Writing Not Happening Today? Try This (1/2)
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 time you have (5 minutes, one hour, half a day). If you want inspiration based on the challenges at stake (you have your argument but feel overwhelmed when staring at your screen, the words don’t come to you, you don’t know why you cannot write), check this blog post.
If you have 5 to 10 minutes
- 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 😉
- Journal on why you’re (not) writing. Engage with your resistance. I have sketched how reflective writing works and proposed journaling prompts here.
- 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.
- 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.
If you have 30 minutes to one hour
- 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).
- 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):
- 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!).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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).
If you have half a day
- Go through your readings again.
This one is tricky, because we often feel like we’ve never read enough, but if you truly feel something is missing, going back to your notes and maybe even re-reading a paper you’re quoting may give you the confidence you need to go back to your own writing.
- Wait (possibly for a very long time).
As I said elsewhere, “Yes, I have already spent months not writing. Or rather, not writing anything academic.” Another way to frame this would be: Trust. Yourself, the process. Trust that you will write when the time is right.
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)