planning

Five top tips: from starting to finishing writing

Here are some tips to help with that when external factors are dragging you down. This is about dealing with unblocking your writing. I am very grateful to one of my European clients for recommending Mary Renck Jalongo and Olivia Saracho’s book Writing for Publication, some of which is quoted below.

When you get stuck…

If you find you are taking too long to write, keep changing sentences and reorganising paragraphs, or are just sitting there looking at your screen, try doing something else. This could be away from your desk but still needed, like household tasks, meditation or physical exercise. You could also take a break from writing while at your desk, searching the literature, checking references or making diagrams or tables, for example. Recognising when you need a break from the actual writing helps you to recharge and refocus.

When you face many competing demands…

Again, be kind to yourself in these (yes it’s a cliché) unprecedented times. If you are best early in the morning (like me) or late at night (like many of my Middle Eastern clients), this is the time for writing the parts that need the most concentration. Whenever you feel fresh is the time for the most demanding tasks. You might prefer to do the routine activities like answering emails, selectively gathering information or running tests at other times.

When it seems too complex to complete…

It can help to set very modest aims which you can easily achieve, then set some more. Jalongo and Saracho give some examples of easy to finish tasks like “I’m going to take some notes on what I’ve read and categorize them”, “I think I’ll reread and experiment with a different organizational structure today,” or “I’m going to play around with article titles because I have to be at this boring meeting” (p. 15).

In simplifying your writing process by making smaller sub-tasks, you can manage to finish something in twenty minutes, if that is all you have. Alternatively, you can plan to give some hours for a larger task or series of smaller ones. Just like the title of a famous Australian song, from little things, big things grow.

When you can’t find the time…

Many of us have family responsibilities and find ourselves waiting for something to finish at times so we can take the children home. If this is you, it can be helpful to keep a bag with you holding a paper copy of a manuscript, a voice recorder or a portable device to use this time productively. You could even ride an exercise bike while reading and note taking.

When you can’t stop revising…

Don’t aim for perfectionism. There comes a point when time constraints dictate when you stop. Revising can take many forms: adding or removing content, changing the wording, or making extra tables and diagrams.

If you find you want to add a lot of ideas to your main theme, this could mean you have scope for another paper. As for the wording, there is no such thing as the right style of writing, many styles are to be found in academic texts. Finally, if you are wondering how much is enough, you could seek guidance from a friend or mentor.

Menu