Professors and Grads:
One Simple Technique to Shift Into Smooth Writing
If it hurts to write your academic book, journal article, or dissertation, and it goes on forever, and you also sometimes have the ghastly thought that… “I would like to have a life,” then you probably wish you could write a bit faster.
It’s not like you can just not write. That’s not an option.
But for original, interesting prose it’s often the case that it’s not perfectly clear how to proceed, especially if your writing is intellectually ambitious.
It’s hard and slow sometimes. And that makes us worry about the future, feel pain while writing, and generally feel frustrated and miserable.
That’s okay maybe sometimes, but it should not hurt all the time. And there is something you can do, and there is something holding you back.
Let’s take a look at those two important things right now so that you can write with more ease and finish your work.
And if it’s starting to look like you may be in big trouble, deadlines are coming too close, then it is definitely high time to take a hard look at this.
Quite often it’s down to something particular and there’s a way you can know this.
There is a test for this writing disease.
The key question to ask yourself when drafting is, “Do I believe the words I am writing now will be read by the reader?”
If you are just in a first draft, and the answer is yes, then it is very likely that you started drafting the piece too early.
That’s completely different when we’ve written a lot or are editing or revising.
And if it’s different if we’ve done sufficient pre-writing.
But it’s not a good way to start out writing.
Writing hurts and goes slowly when we write with the belief:
“These words I am writing are words the reader will read.”
This makes everything painfully slow.
And it’s not time for that kind of writing, not just now.
What you need is not ideas, research, knowledge of the literatures– worries about that are more often than not stones that the mind throws in the bushes to put the blame for painful slow writing.
So what is writing the draft too soon?
Writing under the belief that the words I am writing are the words the reader will be reading is a particular kind of drafting.
To be ready for that kind of drafting, you have to do a lot of pre-drafting first.
Writers who feel pained and slow usually skip ahead, often to save time!
They don’t do the important step of pre-writing, and instead launch right into “making progress” on their manuscript.
Surprise, surprise: it’s painfully slow.
It’s crazy, but then again some successful writers work that way. But only a few. Most successful writers pre-write, and pre-write a lot.
So let’s hone down this test to see if this topic is right for you:
Do you write slowly and painfully? If not, no problem.
Do you want to change that? You don’t have to. A few successful writers write painfully slow. More than a handful just suffer through it and accept that as their lot.
But if you want a different experience of writing, you have to stop launching right into the “progress” on the text.
That doesn’t mean you don’t write. Instead, you just don’t get going on the journal article, dissertation, or academic book until you’ve done your fair share of pre-writing.
You have to write throw-away prose, free-writing, experiments, or even rants and raves.
You have to pick up your hammer, swing it this way and that, before you are ready to drive in a nail without hitting your hand.
Many writers do this without thinking about. It seems natural. But for many, many, others, especially academic writers, it seems literally like a waste of time. It may never even cross the mind to do such an “unproductive” thing. It’s just assumed that this is what writing a chapter or journal article is: open a document, start writing it.
That’s gonna hurt.
So why do so many academic writers just keep doing this over and over?
There are two main reasons, one very practical and one lodged deeper in the psyche, for why academics feel compelled to leap into it without pre-writing first. If you want to turn this around, you’ll have to address both of these.
1. It just happens to not be the way you’ve done things in the past, and you haven’t developed the habit of pre-writing first. You’ve always written on deadlines and that’s the way you learned to write, in the last weeks of every semester while you were an undergrad. There are plenty of exercises you can do to turn that around:
2. The deeper thing is a belief in a scarcity within you, and a fear of wasting your scarce resources within.
These are completely false beliefs
The current economic climate in academia and academic jobs, getting tenure, getting a job, publishing enough, well that doesn’t help very much with breaking free of these false beliefs.
Yet this situation do not make these beliefs true about you.
Put time and effort into pre-drafting and this will set you up for a faster, smoother and painless time further down in the process.
Your creativity is not a limited resource. Pre-writing does not exhaust the well, it deepens it.
The purer your intent the better. If you judge your pre-writing by how much you can use it in your draft manuscript, you’re still in that scarcity mindset.
Do prewriting exercises such as those recommended in my free 5 book series. You’ll exercise your writing chops, and think about your topic in new ways. Meanwhile, the rest of your brain is going to process it further in the subconscious, and continue to pre-write in the background, without any effort or awareness on your part.
Then when you do get down to “the real thing” everything will go smoother.
But we shouldn’t judge the direct products of pre-writing with our normal ideas. One of the other side-effects of pre-writing is challenging us to loosen those chains.
Remember: “not wasting,” and “maximize every bit of time” are what are forcing you to write the actual draft before you are ready.
We can only know the value later, when we see how much better our whole process of writing is.
Many academic writers are too afraid to write things that do not appear to have a direct payoff. If you can’t import cut and paste in anything it will not seem to have any direct relation to the text, and that is scary.
But if you warm up to writing and the intellectual creativity that it aspires to, if you swing that hammer first a few times to see what it feels like, without striking any nail directly, your aim will be spot on later.
You have to be warmed up and loose, writing for writing’s sake. Successful writers trust in the process of writing all by itself. Writing helps writing.
Try it Yourself:
When you write, make sure that at least some of the time not under the belief that the text you write will be read by the reader?
Do you always write things that are “useful” and potentially will be published in some form? Is that all you work on in your writing?
Chances are that is just too utilitarian a relationship with writing.
You have to test it out.
Trust in writing.
Trust in writing, and then you will notice that writing is quite worthy of your trust.
Once you see that, you’ll believe in it even more.
And that’s when things take off.
To get some writing exercises that will help you learn to pre-write, Download the Academic Muse 5 Part Training for Free to help you finish your work.