How do you become a productive writer? How do you finish a thesis/book/journal article/poem/other piece of writing?
Over the years, I’ve pondered these questions and employed various strategies to effectively start and finish! different writing projects. I don’t have just one answer and I fully realize that writing is very personal. What works for me may not work for you. That said, I’ve read the popular guides on effective writing and have participated in writing partnerships, groups, and retreats so I will offer some advice.
Tips for Writing Success
1. You can’t write well if you don’t feel well. Establish healthy routines in other aspects of your life. Even if you are in thesis/dissertation mode, you should still be sleeping, eating, and exercising regularly.
2. You don’t need a lot of time to write. Aim small. It’s better to have 1-2 hours of quality writing than 4 hours in which you just stare into space and pretend to write. I have two kids and can be really busy. I write in short time blocks all the time.
3. Have a strategy to help you focus. Like everyone else, I sometimes struggle with motivation. Creating a clear goal helps me get back on track. There are many different approaches (I’ve tried them all). You can set a timer for 30 minutes (write, 5 minute break, repeat), aim for a word count, or use other means to get yourself to turn off social media and get the job done. Some people like to establish section objectives for themselves, such as writing a specific paragraph before they do other tasks. Whatever works for you–just stick to it.
4. Don’t hesitate to work in unusual places. I try to utilize my time, which often means I take out my laptop and write. I have worked at the Toyota dealership, karate school, the ham store, a doctor’s office, and other odd work spaces. Make the most of small windows of time.
5.Recognize that writing is a process. You will rarely write the perfect draft the first time around. Write, revise, write, revise. Getting some words down is the first step to a finished manuscript.
6.Write in stages. Depending on my mood, primary research conducted, and state of the current draft, I focus on different levels of writing, so to speak. Sometimes I write from a macro perspective, outlining my draft, or do free-flowing brainstorming to get started, bolding parts of my manuscript that can be filled in later. Other times I work on the nitty-gritty details, adding sources and smoothing out word choices and transitions. My point is that writing doesn’t have to be linear. You need a clear outline and a plan, but you can switch between the big picture and the building blocks (or as my adviser used to say, between the “forest” and the “trees”).
7.Never stop writing. The more you write, the better you become at writing. Have a plan for your upcoming work. If you are writing your thesis, you should know what your next objectives/chapters. As my other amazing adviser once told me, tenure-track folks should aim to have projects at each stage of the writing process. This might seem like a lot. However, if you have a solid plan and you get moving, it is very doable.
Stages of Writing Peer-reviewed Journal Articles
2. Conducting research/writing the manuscript
[Presenting paper at conference]
3. Revise & resubmit/under review at a journal
8. Always meet your deadlines. I’m ending these tips with the big one. Be honest with yourself and prioritize writing to meet your deadlines. There will always be demands on your time. Recognize this and work writing into meeting your other obligations. Effective writing behavior combined with adherence to deadlines are the keys to finishing your manuscripts.
There you have it. I don’t have a magic potion for writing, nor am I a perfect writer. I choose projects that I find interesting and worthwhile, set deadlines for myself, and almost always meet those deadlines. Good luck!