Monday, February 27, 2012

Four Rules for Finding Your Writing Groove… when you’ve lost it.

Have you lost your writing groove? Some of us started the year off with great productivity, but many are seeing the beginning of a mid-semester slump. This post is directed at those of us who have taken a break and are ready to get back on the writing wagon.

Far-Out Style Setters Groove to Music of Fountain Square Band 06/1973

Rule # 1: Plan First, Write Second

There are two kinds of writing-related thinking, and they are hard to do at the same time. The first kind revolves around planning what to work on and the second kind is actual execution. Planning ahead makes execution easier.

If I sit down at the computer without a plan, I end up spending the better part of my precious writing time figuring out what I am supposed to work on. This inevitably leads to procrastination, and little productive writing. Instead, when I sit down and my planner tells me I am supposed to be enhancing the data section with additional quotes for my article on transnational networks, then I know exactly what to do.

To get back on the writing track, spend some time before your designated writing time planning out exactly which tasks you need to accomplish. Planning your writing tasks ahead of time facilitates the execution of them.

Rule # 2: Designate a specific time as your starting point

Saying that you will write on Monday morning is a good thing. Deciding you will write on Monday morning from 8am to 10am and putting it in your calendar is even better. When you treat your writing time as an important appointment with yourself, you are much more likely to stick to it. Take a good look at your calendar and decide exactly when and where you will begin your writing.

Rule # 3: Make writing a habit by doing it every day at the same time

When you sit down and plan out your week, try and find a time that you can dedicate each day of the week to writing. If you get into the groove of writing every day from 7am to 8am, it eventually will become a habit and it will be easier to stick to your writing schedule.

If you develop a routine of having coffee every morning and sitting in front of your laptop, eventually, your brain will know that after coffee comes writing. By the same token, if you make your way to a coffeeshop to write after dropping the kids off at school each morning, your brain will begin to recognize this routine.

Rule # 4: Make planning for your week a habit by doing it every week

A weekly plan serves as a roadmap for the week, and it will help you move forward on your writing tasks when you have a better idea as to where you are going and what you have to do to get there. Start this semester off right by making a weekly plan for your first week back at work.

Some people sit down and do their weekly planning meetings on Friday evenings, others on Sunday mornings. It does not matter when you do it, but it does matter that you do it and it helps if you do it at the same time each week.

Taking breaks from writing for holidays, rest, celebration, or any other reason is important and provides much-needed relaxation and renovation. If your break was intentional, congratulate yourself for taking care of your mind and body and preparing yourself for the new year. If your break was unintentional, it likely is the case that your mind and body needed a break and took one for themselves, even as you tried to get them to work. Either way, release yourself from any guilt about what you have not yet accomplished and focus on setting reasonable, achievable writing goals for yourself.

I wish you a productive, happy rest of the semester.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don’t Want to Write Today? Five Solutions That Will Get You Writing

I always schedule my writing for the morning. But, some mornings, I just can’t focus. I open up my laptop, turn off the Internet, open up a Word document, but the words don’t flow.

Does this ever happen to you? If it does, what should you do?

Should you push through and write anyway? Or should you do something else instead? There is no right answer to this, but there are a variety of things you can do when you are having trouble moving forward in your writing.

Solution #1: Write anyway.

Give yourself a time or word-count goal. I often say I'll write for only fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes often turn into thirty or forty minutes. Just the act of writing becomes comfortable and you will find yourself on a roll. If a time limit is too harsh, try writing 200 words. Either way, you will have written more than you would have had you given up.

Solution #2: Change your writing task.

Sometimes I get to my laptop, and my task-list tells me I need to write two paragraphs on the internment of the Japanese, but I don’t feel like doing that. That’s fine. If this happens to you, go down your task list and pick another task you’d rather do.

If you find that whenever it is time to do this particular task you don’t feel like writing, pay attention to this pattern and try and figure out what is going on. Maybe there is some deeper reason for why you don’t want to do that task. Maybe you don’t feel capable or perhaps you are ready to move on to a different theory or method. It will be easier to figure this out once you take notice of your patterns.

Solution #3: Change your writing time for the day.

If your calendar tells you to write at 10am and you don’t feel like writing at 10am, try scheduling your writing for a different time - either earlier or later. Make sure that you don’t just knock writing out of your calendar, though!

Take note of this when you change the time, as it may be the case that simply changing the time you plan to write could provide a quick fix for you. If every time you plan to write at 3pm, you don’t, it might be time to rethink when you are scheduling your writing time.

Solution #4: Use a pen and paper.

Sometimes the laptop is just not very conducive to productivity. When this happens, going low-tech can be the best option. Put away the laptop, and pull out some old-fashioned pen and paper and feel the ideas flow.

Many writers find that certain kinds of writing, such as outlining an initial draft, are easiest to accomplish using just a pen and paper. Using a pen and paper is one sure way to avoid a blank screen.

Solution #5: Skip your writing appointment.

Even though I believe strongly in the idea that you should write every day, every so often, I decide not to write. If you are writing consistently each day and one day you just don’t feel like it, it is perfectly acceptable to make a conscious decision not to write that day.

Of course, you don’t want to get in a pattern where you are making a conscious decision not to write every single day. However, it could be the case that you just need a break. It might also be the case that five days of writing a week is not sustainable for you, but four days is. If you notice that you are skipping your writing appointment every single Friday, it might be time to move or cancel that Friday writing appointment.

Resistance to writing is very common. Sometimes the resistance is at a deep level and you need to work hard to figure out how to move through it. Other times, a few simple tricks such as those listed here can help you keep your writing appointment for the day.

When in doubt about the importance of writing every day, remember Brian Clark’s Ten Steps to Becoming a Better Writer - the first of which is “Write.”

Whatever tricks you use, I wish you the best in your writing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing is easy

The past few posts this year have been about daily writing. I have set out the evidence for you that daily writing is a proven strategy for productivity. I have listed ten ways to write every day. I have explained how you can be productive by writing two hours a day. I have explored how to infuse creative energy into your daily writing. And, I have suggested that you just do it: sit down and write.

If you have read all of these posts, my question for you is: have you tried daily writing yet?

If you have started writing every day, that is excellent news. All you have to do now is persevere.

If, after reading all of these posts, you still cannot or have not carved out at least 30 minutes in your day for writing, I assure you, you are not alone.

Tell me what is coming for me.

I have worked as a writing coach, both for individuals, and as part of the New Faculty Success Program. Working as a writing coach, it became clear to me that people have different relationships to their writing, and that not everyone will write every day simply because they know that it is the best way to be productive.

It took me a while to understand that people face resistance to their writing because that was not my experience. Once I became convinced that I should at least try daily writing, I tried it and it worked. I had to work out a few kinks, but was able to implement the strategy immediately. I am not sure why some people face more resistance to their writing than others, nor why I rarely experience resistance to my writing. I just know that some people do and others do not.

I have been at a conference over the past few days, and have been delighted to meet many readers of this blog. When I meet people who read the blog, they often express awe at my ability to write on a consistent basis. I usually am unsure how to respond, as there is not a big secret to my productivity. It is a direct result of my sitting down and writing every day. Each morning, I sit down to write and, slowly but surely, articles and books are the end result.

I do understand that writing is not easy for everyone. However, I did want to share with you that it is easier for some people. I’d also like to make sure you know that people who do face resistance to their writing can be successful. For those who face resistance, being a productive writer requires overcoming that resistance.

I have written about this before. I discuss some strategies for overcoming resistance in this post on moving through your writing block and in this one on getting through your writing resistance.

Here are three more examples of strategies you can implement that may help you find the time to write.
  1. Turn off the Internet on your computer before you go to sleep. When you wake up, go straight to your computer and write for at least 30 minutes before switching the Internet back on.
  2. Before ending your work day, write down on a note pad exactly what your writing task will be the next day. For example, you could write: “Insert paragraph on strategic essentialism into literature review section of article.” Begin your next day with that task.
  3. Find a writing accountability partner. This can be via phone or in person. If it is via phone, you designate a time to call one another and agree to write for a set period of time. Once that time is up, you call back to report. If you do this in person, you simply meet the other person somewhere and write together.
There are countless other strategies that you could implement to overcome your resistance to writing. The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to change yourself as a person to become a better and more productive writer. You simply have to change your behavior, and find strategies that work for you that ensure your productivity.

As you work on building time for writing into you day, keep in mind that the majority of writers face some sort of resistance to their writing and that many are able to overcome this resistance and produce scholarly material.

I do not know why some people face resistance to writing and others do not. I simply know that resistance to writing is a common problem in academia. And, I find comfort in the fact that I have witnessed many people overcome that resistance. I hope you do as well.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Start Writing and Don’t Stop

Do you have a writing project that you can’t seem to get moving on? Is there an article you need to finish, a short essay you need to begin, or page proofs you must attend to?

We all have different relationships with our writing, and most people have at least one kind of writing they find harder than other kinds. In this post, I will discuss one strategy that will help you to finish that very project that seems interminable.

The strategy I suggest is to find 20 to 30 minutes a day each weekday to dedicate to the project. (Or, try using a pomodoro timer.) When the time comes to work on it, turn off all distractions. Turn off your phone. Cut off the Internet. Put all of your reading material away. Open the document and work on it for 20 to 30 minutes.

56/365 morning run
Do not stop before 20 minutes are up for any reason. Well, anything that is not a real emergency, like a fire alarm. If, while writing, you realize you need a reference, or need to double-check a piece of information, or need to go back to your data, do not stop to check anything. Instead, make a note to yourself about that and find something else to do in the document that does not require fact-checking.

If you get stuck on a word choice, put down both words. You can make stylistic and grammatical changes later. There is no need to stop to check the thesaurus.

Don’t stop to check your data or to fix your tables. Just keep going and make a note to yourself.

Don’t stop for anything. It is only 20 to 30 minutes, and nearly all phone calls, emails, visitors, and even bathroom breaks can wait.

If you dedicate just 20 to 30 minutes to your writing project, you will be surprised to see how quickly you are able to move it along.

When you are nearly done, or when you find yourself with more time and less resistance, you may be able to take a longer writing session to tie things up. You can also use longer writing sessions to go back and check your references, make word choice changes, and fix your tables.

Concentrated, short writing sessions are often the best time to produce new prose, as this process takes lots of mental energy. By working on your project every day, with whatever time you have available, the ideas around the project will percolate in the back of your mind throughout the day, making it easier to get back in the saddle and begin to write again when the time comes.

Ready, Set, Write!