Writing Not Happening Today? Try This (2/2)
Writing is hard. Some days, it gets even harder. Have you tried this?
In an earlier blog post series, I have shown that getting to know yourself and your relationship with writing better is key to a sustainable and happy writing practice. In this blog post, however, I suggest immediate, practical ways to write when you need it to work now.
I have grouped ideas according to the challenges at stake. If you want inspiration based on how much time you have (5 minutes, one hour, half a day), check this blog post.
You have your argument but feel overwhelmed when staring at your screen
- CHANGE THE SETTING, LET A NEW ENERGY COME IN: Open the window, let some fresh air get in, take a few breaths, and decide on a small ritual that will mean, today and all the other days, ‘this is it, I’m writing, now’. Here are some ritual ideas.
- FORGET THIS IS AN ACADEMIC TEXT (1): Move to another platform. If you’re for instance typing on a laptop, try to text your argument on your phone. If you feel like it, you can even send it to friends and ask them to reformulate what you are saying in their own words.
- FORGET THIS IS AN ACADEMIC TEXT (2): Draft the structure of your piece of writing in a PowerPoint presentation instead of a text editor. Remove the pressure of it being ‘a text’ and experiment by jumping between slides (see tip number 2 here).
The words don’t come to you
- SPEAK ALOUD INSTEAD OF WRITING: Record yourself for 2 to 3 minutes and explain your argument / research question / hypothesis / the main ideas of your paper / next paragraph aloud.
Speak freely, keep talking, do not interrupt yourself, and do not read aloud what you may have written. It’s okay if you babble, hesitate, make pauses. By listening to your recording (yes, I know), you’ll get to hear WHEN exactly you don’t know anymore how your argument unfolds. If everything goes well, just type what you’ve just said 😉
- USE WORDS YOU HAVE ALREADY WRITTEN: Copy-paste a paragraph from a previous piece of writing of your own and just change the description of the data / research question. This looks like this (tip number 10 here):
- USE THE WORDS OF OTHERS: Copy-paste phrases for academic writing into your document and fill the blanks. For English, you can find the Academic Phrasebank of the University of Manchester here (please let me know if you’re using other resources, including in languages other than English!)
- DO NOT USE WORDS: Mind map your ideas. I prefer doing this on a piece of paper, but here are some examples and resources online: how to mind map, create and share mind maps, mind maps and creativity.
- GET INSPIRED: Read or re-read a paper very close to what you’re writing and let yourself be imbued with the words more than by the argumentation. Which phrases do you like and could use? What makes it enjoyable for you to read?
- CHANGE THE LANGUAGE: Write your paper in a different language. Do it freely, without thinking of how you’ll translate it (you can use DeepL later, and it will do wonders for a first draft). If it comes easily, ask yourself if you could write this paper in another language, or how to integrate more of your favorite language(s) in your academic writing (depending on the discipline, it may not be an individual decision, however).
You don’t know why you cannot write
- GET TO KNOW YOURSELF: Journal on why you’re (not) writing. Engage with your resistance. I have sketched how reflective writing works and proposed journaling prompts here.
- DO SOMETHING ELSE RELATED TO WORK: Tackle something small that can be done immediately. Make it easy to know what to do next when you don’t have much time or are lacking motivation. I keep a list of small things that need to be done but feel easy / do not need too much energy (coding, annotating, sorting references, downloading papers) for the days / hours where I want to work but know that I’m not very motivated or have, say, only 30 mins (tip number 8 here).
- DO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE WORK (1): Go for a walk, but not just any walk, but a structured one, aimed at resolving a problem. Go out with the intention to solve a specific problem (see “creative walks” here).
- DO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE WORK (2): Go for a walk to clear your mind. This is not the same walk as above! Practice and feel the difference depending on whether you need to think, get inspired, or rest (see “restorative walks” here).
And if nothing works today…
“Here’s the thing: you can only write what you’re ready to write, in a moment, in the encounter.” (Steve Mentz, How We Write, 2015, p. 123)