I spend quite a lot of time giving workshops for graduate students about productivity. During these workshops, it’s been hard not to feel twinges of hypocrisy about my poor neglected blog. In the past eighteen months, I’ve written some non-blog things and rearranged things here somewhat (see the new and improved Five Key Strategies), but I’ve not written a single new post. Being the shoeless cobbler is terrible since writing here is my very favourite thing. In fact, I like this blog and the way it has allowed me to talk to graduate writers so much that I’ve decided to write a book. Using the material from the blog as a springboard, the book will be a guide to the multifaceted challenges of writing in graduate school (a brief overview can be found below).
Over the next year or so, I’m going to use this space to reflect on my writing process. In the almost-nine years I’ve been blogging, I’ve touched on a great many aspects of writing and productivity. Now I’m going to talk about my own writing practices: how I’m reworking existing material into a new form; how I’m deciding what else needs to be said; how I’m finding (or not finding) time to write; how I’m dealing with sentences that won’t do what I want them to; how I’m working up the nerve to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it; and so forth. Writing regular posts about my process is also an accountability thing: like anyone embarking on a new writing project, I’m terrified of all the ways that I will find to avoid writing. Presumably the official contract (with the lovely people at the University of Michigan Press) will help keep me on track but so will committing to being here regularly, reflecting on my struggles and my progress. I hope you’ll join me as I document my work on my (as yet untitled) book. And feel free to suggest a good title, as I am truly terrible at naming things (as evidenced by the name of this post)!
Overview: This book will provide a comprehensive guide to the challenges of writing in graduate school: how to think about academic writing; how to manage an academic text at both local and global levels; and how to establish an effective writing practice. By combining an overarching approach to academic writing with concrete writing strategies while also attending to the real challenges graduate writers face in developing a writing practice, this book will support novice writers as they learn to write as academics in their disciplines. My approach will acknowledge the inherent challenges of writing and the centrality of learning to write; the book will be informed throughout by a bedrock assumption that writing is an independent activity to be learned and not an ancillary skill that ought to have been acquired along the way. By placing the development of writing skill at its heart, this text will provide much-needed support to graduate writers without condescension or trivialization of the vital activity of constructing an academic text and an academic identity.
I usually take a break from blogging in July; this year, I’m starting my break a little earlier to allow time for some other writing projects. I can always tell that I need a break from blogging when my queue of draft posts keeps growing without anything ever being finalized. Thinking of things to write about is easy, but giving them the necessary shape and heft is harder. It’s time for a break.
Here’s a few other things I’ve been doing recently. My latest post was republished by the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog as part of a broader conversation on the relationship between writing and thinking in academic writing. In April, I had a guest post on the Text and Academic Authors blog on identifying ourselves as academic writers during the early stags of doctoral study. Finally, here’s a brief interview that I did for the Conference Mentor blog on the challenges faced by novice academic writers.
I’ll be back in August, refreshed and ready to tackle all those half-written draft posts. In the meantime, I’ll be reposting something from the archives each week, starting with my early posts on key principles and strategies. As always, suggestions for improvements and ideas for new posts are welcome. To see what I’m reading over the summer, follow me on Twitter or keep an eye on my Links page. I wish you all a happy and productive summer of writing!
My prospects for writing a new post this week get dimmer by the second, so I thought I’d just write a quick hello! I hope you all had a great summer, full of productive time spent writing. And if you, like the rest of us, found that you didn’t get quite all you’d hoped for done, I hope that better writing days are in your immediate future. Once the initial excitement dies down, September is a great time to revisit your writing goals and see what you can do to make sure you meet them in the upcoming year. I found this post from The Thesis Whisperer very helpful; in this guest post, Narelle Lemon reflects on her experience participating in AcBoWriMo 2011 (an attempt to write as much as 50,000 words in a single month). The terms in which she discusses her experience can act as a handy prompt for reflection about our own writing preferences and potential stumbling blocks. Would public accountability help you? What sort of writing targets work well for you? Does social media play any role in your writing life? How do you structure the breaks that everyone needs from academic writing? How does the idea of binge writing sound to you? Would more sharing of your writing as you go be helpful to you? How do you manage your writing time, minute by minute and hour by hour? Do you reward yourself for writing? How do you react when life genuinely makes it impossible for you to meet your own goals? Do you wish you had a more robust writing community?
Reflecting on these sorts of questions can help you see a path towards your best writing strategies. There is so much advice out there; while it is generally thoughtful and well-meaning, much of it will inevitably be wrong for you. I suggest taking some time now—amidst these busy days of September—to think about the writing approach that would be right for you, so you can craft a strong plan to help you meet this year’s writing goals.
Here again—in case anyone missed it over the summer—is the link to the podcast interview that I did with GradHacker at the beginning of the summer. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about writing in a different manner than I do when teaching writing or when writing about writing. I hope some of you may find it helpful as you reflect on the writing you need to do this year. I also wanted to mention the recent series of crossover posts between GradHacker and ProfHacker on productivity, which are full of helpful approaches to managing our academic lives.
Finally, if you haven’t seen the Academic Coach Taylor tumblr, you really should. The fact that someone thought to bring together academic writing advice and Friday Night Lights makes me so very happy. Clear Thesis, Strong Analysis, Can’t Lose.
The blog address is now www.explorationsofstyle.com. If you go to the old URL (explorationsofstyle.wordpress.com), you should be redirected automatically. If you have any problems, please let me know. Thanks.