Getting Writing Done

Decorative: "Do it."


"A New Series on Scholarly Productivity: 'Are You Writing?'" (post) introduces a series that outlines practical strategies for writing by "doing just a little bit of work, mostly every day, and trusting that the 'brilliance' (or acceptability) of the whole would come together through the drudgery of many, many, many (many) smaller, less-brilliant parts."

1. The first article offers advice for "[i]f you’re embroiled in an article or chapter revision that you feel will never end":

2. "The Worst Writing Advice in the World" recommends 25-minute increments of "laser focus on your work, one to three times during your work day," offers a sample schedule, and gives practical suggestions to make this doable:

"Sometime this week, when you’re in your office or workspace, do this":

  • "Turn down the volume on your cellphone. Close your email program."
  • "Close your eyes for two seconds and take a deep breath. Look a clock or set a timer and say aloud: '25 minutes. Go.'"
  • "Then, either free-write something related to what you’re working on, pull up a document and tinker with it, or read and take good, responsive notes."
  • "After 25 minutes, stop and go back to whatever nonsense was occupying your day."

3. "Don't Spend Your Holiday Break Writing" explains that "[t]he key to a successful work plan is to start a project — an entire monograph, a chapter, an article — with a healthy work trajectory and a clear-cut blueprint " and outlines a five-step plan for this:

a. Write first. 

"[A]t the beginning of a project ... set aside a week and free-write."

  • "On each workday ..., spend 25 minutes twice a day (two "pomodoros" a day) and write down all the things that you know, want to know, are interested in, are confused, or are excited about in your new venture."
  • "Don’t try for paragraphs or even full sentences. Revel in the mess."
  • "At the end of that week, you may have 1,000 to 4,000 words of semi-gibberish — but it holds the key to your future brilliance."

b. The baby bibliography. 

"From that inspired semi-gibberish, ...mine your first annotated bibliography." 

"Look up about 10 sources on your subject — the 10 best or, at any rate, the most famous, or most recent and 'exciting,' or most in vogue, or most something. Just start somewhere."

"For approximately two weeks, spend every work session reading (or rereading) those sources carefully, creating a full bibliographic entry for each one. Annotate each entry with":

  • "The source’s main thesis."
  • "Its primary impact on the field."
  • "Two or three representative quotes."
  • "Your own opinion about the source — what you think is brilliant, what you think is flawed."

c. A skeleton draft. 

"Using your baby bibliography, begin to merge some of your insights with your free-writing to form a primordial outline":

  • "Organize under subject headings all the quotes, summaries, and opinions inspired by your free-writing."
  • "Copy, paste, shape, and cut stuff."
  • "Always, always create another document to save everything you’ve cut."
  • "Make note, at every turn, of unanswered questions ... It’s the part you can’t write yet."

"What you’ll have at the end of about two weeks ... is ... the vague shape of an article or chapter [that] will ask a lot more questions than it answers and will have a fair share of bracketed 'notes to self' (à la Find a thing that ties these two ideas together)."

d. Close reading. 

"[Y]ou now know what sorts of sources you need to find and read in order to flesh out your arguments and fill in the gaps."

  • "[L]ook to household names in your field, to scholars you’ve met at conferences, to people with whom you already collaborate, to that one exciting new hotshot you keep hearing about."
  • "[C]onsult the bibliographies of your first 10 sources. Get to mining!"

"Spend the next three to six weeks diving into those new sources and expanding your annotated bibliography." 

  • "[D]o the reading two or three times a day, in 25-minute sessions, five or so days a week."
  • "Give yourself a deadline: Set a specific number of work sessions (such as 20 or 30), and when you’ve reached that number, cut yourself off." 

e. A workable draft. 

"Extract quotes, summaries, and arguments (copy, don’t delete, them from the bibliography), and paste them into the appropriate places in your Skeleton Draft."

  • "Your writing here can still be rough." 
  • "[S]pend another two to three weeks tinkering on the sentence level, working on those transitions and cleaning up unnecessary jargon."
  • "Follow the same basic work schedule: two to three 25-minute writing sessions a day."
  • "At the end of those weeks, you may still have more holes to fill (especially in the footnotes) [b]ut ... you will have ... a real draft of a chapter or an article that’s 25 to 30 pages long."
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