Explorations on Style is now on Twitter. If you are so inclined, you can follow me @explorstyle. I will tweet new posts and related links. In the event of breaking news in the area of academic writing, I am now ready!
Here are a few articles that I found interesting as I attempted to catch up after my vacation (it wasn’t easy to narrow it down—Google Reader left unattended for a month is an alarming thing!).
Here is something from Slate on writing more quickly. The author comes to two key conclusions: one, writing is intensely cognitively difficult for almost everyone (so, it’s not just you); and, two, surmounting those difficulties requires sustained hard work and the application of familiar principles (so, there are no quick fixes). An efficient writing process generally requires adequate preparation, realistic goals, and a regular commitment to writing. Even though this article isn’t saying anything new about the challenges of writing, it does a good job conveying the psychological toll that writing can take. That psychological toll seems to be exacerbated by the persistent sense that writing is somehow harder than it should be. I think many writers would benefit from the awareness that writing simply is that hard: writing is a complex process of thinking and not a simple matter of reporting what we already know.
Here is something from The Chronicle of Higher Education on deep attention and hyper attention. The author’s own interest is the role of deeply attentive reading in an undergraduate education; his interesting contention is that education generally requires something other than deeply attentive reading. My interest, however, is in the perennial question of how we should read the crazy amount of material available to us. I’ve posted articles on this before; I think I am drawn to this topic because managing our reading time is crucial to our eventual ability to write about what we know. For many people, reading is easier than writing; for a smaller group of people—of whom I am one—writing is easier than reading, an inclination that comes with its own set of challenges. For the perpetual readers, good strategies for reading are essential if they are to be able to get to the writing stage. For those of us who rush the reading to get to the writing, good strategies for reading are also essential if we are to have the mastery of the topic that underlies good writing.
Finally, here is something from The Thesis Whisperer about the university as a bad boyfriend. What I particularly liked about this post is the tone: realism without bitterness. Finding this stance vis-à-vis the university seems crucial if we are to hold our institutions accountable without succumbing to hyperbole or despair. There are, of course, many reasons to be critical of our institutions. And it can be intellectually satisfying to hone those critiques. But if you are staying within the university, it is also necessary to know how to engage with the university in a way that will be personally fulfilling.
Very interesting discussions. I think I’ll share some of them with my engineering and commerce students.
For me the biggest factor in facilitating speedy writing is to keep the average length of sentences short. The shorter the sentences, the fewer the number of constructions that can be attempted – and hence the fewer the number of decisions that need to be made within the sentence. Reducing decision-making reduces friction and hence increases speed of flow. Well, at lest that’s how it works for me.
That’s so interesting, Anthony. I’d never thought of that. My main strategy for speed of writing (or I should say speed of drafting since it doesn’t necessarily lower the overall completion time) is allowing myself to let boring or pedestrian phrasing stand. I know that I don’t always manage to root all those phrases–I think of them as scaffolding phrases–but I still use them since they are what stops me from obsessively circling around same passages without making progress. Do you find that you go back and turn your short sentences into more sophisticated sentence during your editing process?
Afraid not – don’t do sophistication! So for me short sentences hasten both drafting and completion. Agree about tolerating the boring and pedestrian phrases for a part of the process though. The name I have for this category is “inert text” – text that might be clear, accurate, logical etc., yet which isn’t alive. I find it’s the ears rather than the mind that spots the inert language.
I like your phrase ‘inert text’–and it perfectly describes the writing I am doing this afternoon! And I love any call to listen to–rather than just read–our own language during the editing process.