As Wendy Belcher said in her 2009 book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success:
“Writing is to academia what sex was to nineteenth-century Vienna: everybody does it and nobody talks about it. The leading researcher on academic writers found that most academics were more willing to talk about even their most personal problems, including sexual dysfunction, than about problems with writing.”
Publishing is a crucial component of research—and avoiding it is a red flag that a cultural shift is necessary among academics.
Ready to develop stress-free and productive writing habits? Read the top five tips from Belcher’s book, culled from decades of research on academics and writing productivity.
Identify your “why” and pursue your passion
What is your “why”? Identifying the reason and the broader impacts of your research will help fuel you. Begin with the words “I most hope to write...,” then write for at least five minutes.
Some other writing prompts to help inspire your passions include:
- I am most curious about...
- I am most excited about...
- I am most interested in...
Pick the right environment
Do you try to write on your bed but always end up falling asleep? Do you try to write in your kitchen but always end up cleaning? You need to change up your setting. Whatever it takes, find an environment that works for you—whether that be the library, a coffee shop or empty study rooms around campus.
“When I move through the halls of my research institute, sometimes I feel as though the fluorescent lights are going to slowly kill me. Their harsh glare slowly sucks the life from my soul and extinguishes the vitality that burns within me,” says Graduate Program Manager Sarah Tynen.
“There are moments where all I want to do is lie down and take a nap. Sometimes the anxiety bubbles up in my chest, and I want to scream and cry and run away and never come back.”
Identify your obstacles
We all have excuses for why we don’t have time to write or why we need to “just wait until X happens.” Belcher identifies 28 common obstacles to writing, from teaching and childcare duties, to depression, to phone and internet distractions.
What are the major obstacles that stand in the way of your writing goals? Write them down. What do you need to do to overcome those obstacles?
One solution is the next tip:
When you are tempted to fill up your writing time with the endless chores of life, say “write first” over and over to yourself.
Belcher discusses the research data that proves writing binges are more harmful than productive. She shows through research and experience that writing for at least 15 minutes a day is crucial for a productive publishing career. At the same time, writing for more than three hours a day has been proven to lead to burnout and diminishing returns.
The precondition for writing well is being able to write badly and to write even when you are not in the mood.” –Peter Elbow
Treat your writing time as sacred. Treat your project as your first priority. Your writing must come before checking email and doing laundry.
Take after your professional friends and treat your dissertation as your job. When someone asks you to do something during your dedicated writing time, say, “Sorry, I have to work.”
Banish solitary writing practice, find a writing partner
There is a reason that solitary confinement is considered cruel and unusual punishment. Writing is a creative process and depends on connection with others. We all share our finished writing with peers and get feedback, but it is also infinitely helpful to talk through your ideas with someone else.
Seek out peers and mentors in your department and across fields. Don’t be shy. It may make take a few times to find your match, but don’t be afraid to reach out to your networks and find someone who also wants to brainstorm out loud.
Can’t find someone willing to meet with you on a regular basis? Remember the 12-week publication bootcamp offered from noon to 1 p.m. every Thursday. If you can’t make that time, there are other resources for graduate writing support on campus.
Remember: Writing is like sex. Sometimes you’re not in the mood, but once you get started it’s actually kind of nice.