Change Your Writing Location To Spark Creativity – Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her full writing tips series here.

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Get Inspired: Change Your Writing Location And Spark Creativity

88a27-tanya-travista-caraAlthough few academics think of it this way, writing is a creative process. When you write, you pull words together to make a point or argument, to describe a scenario or a person, to analyze data, or to introduce a phenomenon. Doing this well requires creativity and ingenuity. Thus, it is important to feed your creative side.

Once you think of writing as a creative process, it becomes evident that it takes creative energy and that it requires stimulation and inspiration. This does not mean, of course, that you must wait to be inspired to write. With packed schedules and long to-do lists, inspiration rarely strikes on its own. The good news is that you can train your mind to be more creative on demand, and that there are a few tricks you can use to spark creativity.

The trick I am going to focus on in this blog post is very simple: change location. Many writers dream of having the perfect writing spot. For me, this would be a large, sparsely decorated room with hardwood floors, high ceilings, a sturdy cherry writing desk, and most importantly, an enormous window with a view of the sea. Unfortunately, I have no such luxury. Instead, I do much of my writing on my couch, in my cluttered office, and at various coffee shops around town. And, even if I did have an amazing office, it still would be important to try writing in other spaces. The reason is that a change in location sparks creativity.

If you have a favorite writing location that works for you, that is fabulous. However, if you ever find yourself stuck with your writing, it can be a good idea to try a new location, even if it is just for a day. For example, I know a very productive writer who works in her lovely home office most days, but once a week she meets with friends at a local coffee shop where they write together for two hours. For her, injecting a bit of variety in her writing routine provides just enough stimulation to keep going and to continue to be creative and productive.

I know another writer who resolved to write in her office on campus every morning. This strategy worked out well for the first few weeks of the semester. However, as the semester wore on, and fatigue began to set in, she found it more and more difficult to get her creative engines running, and easier to be distracted by all the tasks (and people) that called her attention in her office. She decided to change location, and to try writing at the campus library. This simple strategy of changing location worked wonders for her.

My own strategy is to write at home three days a week, and to go to a coffee shop two days a week. Usually, writing at home works for me. However, once my mind begins to wander and the disorganization in my living room shouts for my attention, I pack up my laptop and head out for a coffee shop. That change in location seems to work well. Once I am in a new space, I am able to concentrate again.

There are many possible ways of implementing the idea of changing location. For those of you who have a stable writing location that works, it might be a good idea to meet with friends at a coffee shop once a week to write together. If you do not want to leave your house, you can simply try writing in a different room. For those of you who are not getting the writing done in your office that you would hope to get done, it might work for you to try a new location: the campus library, a coffee shop, the public library, your home office, or even a friend’s house. For some people, it will work better to change locations every day. For others, adding a little variety into your regular routine is the trick.

The reason changing location works is that, as you are writing, you are – consciously or unconsciously – taking in all that surrounds you. This background noise or scenery will have an impact on how your brain works. If your environment is nurturing and inspiring, that is great and will work to your advantage. Nevertheless, if it is the exact same environment every single day, you might be missing out on an opportunity for creative inspiration by putting yourself in another space. On the other end of things, if you are writing in a less than ideal space – such as your cluttered office or your unkempt living room – you might be limiting your creativity by allowing your mind to focus on all of the things that demand your attention. In that case, you might be surprised how a simple change in location – one with fewer distractions – leads you to new places in your writing.

If you do decide to change it up, let me know how it goes! Either way, best of luck with your writing this week.

Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza On Writing A Stellar Introduction

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her full writing tips series here.

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Five Steps to Writing a Stellar Introduction to an Academic Paper

88a27-tanya-travista-caraAn introduction is the most important part of an academic article. Thus, in academic writing, as in all writing, you want to make your introduction as clear and compelling as possible. Your introduction should motivate the reader to turn the page.

The introduction is your chance to make it clear why your paper is important. I find Wendy Belcher’s advice on writing introductions to be quite useful, and provide my own, slightly modified, version of it in this post.

An introduction to an academic paper needs to accomplish five things:

  1. Draw your reader in and convince them they should care about your topic
  2. State your argument clearly
  3. Render evident your contribution to scholarship
  4. Establish your expertise.
  5. Define your terms

It’s a lot to do in two to four paragraphs, but a quick perusal through journal articles will make it clear that it is feasible.

Step 1: Draw The Reader In

My two favorite ways of beginning academic articles are with anecdotes or shocking statistics. For an article on deportees, I may begin with “In 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deported 387,242 people—thirteen times as many as in 1991.” Alternatively, I could start the paper with “Leroy moved with his parents to the United States as a legal permanent resident in 1978 when he was seven years old. He did not return to Jamaica until 1999, when he was deported for drug possession.”

Another effective opening involves beginning with an argumentative statement such as “The deportation of the adopted children of U.S. citizens represents one of the most egregious violations of human rights in contemporary America.” Alternatively, you can go straight to theory: “Scholars of transnationalism focus on the diminishing meaning of national borders. Deportation, however, solidifies these borders.” Finally, you can start with a question such as: “Once forcibly returned to their countries of birth, why and how do deportees participate in transnational relationships?”

There are many ways to draw the reader in. If you are having trouble figuring out how to begin your article, consider trying each of these approaches and seeing which one you find most effective.

Step 2: State Your Argument Clearly

An academic article should not be written like a mystery novel. Instead, you need to state your argument clearly and early on.

One of my favorite definitions for what constitutes an argument comes from Wendy Belcher, who writes: “an argument is a statement to which you can coherently respond “I agree” or “I disagree”.” In my article on Jamaican deportees, my argument is as follows: “Jamaican deportees use transnational ties as coping strategies, and face a gendered stigma because of this.” This is a statement with which one could agree or disagree.

In contrast, it would not be a viable for me to state “I contend that Jamaican deportees are people forcibly returned to their countries of birth.” That is just stating the obvious.

Step 3: Render Evident Your Contribution To Scholarship

Scholarly writing is not just about making a good argument; you also must make it clear how you are contributing to scholarly knowledge. Even if it is true that most Americans think that undocumented workers don’t pay taxes, you can’t publish an academic article solely on the basis that it demonstrates that undocumented workers do pay taxes, because specialists in this field already know this. Your research must contribute to current literature in your field, and your introduction has to make it clear what your contribution is.

In my article on deportees, then, in addition to arguing that Jamaican deportees use transnational ties as coping strategies, and that they face a gendered stigma because of this, I had to explain how this contributes to the literature in this subfield. I accomplished this by pointing out that although transnationalism has been studied extensively, we know relatively little about 1) why migrants choose to participate in transnational practices; 2) how the uniquely stressful experience of deportation might affect these practices; and 3) how gender affects reliance on transnational affective ties. Because my research is qualitative, I had to be sure that the kinds of contributions I was planning to make were congruent with the sorts of questions I could ask as a qualitative researcher.

Step 4: Establish Your Expertise

At some point in your introduction, it is crucial to point out the basis on which you are making your claims. For social scientists, this generally means your data, whether you completed statistical analysis of a national data set, qualitative interviews, ethnography, content analysis, or comparative historical work. You do not need to go into detail with regard to your methodology – that goes in the methods section. However, you should state the basis of your expertise at some point in your introduction. For folks in the humanities, make some mention of the texts, documents, music, or other media you have analyzed to show readers the basis upon which you are making your arguments.

Step 5: Define Your Terms

Your article likely deals with concepts with which the general public might not be familiar. The introduction is a good place to define these terms. In my paper on the transnational ties of Jamaican deportees, for example, it seemed pertinent to define both deportation and transnationalism.

As I was writing this blog post, I edited my introduction on the paper I am currently editing to ensure that I followed my own advice. I paste it below, not as an example of an ideal introduction, but as a demonstration of my attempt to follow my own advice.

Here it is:

TITLE: Forced Transnationalism: Transnational Coping Strategies And Gendered Stigma Among Jamaican Deportees

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deported 387,242 people—thirteen times as many as in 1991. Deportation is the forced removal of a non-citizen from a host country to one’s country of citizenship, a form of state-sponsored forced migration. The high and increasing rate of deportation has important consequences for the study of migration; however, deportation has yet to receive the attention of migration scholars. With more than one thousand people deported every day from the United States, it is safe to say we are in an era of mass deportation. How do deportees fit into our understanding of migration? What sorts of ties do people legally barred from traveling to the United States maintain with that country? This article addresses these questions by asking how and why Jamaican deportees maintain transnational ties.

The question of why people engage in transnational exchanges is important because not all migrants participate in these exchanges. Transnational migrants are a subset of international migrants who retain significant ties to their country of origin while settling into the host country (Parreñas 2010; Wiles 2008). Guarnizo, Portes and Haller (2003), for example, found that only 10 to 15 percent of the Salvadoran and Dominican migrants in their survey regularly participated in transnational exchanges. The relative rarity of habitual transnationalism raises the question of why only some migrants use transnational strategies. Transnational practices refer to cross-border activities, and include activities that literally and symbolically cross national borders, meaning that migrants need not travel to participate in these practices (De Bree, Davids, and de Haas 2010). This is pertinent for deportees, whose international travel is often greatly restricted.

Analyses of the cross-border engagements of Jamaican deportees shed light on how the forced, shameful, and physically and emotionally stressful experience of deportation affects how and why deportees participate in transnational practices. My analyses of 37 interviews with Jamaican deportees render it evident that deportees use transnational practices as coping strategies to deal with financial and emotional hardship. This argument builds on research about the transnational material and affective ties of voluntary labor migrants. Other scholars have found that transnational ties provide female migrants with social connections and support networks (Domínguez and Lubitow 2008), emotional support (Viruell-Fuentes 2006), and affective connections (Burman 2002). Although the deportees I studied were primarily male not female, I found they also relied heavily on transnational material and affective ties. Scholars have found that return migrants use transnational strategies to gain social status (Goldring 1998) and to create a sense of belonging upon return home (De Bree, Davids, and de Haas 2010). The shame associated with deportation means that transnational ties do not bring social status to deportees. In addition, the notion of “home” is complicated for those deportees who have spent most of their lives in the United States.

Deportation creates economic hardship as well as a sense of alienation, shame and isolation. The shame of dependence is exacerbated by gendered expectations that men should be able not only to take care of themselves, but also to provide for others (Lewis 2007). Due to a gendered stigma of men unable to provide for themselves and their children and incapable of controlling their emotions, many deportees found their newfound material and emotional dependence to be shameful. Deportees face a paradoxical situation: they use transnational coping strategies to relieve their financial and emotional hardships. Because of gendered expectations of themselves and others, these same strategies remind them of their isolation and inability to provide for themselves, thereby reinforcing their sense of shame and isolation.

Tips For Concentrating on Your Writing (As Life Goes On) From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her full writing tips series here.

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How To Concentrate on Your Writing Even When Life Goes On

88a27-tanya-travista-caraTo write, I need to concentrate. To concentrate, I need to have a clear mind. And, when something is bothering me, it is hard to have a clear mind, and, consequently, to write. So, how do you write when you have too much on your mind?

The simple answer is that you can not write when your mind is preoccupied with other things. To concentrate, you have to get the problem off your mind. The difficulty that clearing your mind involves depends on how big of a problem you have. Some problems can be taken care of fairly easily, whereas others are much bigger and require major steps. Let’s start with the easy kind of problems.

Annoyances With An Easy Fix

Let’s say you can’t write because you cannot stop thinking about an annoying email from a student asking you if they can enroll in your class even though they will miss 75% of the class sessions because of baseball practice and you can’t get it off of your mind. (Of course, you should not have opened your email before writing, but, that’s beside the point.) The best thing to do in this situation is to respond to the email.

Do something about the situation instead of letting it bother you. Tell the student attendance is required in your class, and that you cannot make any exceptions. Then, close the browser window and get back to writing.

If you are having general problems with concentrating, you also might consider doing meditation, which has been shown to enhance concentration.

Respond To What’s Bothering You And Get It Out Of Your System

This technique – of responding to situations that bother you to get them off of your mind – also can work for more complex problems. If, for example, your chair just asked you to serve on yet another committee even though you are already on five other committees and you are all riled up about what to do about it, the best thing to do is to send a firm email explaining why this is not a good time for you to take on another committee assignment. Again, act, and get it out of your system.

Suppose your problem is that you have just received a rejection letter from a journal and feel depressed about your academic future. The best thing to do is to be pro-active. Take out a pen and make a plan for submitting the article to another journal. Set a firm date as a goal for beginning the revisions and for submission. Having a plan will make it easier to move forward.

Acknowledge Your Emotions And Work With Them

It is essential to acknowledge your emotions and to work with them. If you had an argument with your partner this morning, and can’t get it off of your mind, sometimes it is best to acknowledge that you are upset, and to engage in tasks that do not require much concentration. You can fix the bibliography on your latest manuscript or organize those articles that are piling up on your desk. Who knows, you might even calm yourself down while you are busy looking up citation formats in the Chicago Manual of Style.

Of course, there are some problems that are not going away any time soon. You may be involved in a custody battle with your spouse. Your mother may be dying of cancer. You may be on the brink of divorce. To figure out how to be productive in those very trying circumstances is much less simple.

The first question you have to ask yourself is: how long is this going to last? If your sister has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and will die within the next thirty days, by all means, drop everything and spend every minute you can with her. If, on the other hand, you have a mentally-ill brother who requires long-term care, you have to decide how much of a role you are going to play in his care, and set limits to the amount of time and energy you give him.

Setting limits on what you can do for your loved ones is difficult. But, often, it is for the best. If you depend on your job for your financial solvency, it would be detrimental in the long term for you to spend so much time caring for others that you end up losing your job. Once you have lost your job, you likely will be of much less use to your loved ones who rely on your emotional and financial support. So, be sure to keep the long-term in mind.

Finally, do not hesitate to seek out professional help if you are having trouble dealing with your problems on your own. If you find yourself unable to move forward with your life or your work because of constant emotional setbacks, your best bet is to seek out a qualified therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist who can help you to find the most appropriate solutions for you.

Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza’s Tips On Writing: “From Ideas To Final Product”

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her full writing tips series here.

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The Five Stages Of Writing: From Ideas To Final Product

88a27-tanya-travista-caraDo you ever find that sometimes your writing flows beautifully and other times it is impossible to get started or to keep going? One piece of insight into why this often happens is that not all writing is created equally. There are many different kinds of writing and most writers find some parts easier than others.

Figuring out how you function at each stage of the writing process will help you to anticipate writing challenges and to figure out how to overcome them.

I recently signed up for Academic Book Writers Month, using the twitter hashtag: #AcBoWriMo to post my writing progress during the month of November. When I signed up, I realized that the focus of Academic Book Writers Month is to produce new words, but that my writing goals for November nearly all involved revising. I moved a few things around, and set myself a goal of writing at least 400 words a day on a chapter of a book that is due at the end of the month. Now, I start each day churning out those 400 words. This has worked well for me, because I am most invigorated by the early stages of a writing project and write best first thing in the morning.

Writing new prose each morning has reminded me that there are different stages to the writing process, and we draw from different sorts of energies to complete each stage. Most of us excel at one stage, but do less well at others. It can be helpful to reflect on the various stages of writing and to become aware of which stages you like best.

Here are the stages, as I see them:

Stage 1: Conceptualization

– This is when you are coming up with ideas and writing the first rough draft. If you are inhibited by perfectionism, the best way to get through this stage is to not worry about grammar, coherency, or format, but to focus on getting your ideas onto paper. (Profacero pointed out in an comment on this blog that not all academics have problems with perfectionism, so it is crucial to ask yourself if this is actually an issue for you before trying to solve it.) When you are at this stage, it often works well to write first thing in the morning when your ideas are fresh and you are ready to forge ahead.

Although this is the most exciting stage for many, it also is the stage when we are most unsure of where we are going, and thus can be subject to feelings of self-doubt about the worth of our work. If you are stuck at this stage, one strategy is to put a pillow-case over your computer screen and just type away for fifteen to thirty minutes. Not being able to see your writing will help you to feel less threatened by the blank screen and less inclined to go back and correct errors.

Stage 2: Pulling Together

– This is when you re-organize your free-writes, brainstorms, previous work, and literature summaries into a coherent first draft. Some people do this on the screen; others cut and paste using real scissors and paper. Whatever you do, it is important to think about how you think and organize best and develop a system that allows you to create a coherent first draft. At this stage, you might find yourself staring at documents on and off-screen and struggling to decide on the best format. Despair not: If you are working on this every day, those ideas are percolating in your head, and you soon will come up with a workable format. If you are feeling stuck, try printing out your documents and using a creative, visual format of re-organizing your ideas such as cutting and pasting pieces of colored paper onto a corkboard.

Stage 3: Revision

– This stage is when you have a complete first draft and are ready to make it better. It can be very helpful to give this first draft to a trusted colleague, telling them that this is your first shot at the paper, and that you are looking for constructive feedback on organization and suggestions for expanding the background and theoretical literature. Some people do revisions by hand by printing out each version and writing on the typed page. Others are comfortable doing edits on screen. When I am in the revision stage, I like to carry a copy around with me, so that I can squeeze in edits whenever I have time. If you are stuck at this stage, the best solution can be to find someone to read and give you positive feedback to help you move forward.

Stage 4: Copy-Editing And References

– At this stage, you have a complete, revised draft with your conceptual framework, literature review data, analysis, introduction, and conclusion, all in order. You just need to dot the i’s, cross the t’s, check your citations and run your spell-check. This step is very important, as you want to make sure to put your very best foot forward. If you have trouble moving forward at this stage, hiring a professional editor can be a fabulous investment.

Stage 5: Submit

– You are finished, and just need to figure out the online or mail-in process to submit your work! If you are stuck at this stage, it could be helpful to talk to friends who have read your work, know how fabulous it is, and can encourage you to press the “submit” button sooner rather than later!

It helps my productivity to be aware that there are different kinds of writing, and that my energy and concentration levels determine which kind of writing I can do most effectively. Creating new prose takes the most concentration for me, and I usually like to do this when I have a bit more time to reflect and process information. Line-editing, on the other hand, I can do even if I have just five minutes to look at a paragraph.

When you plan for your writing for the coming week, it might be helpful to look at your calendar and figure out what sorts of tasks you are best able to do each day. If you don’t teach on Monday, that might be the best day to draft a new section or to re-organize Chapter Two. On Tuesday morning, you might have fifteen minutes before preparing for class to check the bibliography for that almost-completed article.

Tips On Finding The Ideal Writing Spot From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her full writing tips series here.

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Seek Out Your Writing Inspiration: How To Find The Ideal Writing Spot

88a27-tanya-travista-caraWriting requires concentration and lots of mental energy. That is one reason where you write is important. If you are in a location that it not conducive to concentration or is uninspiring, it can be hard to get your writing done.

In an ideal world, I would be writing in a large, clean, sparsely decorated room with inspiring objets d’art, and two huge picture windows. One picture window would have an amazing view of the sea, and the other of snow-capped mountains. Aside from the geographical feasibility of that ideal location, it is simply an ideal, not my reality. But, knowing what my ideal location would be tells me some things about the kind of places I should seek out for writing. It is important for me to be somewhere with something nice to look at. I draw inspiration from my surroundings. It is also best if I am in a quiet place, with few distractions.

What Would Your Ideal Writing Location Look Like?

Do you enjoy the quiet or do you like a bit of bustling around you as you write? How important is your view? Do you prefer to write in a warm place or a cool place? Do you want to hear birds chirping, conversation buzzing, classical music, top 40 hits, cars whizzing by, or nothing at all? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but thinking of your ideal writing spot can help you figure out where is best for you to write and where is simply not conducive.

I know for sure that the most important thing for me is a minimum of distractions. That is why it is sometimes difficult for me to write at home, where there is laundry to be done, clothes to be picked up, plates to be washed, and lots of snacks in the kitchen to be eaten. My office can be a good location sometimes, but only when it is fairly well organized and my door is closed – signaling to potential visitors that I am busy.

My office and home have the advantage of being quiet, for the most part. And, I prefer the quiet for writing. But, I am willing to sacrifice that for the lively energy of a coffee shop. Thus, two days a week, I make my way to a local coffee shop to write. When the next table gets a bit rowdy, I pull out my earphones and put on classical music.

Other people find that quietness is the most important aspect of a writing space. Thus, they seek out library carrels, empty conference rooms, home offices, and secluded cabins in the woods.

Choose A Good Place To Write Because Writing Is Important

Choosing a suitable writing spot also has the advantage of signaling to yourself that writing is important enough to you for you to make the effort to find the best place possible to do it. Doing so can be empowering insofar as you are not only writing, but acting like a writer, like someone who writes and takes it seriously.

Think about it. What would be your ideal writing spot? If you can’t recreate that space in your current environment, what aspects of it can you recreate? Can you find the quiet, the inspiration, the movement, the view, the space you need anywhere close to where you are?

Of course, you probably can write anywhere. However, as a writer, you deserve to treat yourself by finding the best location possible for your writing.

Ten Ideas For Writing Locations:

  1. A library carrel
  2. The public library
  3. An empty conference room
  4. A coffee shop
  5. Your home office
  6. Your work office
  7. Your backyard
  8. Your front porch
  9. A local park or arboretum
  10. A friend’s house

Pick wherever works best for you and let the ideas flow!

“The Two Week Method of Writing Academic Articles” – Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her entire writing tips series here.

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The Two Week Method of Writing Academic Articles

88a27-tanya-travista-caraCan you really write an article in two weeks? Of course you can, but you are pretty unlikely to be able to write a publishable article in that short of a time. Nevertheless, two weeks is a good amount of time to give yourself to work on a project before taking a break from it.
One strategy that has worked well for me is to write for two hours every day for two weeks on a single short project: a book chapter or an article. Working consistently for two weeks, I can come up with a very rough draft of an article. After working on it for two weeks, I put it aside. If it is in good enough shape to share with a trusted colleague, I will do so. If not, I put it aside and come back to it in a week or two.
How does this work? The 2-2-1 method: (Two weeks, two hours, one project)
  • Work on a single project for two weeks at a time. You can have other smaller projects, but one will be your top priority.
  • Work on your top-priority project for two hours a day. This work should mostly be writing, but also can include taking reading notes, revising, arranging the bibliography, etc.
  • At the end of two weeks, decide if it is ready for you to solicit feedback, send to an editor, submit for review, or just set aside.
  • Get it off your desk and wait at least one week before you give it another two weeks. This will allow you to approach your project with fresh eyes.
When I revisit my article or chapter after setting it aside, and, hopefully, with feedback from a colleague, I give myself another two weeks to work on it to create a better draft. I continue to do this until it is ready for submission. Once I have submitted an article to a journal, and I receive the feedback, I give myself two weeks to revise it. Depending on the number of revisions required, I may re-submit the article, set it aside, or ask a colleague to review it.
This method works for me only if I do two things: 1) Write every day for at least two hours Monday to Friday and 2) Have this article as my priority for the entire two weeks, meaning I work on it everyday, first thing in the morning.
Depending on the project at hand, the level of complexity, my familiarity with the research, and the richness of the data, writing a complete, ready-to-submit draft of an article takes me between one and six two-week sessions.
Working on something for two weeks at a time allows me to approach the project with fresh eyes the next time I pick it up. It also forces me to stop and ask for feedback when I am having trouble moving forward.
The 2-2-1 method may or may not work for you. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, it is still important to decide ahead of time how much time you will commit to a project before you begin. Without setting these internal deadlines, you risk creating a situation where you revise and revise an article without ever submitting it.

“How To Become A Better, Faster Writer” – Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Below, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza has offered another post on the writing process from her (amazing) blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  See her entire writing tips series here.

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How To Become A Better, Faster Writer

88a27-tanya-travista-caraIf you are an academic, and you think you do not write very well or very fast, you are not alone. Most academics think this way. But, this blog is not about sharing gripes: it is about providing solutions. And, the problem of not writing well or fast has a solution.

You can become a better, faster writer through deep practice.

The idea of deep or deliberate practice has been around for a few decades. Proponents of this idea argue that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice make an expert. This does not mean just spending 10,000 hours, or 2 hours a day for ten years, doing something, but doing it purposefully, always pushing your limits. Scholars and popular writers such as Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How) and Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success) have used this idea to explain chess prodigies, Olympic swimmers, and phenomenal musicians. The good news for us is that deliberate practice can be applied to a wide range of activities, including writing.

You can become a better, faster writer through deliberate practice.

How do you improve your writing other than to just sit down and write, write, and write some more? Proponents of deliberate practice offer some suggestions. Daniel Coyle, for example, offers this advice to become an expert, using the acronym REPS.

R stands for Reaching/Repeating.
Element 1: Reaching and Repeating. Does the practice have you operating on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating? How many reaches are you making each minute? Each hour?

E stands for Engagement.
Element 2: Engagement. Is the practice immersive? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you toward a goal?

P stands for Purposefulness
Element 3: Purposefulness. Does the task directly connect to the skill you want to build?

S stands for Strong, Direct, Immediate Feedback.
Element 4: Strong, Direct, Immediate Feedback. In other words, the learner always knows how they’re doing — where they’re making mistakes, where they’re doing well — because the practice is telling them in real time. They don’t need anybody to explain that they need to do X or Y, because it’s clear as a bell.

As writers, we can use these suggestions for deep practice by testing out new waters in our writing, fully engaging in our writing, writing with purpose, and receiving consistent feedback. I can imagine these concepts being used in a wide variety of ways in terms of writing, and will offer a few examples to show how we can use this idea.

Deep Practice Element 1: Reaching and Repeating.

Writing is the process of conveying ideas through words. One way to “reach,” then, would be to use a new word every day. Just before you begin to write, pick up a journal article in your field and find a word you do not use very often. Not a jargonistic word, but one that is useful, like “complement” or “corroborate.” Try and use the word at least twice in your writing for the day.

Element 2: Engagement.

When you write, concentrate on what you are doing. When you edit, think about the extent to which every sentence in the piece you are writing is necessary towards your argument. Be engaged and passionate, and cut out anything that is excess.

Element 3: Purposefulness.

Purposefulness is about connecting tasks to your goals. Here, our goal is to become a better writer. Reading well-written books and articles can improve your writing, but this method works best when you pay attention not only to the content but to the style. Thus, when you read with an eye to improve your writing, pay attention to how the authors you admire construct their sentences and choose their words. Read with the purpose of becoming a better writer.

Element 4: Strong, Direct, Immediate Feedback.

Getting honest, critical feedback is essential for becoming a better writer. Getting strong, direct immediate feedback does not mean that you write an article in isolation and send it to a journal when you are finished, but that you get feedback at every stage of the article. Get a trusted friend to read early drafts, and ask experts in your field to read later versions. Get feedback early and often.

Worried you will never be a good writer? Well, worry no more, after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you will be among the best. And, if 10,000 hours sounds like a long time to wait, fret not. You probably already have quite a few hours of practice under your belt, and you will see immediate results once you begin to practice your writing on a daily basis.