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.

“Ten Ways You Can Write Everyday” – Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Last week, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, agreed to share her most recent advice from her blog, Get A Life, Ph.D.  Her blog is full of many useful tips for academics, so I asked if she would be willing to share any others.  When she asked which one(s), I responded, “your entire blog.”  Of course, I was joking, but most of the posts seem useful to all academics looking to find balance, increase productivity — all without a cost to their personal lives and well-being.  She has agreed to share much of her advice on the writing process.  See her entire writing tips series here.

So, today kicks off a weekly series of writing tips from (the very wise and generous) Dr. Golash-Boza.  Below, she offers advice for making writing a regular part of your workday — everyday!

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Ten Ways You Can Write Everyday

88a27-tanya-travista-caraIf you’ve been following the posts this semester on how to have a productive semester, you have already made a plan for the Fall Semester, and blocked out time in your calendar for writing every day.

If you have been writing every day this semester, congratulations! If you haven’t, ask yourself “why not?” If you need some ideas on how to actually write every day, then this post is for you!

Write every day” is fabulous advice. But, how do you actually do it? That was my question for a long time before I finally convinced myself to give it a try. Now that I have been writing every day for four years, I can share with you a few ways to make that possible, and explain to you why I do it.

Why You Need To Write Everyday

I decided I needed to try to write every day when I found out that scholars who write daily and hold themselves accountable write nearly ten times as much as others! In Robert Boice’s book Advice for New Faculty Members, he explains the virtues of writing every day. Boice describes a study where new faculty were divided into three groups:

  • The first group did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in one year they wrote an average of 17 pages
  • The second group wrote daily and kept a record of their writing; they averaged 64 pages
  • The third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group’s average was 157 pages (Boice 1989:609).

Once I read that, it was clear which group I wanted to be in. I was convinced I should at least try daily writing.

How To Write Everyday

Once I decided I needed to be writing every day, my greatest challenge was to figure out what it meant to write every day. I asked myself, “What counts as daily writing?”

Over time, I came to realize that writing means a lot of things and that there are lots of ways to write every day.

Here Are Ten Ways You Can Write Everyday:

  1. Write on a blank page
  2. Line-edit something you have already written
  3. Restructure a paper that you have been working on
  4. Pull together pieces of older documents you have written into a new paper
  5. Check references and footnotes for accuracy
  6. Outline or mind-map a new project
  7. Summarize or take notes on something you have read recently that might be relevant to present or future research projects
  8. Make a revision plan for a rejected article or a “revise and resubmit”
  9. Make tables, figures, graphs, or images to represent visually concepts or trends in a paper
  10. Create an After-the-fact or Reverse Outline

If you think of writing as only #1): Write on a blank page, it will be hard to do that every single day. However, it you are open to other kinds of writing, it will be possible to do at least one of these kinds of writing every day.

I try to do at least two kinds of writing each day, starting with the blank page in the morning. I am at my best early in the morning. I use those early, fresh moments of the day to free-write and to create new material. Once I run out of steam, I might turn to editing something I have written or to checking references. If I get stuck, I will pull out a mind map and brainstorm ideas.

My routine each weekday, then, is to begin the day with writing or writing-related tasks. On a good day, I can concentrate for two hours. Usually, however, my mind drifts after an hour, so I take a break to check email or have some coffee, and put in another hour after my break. I keep track of the time I have spent working on writing so that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and so that I know when I need to stop.

I know that many academics reject as ridiculous the idea that one could or should write every day. To them, I would gently ask if they have ever tried it. And, I would add that it is not only important to try writing every day, but to commit to trying it for at least a month to see if it works for you. It is also important to have others to whom you are accountable and with whom you can share your struggles.

If you do try writing every day, let me know how it goes! If you are a seasoned daily writer, let me know why you keep it up!

“Start the Semester off Right: Make a Weekly Template” – Tips From Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza

Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, a sociologist, runs a great blog site, Get A Life, PhD, that is a goldmine of tips and resources to be a productive, successful scholar.  On top of maintaining a healthy balance of her work, family, and personal lives, she also has multiple blogs (wow).  Below, she has allowed me to share her most recent bit of advice on starting the semester off right. 

You may also other posts by Dr. Golash-Boza useful, including tips on teaching, effective writing, presentations, dissertatinghealth and wellness, public scholarship, productivity, and organization.  

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Start The Semester Off Right: Make A Weekly Template

Dr. Golash-Boza

How are you feeling about starting the semester?

One strategy I find useful to allay anxieties about the semester is to take some time and plan out how my workweek will look. Doing this allows me to feel as if I am in control of my semester and makes it clear that it is possible to have a cool and calm semester. (I explain the importance of taking control here.)

The end of summer usually involves a shift in the daily and weekly workflow for academics. During the summer, most of us have fewer commitments and many of us do not teach. Personally, I have always made a point to avoid the lure of extra income and not teach during the summer. As for administrative responsibilities, these accrue as one advances in one’s career. However, I try to keep those to a minimum during the summer months. Because of my research interests, I also usually spend nearly all of my summer outside the United States.

This past summer, I traveled to Guatemala and Mexico – which also explains why I have not been posting to [my] blog all summer.

This August, once again, I find myself looking towards the fall semester and thinking about how I am going to organize my time. My children start school on Monday, and I teach my first class on September 4. This gives me some time to get used to the rhythm before the semester starts in full force. During this time, I plan to try out a new schedule and see how it works for me.

The idea is that I will create a weekly schedule that has my fixed appointments for the semester and also carves out time for things I need to do but could do at any time: prepare class, read, write, exercise, eat, and respond to emails.

Kerry Ann Rockqeumore calls this schedule your “skeleton.” She suggests making one each week. Mine does not look like a skeleton at all, so I prefer to refer to it as a template. I find it useful to make a template at the beginning of the semester and setting up repeating appointments in your calendar so that your template is ready each week when you decide on your specific goals.

How To Make A Weekly Template

When making my weekly template for the semester, the first thing I think about is teaching, as teaching has a fixed schedule and I need to set aside time to teach and to prepare for class. I am fortunate to only be teaching one class this semester. Thus, I block out the time I will teach as well as a few hours to read and prepare for class. I am teaching a graduate seminar and we will be reading a book each week. Thus, I need to set aside time to ensure I finish reading the book. I will have time to read for this class in the evenings, after the kids go to bed, but, from experience, I know I also have to set aside time during the day to read and think about the books before class.

The next thing up is office hours. I have set those on Thursday afternoons.

Up next is writing. I know I write best in the mornings. My children will leave the house by 8:30am each morning. And, my goal is to write for two hours each morning. From experience, I know I need to set aside two and a half hours in order to get in two hours of writing, so I will set aside 8:30am to 11:00am each morning. Once I do that, I remember that I need to be more efficient on Wednesdays when I teach, so I cut Wednesdays back to 10:30 and give myself some extra time to prepare class.

I need to go up to campus on Wednesdays to teach and on Thursdays for office hours. I usually bike to campus, and it takes me about 45 minutes. So, I set aside an hour to get to campus on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Biking to and from campus also counts as exercise for those two days. Once I do that, I remember that I often don’t finish all of my administrative tasks during office hours on Thursdays. So, I decide I should go to campus on Fridays as well and take care of business. I can use Friday afternoons to write reports, submit receipts, review materials, and clean out my email inbox.

We all know how time-consuming email can be. So, I set aside another hour before lunch each day to take care of email. If I focus on email and avoid being sucked into the Internet vortex, this should be enough time.

Then, I remember I also need to set aside some time to read. As I mentioned earlier, I do find time to read in the evenings. However, I also need time during the day to download articles, order books, and select what I will read. So, I decide to set aside Monday afternoons to select readings and to read for the week.

I also need to get in my daily exercise. I will get in enough exercise from Wednesdays to Fridays by biking ten miles back and forth to work. So, on Mondays and Tuesdays, I set aside an hour for exercise each day.

I color-coded my schedule so that I can see at a glance how much time I am dedicating to writing (red), admin (green), teaching (orange), and self-care (purple).

Schedule.

The Weekly Template Is A Model, Not A Mandate

As I make this schedule, I know from experience that probably no week will go exactly like this. However, it helps me to have a structure. It also is a reminder that I am very busy and have lots of things to do, even though I am only teaching one course.

Inevitably, someone will ask to have a meeting with me during one of the times I have set aside for something else. That will be fine, though. Having this visualization of my ideal week will allow me to see what I need to move around in order to make time for a meeting.

If I need to have a one-on-one meeting, my first suggestion will be that the person come to my office hours. If that does not work, I have also set aside time on Thursday and Friday afternoons to meet. If neither of those times work, I will move things around. For example, if I need to meet on Tuesday afternoon, I will have to spend some time on Monday preparing for class. Or, if we meet on Friday at 11, I will have to get an early start on my writing and pack my lunch to take to the office. If the meeting is casual, I can suggest we meet for lunch any day of the week.

If I am asked to join a group meeting, I will suggest that the meeting happen on Thursday or Friday afternoon. My next preferred time will be a different afternoon. As usual, I will do my best not to schedule meetings during my writing time, as I know from experience that mornings are my most productive times for writing.

What about you? What will your ideal week look like? Do you find making this kind of schedule helpful?