means like you have to make a strong and definitive statement on something. This is intensified when working on a PhD thesis because you have all sorts of feelings of guilt and self-loathing and have the desire to prove yourself and have something megatastic to show for all that work. But would we ever even open our mouths if we felt this kind of weight on our shoulders. The trick is to think of academic writing as a conversation. Gerald Graff demonstrated this idea in his classic They Say, I Say (even if I prefer the Missy Elliott version). Each time you sit down to write imagine yourself in dialogue with someone. What do you need to say to carry that conversational baton on to the next runner/writer?

Duh! Read something.. It sounds really obvious but you need to have read enough to even start writing in the first place. If you are struggling to write, it probably means you haven’t read enough yet so get back to the books (other information platforms are available) and read some more. Or re-read the texts you’re working with and attain a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, if you find yourself stuck at any point, pick up a book for inspiration. Either look at the content and refresh your thoughts by reconsidering what is being said, or look at the style and see if you can’t jump start you next paragraph by using the same approach. You might even go and read the newspaper, just read something to fill the gap where the ‘omg what the hell am I trying to say’ thoughts are and you’ll be on your writing way in no time.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #56 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Honor your ups and downs. Academic Writing Month offers a good opportunity for us to assess the flow of our work in research and writing. If there were no other responsibilities and distractions, it would be far easier to manage daily goals. But there are days when it is difficult to meet the demands of the everyday (deadlines, travel, one’s job, classes to teach or take…along with one’s personal life) and still accomplish writing goals. The crucial response is to honor those difficult days and press on.

As many know from setting new year’s resolutions, it’s easy to get frustrated by unmet goals and give up entirely. Research from the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that only 8 percent of those who set resolutions at the new year successfully achieve their resolution. Don’t let that discourage you. Here’s the big reveal: “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” If you set specific AcWriMo goals, you are far closer to accomplishing them than you would be otherwise. If you didn’t set AcWriMo goals, there’s still almost half a month remaining…what would you like to achieve before December?

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #53 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Do some warm ups! Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) begins 1 November, and there is no time like the present to start considering your goals. As our own Charlotte Frost wrote recently, you can set goals for word counts, time committed, or pages completed–whatever works best for you. Trying out different kinds of goals can help you decide what method will be most useful for AcWriMo and help you prepare to set goals for our big thirty-day commitment.

 

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #47 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Top Tip: Meet deadlines. Once I was working on a submission in response to a call for chapters for a book. I did not make time adequately and got behind on my writing schedule. I had to finish the last section and conclusion when the deadline came. I wrote to the editor and asked for a few more days. He replied that no one had met the deadline, and he did not want to work with a group of authors who clearly didn’t have a vested interest in the project. The book was abandoned.

Editors are certainly pleased by responsive authors, and your ability to meet a deadline makes the process move not only more efficiently but also on time. You can only enhance your reputation and network by completing your work on time.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #41 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Consider switching your schedule. If you feel unfocused or worn out when it comes time to sit down and write, it may be an opportunity to rethink your working schedule. As a undergraduate, I did most of my writing in the afternoon. I wrote my dissertation primarily in the evening. When I started teaching full time, I struggled with writing in the evening. I considered dozens of possible reasons that I couldn’t seem to get any work done until I thought that maybe I was just too tired by the end of the day. If your schedule permits, think about blocking time to write at a different point in the day and see if it changes your productivity.