As I said in Part 1, until getting up and going to your designated writing space at your designated time feels like the normal and obvious thing to do, your goal is to develop a habit of writing.
Don’t worry about what you write. Just write.
Even when you have established a habit, writing is a complex activity. The part where you structure your written ideas into an academic article, an academic monograph, a newspaper article, a novel, a report for decision makers, or trade non-fiction book is just that, a part of the process. A lot of writing happens before you get there.
The idea is to get your ideas out of your head and on to paper where you can do things with them. Writing helps you think.
Stop worrying about the right way. It is much easier to edit than to write brilliant prose the first time.
Your first goal is to develop your thinking by writing
Here are some things you could write:
- a letter to a friend about this idea you had while reading …
- a rant in response to an article you disagree with
- a script for a conversation between you and the author of that article you just read (The character of “you” can be as articulate and intelligent as you like. The character of “the author” can be respectful and impressed.)
- incoherent scribblings, in a non-linear form
- doodles, pictures, diagrams
Also, you don’t have to write that article, book, or whatever in the order in which the final version will be structured. Write pieces and figure out the order later. And for the sake of all that is holy don’t try to write an introduction first.
How to write
Do you have rules in your head about how you should write? Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way and give yourself permission to write in whatever way works for you. Here are some suggestions:
You can write in a document on your computer. Tools like Scrivener, (now available for Windows & Linux users, too) allow you to escape the linearity of most word processing programs. Or use a presentation tool like Prezi that lets you map out your ideas. There are also several mind-mapping applications available.
You might prefer an old-fashioned paper notebook and a nice pen. Or a pencil, if it helps appease the gremlins that think you might not want a permanent record of this particular thought.
You can write in crayon on construction paper. Large sheets of paper and fruit scented markers might be just the tools you need to get those ideas out of your head. (you find those in the kids section of the office supply store, but don’t let that put you off)
If the gremlins are adamant that what you intend to write should never be seen by another human being ever, get some scrap paper out of the recycling box (maybe a newspaper?) and write on it with crayons.
If you are getting the ideas from your head onto paper you are writing. Stop worrying if you are writing in a “21st century professional” way.
Finding it hard to protect your writing time?
You are not alone. It’s like exercise. Some people can make a commitment to exercise, figure out what they’ll do, and do it regularly at home, by themselves. Personally, if I don’t sign up for a class, I don’t do it. The Academic Writing Studio is like a yoga studio for academic writers: A Meeting With Your Writing provides synchronous classes to help you keep your commitment to write regularly, other resources help you set priorities and boundaries so writing fits into your schedule, and electronic forums provide community support. Join us.
This series of post originally published in March 2011. Edited January 26, 2017.