Writing Advice (Summer Writing Group, Week 5)

When I was teaching composition ten years ago, I doled out amazing amounts of writing advice. Write what you know. Don’t use your first ten ideas because everyone else has thought of those too. Highlight your topic sentences and read them all in a row to see if your organization works. Read each sentence of your essay in reverse order (last one first) to catch grammar and proofreading errors. Write early. Now that I’m primarily a writer, it’s interesting to see which of those pieces of advice have stuck with me. (I’ll let you know my favorite in the comments.)

What’s the piece of writing advice you’ve received (from a person, class, book, etc.) that has the most impact on your writing now? Or what piece of advice do you wish you’d heard or taken seriously earlier in your writing life?

I’ll leave the comments open through Monday noon (PST).

As usual, the check-in format: 1) Goals, 2) Accomplished, 3) Analysis, 4) Goals for next week, 5) optional Next check in date, if you’ll miss a week or two or three.

Roll call:

Amstr [complete dissertation]:  1) do a first revision pass on Ch. 3, 2) read comments from editor on article-version of Ch. 2 and decide what to do, 3) make notes for Ch. 2 revision, 4) write an introduction to the Ch. version.
[something ??]: no goals (conference week).
[journal article]: read more for the manuscript.
Contingent Cassandra
[full draft of J by 7/21; progress on P project]: finish one freelance assignment, start 2nd if time. Survive student conferences & family event. Take care of self. Bonus: Check in with J article material once or twice.
[finish thesis]: Finish the data paper and get it to supervisor, finally…
[finish and submit MMP and article]: Finish draft of the MMP-companion-piece essay, recognizing that there will be holes to fill in when I have all the necessary books and so on.
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
[progress on diss or article]:  An hour a day on the article, using what I can of Week 1 of WYJA.
[2 articles submitted; work on 1 of 2 articles]: Work on EOCP every day; try to do it first thing in the morning when getting into the office / turning on computer.
[draft of new chapter; edit article]: Finish reading primary source (novel) for Chapter 5, typing notes and quotes.
[complete book MS]: send off chapter 1 to the editors for review.
[chip away at writing backlog]: teach the intensive course;  put together some notes on the paper with the MSc student explaining to myself why exactly I’m struggling with it, work out who to talk to about it, and arrange a meeting.
[submit article; materials/methods + research sections of thesis]: an hour and a half with the thesis (next check in: 6/22)
[rough draft of journal article]: Finish WYJA Week 3
[article]: ?
[finish and submit journal article; start next article]: 1/2 revising Monday (today);
1/2 revising Th and Fr after returning from trip. (next check in: 6/22)
[2 of 4: paper, 3 presentations]: finishing a first draft, praying to WYJA for help and inspiration.
[revise 2 papers for publication]: Finish writing up my notes on the literature review and move on to Week 6 of WYJA
[R&R MS; submit MS#2; outline review article]: ?
rented life
[2 solid book chapters]: Do all the moving stuff, read 2 chapters. (next check in: 6/22)
[chapter; book proposal; 2 articles]: ?
[complete diss; decide scope of new idea]:  at least 10 more articles for the summer seminar.
[P&P and LM papers ready for conference mid-summer; drafting TS and BE papers]: re-read the P&P paper draft and make a list of edits that it needs. Some reading for at least one of the three papers on my plate this summer. (next check in: 6/22)
Trapped in Canadia
[2 diss. chapters; 1 turned into edited book ch.]: (next check in: 6/22)

56 thoughts on “Writing Advice (Summer Writing Group, Week 5)

  1. 1) Goals: at least 10 more articles for the summer seminar.

    2) Accomplished: 10 more articles for the summer seminar.

    3) Analysis: This week has been crazy, but it’s been all errands and packing and laundry and cleaning sorts of crazy as I’m prepping to be out of the country for six weeks. Frankly, I’m surprised I got as much reading done as I did.

    4) Goals for next week: I’ll be hitting the archives hard while I’m on my research trip, so goals are to look at lots of sixteenth century books and write at least one paragraph about each relevant/interesting one. Extra credit: write a blog post about the work in the archives.

    5) Next check in date: I don’t know if I’m going to be able to check in next week, so let’s say June 29th.

  2. Great discussion prompt, Amstr. I’m looking forward to comments from others.

    When I first met my advisor during a campus visit, he told me about one of his former students who had just published his first book. “I admire D because he always works to be a better writer.” This didn’t resonate for me until I finished my dissertation and started writing for publication, but I think of it often now. He also encouraged me to read more of the authors whose work I enjoyed, to try to discern what I might want to emulate. The last piece of good advice, which became almost a slogan in my doctoral program because it was said so frequently, is that writing is a process of discovery. Even though it’s something I know, it often helps me to remember this when I feel frustrated not knowing what it is I’m writing.

    goal: Send chapter 1 to editors
    accomplished: Nope.
    analysis: Teaching is taking far more time and creative energy than I had anticipated. I’m teaching online for the first time, and find that I keep writing these long, detailed responses to student discussion board posts. I need to curb that process, maybe setting a timer for myself.
    next goal: Finish the N section, with a goal of submitting the chapter by June 28.

    • Your last advice reminds me of a favorite comp quote: “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say.” (E.M. Forster, from Aspects of the Novel)

      • I believe strongly in writing as a process of discovery (and agree with the Forster quotation as well), but I have to say that having both ideas so prevalent in the comp program in which I was teaching at the time I started my dissertation was *not* helpful, since I ended up plunging in and writing incredibly baggy monsters of chapters with very little shape or point, hoping/expecting I’d figure out what I was saying in the process, and having very little luck (it probably didn’t help that I was trying to approach a body of literature using the lenses of two different “studies” areas, each of which rested on different, not necessarily opposed, but not necessarily overlapping either, assumptions). At least for longer projects, I need some sort of a limit or purpose or *something* to help me figure out how to extract something useful (i.e. the beginnings of an argument) from preliminary “discovery” writing, and then stay on something resembling a track (though of course one may discover other useful things while following that track). Or maybe that’s just me. . . .

      • CCassandra–it’s interesting that you associate the quote etc. with ‘discovery’ writing. I think of it more in the course of writing my argument. After I’ve got a basic thesis and outline, as I’m trying to prove my argument, I often find that when I push my readings more and challenge myself to add just one more sentence of analysis, I discover new things about what I think.

      • Oh, me, too, these days. But at the point when I was in grad school (late 80s/early 90s), at least where I was, the pendulum had swung way, way far in one direction, with any suggestion of having students write outlines or similar structures very much frowned upon. I don’t think that was strictly true in the grad program; there, we simply got no guidance whatsoever, so I tended to apply what we were talking about in comp, almost certainly incorrectly, to the diss. I think the basic problem was the absolute lack of guidance, conversation, anything, about writing in the grad program, not the conversation that was going on in the comp program (though I have moved back considerably toward the middle, and probably now lean toward the end of encouraging attention to structure, especially conventional structures that help us to anticipate and satisfy — or at least deliberately and productively violate — readers’ expectations.

  3. The advice on writing which has been influencing me the most is ‘read a lot, write a lot and look up good dictionaries’. I heard this on the radio several years ago. This was mentioned in a programme on creative writing, but I think I can use this on academic writing as well. I have been trying to follow this motto, though I can never say I have been successful.

    Goal: finishing a first draft.

    Accomplished: not yet.

    Analysis: I had asked my former supervisor for a comment on my arguement and he replied me asking some more details. Then I stopped, because I have found several flaws in my arguement and have been trying to revise. My sick children also needed my attention.

    Next goal: Sending a replying e-mail on my arguement and finishing a draft.

    • Also sending good wishes for your kids’ recovery. How finished do you think the email reply to your supervisor needs to be? Is he open to a certain amount of thinking-in-writing, or does he want something fairly finished?

      • Thank you, amstr and Contingent Cassandra! My kids are now almost well. And I started to write my replying e-mail to my supervisor noting that my argument is still on the stage of construction. Writing answering e-mail is helping me to think!

  4. Oh goodness, I missed the last check in, as I was sick as a dog in bed for 5 days 😦 But I’ve still managed to get some work done!

    1) Don’t remember what they were!
    2) Accomplished – mostly revised Part I of Manuscript #1. Decided to drop Manuscript #2 after the data just would not cooperate. Did some thinking about review article.
    3) Analysis – accepting feeling sick and just looking after myself is much less work than trying to power through, failing, and feeling guilty
    4) Goals – send manuscript off to grad student so he can add his part, revise Part II. Jot down some thoughts re: review article

    Regarding writing, if I had to narrow things down to one piece of advice that was essential, it was the idea that EVERY sentence in a paper serves a purpose. There are no superfluous sentences or paragraphs in an academic article. My undergraduate thesis advisor imparted this wisdom, and it has stuck with my writing ever since. I often go through and revise thinking “okay what is the purpose of THIS paragraph, and these sentences, and does everything fit?”

    • I, too, like the “every sentence counts” advice. As I said below, I’m finding that word count limits (which are a fairly new thing in my writing life) are actually quite helpful.

      And I’ll be interested to hear more as you think your way through a review article (if and when you do). I teach a writing-for-scientists class that revolves around a Review, even though it’s not a significant genre in my own field. So I’ve been trying to figure them out by reading published ones, which has been interesting. If you have any books or other references to recommend I’d be most interested.

      P.S. Hope you’re feeling better.

      • “Every sentence counts” terrifies me! I write very sparingly, and have had to work my way out of brevity into something a little fuller and more inviting. And yet I know that’s really good advice, because it’s fundamentally true.

      • Well, that’s probably a situation for Peter Elbow’s believing/doubting game. You “believe” when getting ideas on paper, trying to flesh out what you think and why; the time for “doubting” — considering counterarguments, better way to say things, etc. — is in the later revising stages. I hope I’ve described that right, and am right in attributing it to Elbow; I think I am.

  5. My favorite piece of writing advice is Anne Lamott’s advice (in Bird by Bird) to write Shitty First Drafts. I’m generally a perfectionist, and I often get stuck before I even start to write because I want the writing to turn out “perfect.” I’ve discovered a lot of freedom in writing terrible drafts, and I’ve learned over the years that it can often take me three or four SFDs to get to my argument.

    Goals: 1) do a first revision pass on Ch. 3, 2) read comments from editor on article-version of Ch. 2 and decide what to do, 3) make notes for Ch. 2 revision, 4) write an introduction to the Ch. version.

    Accomplished: 1) I got 30/46 pages done, 2) done, 3) sort of, 4) a really poor version is done.

    Analysis: I’m so glad for the accountability of this group. It’s often difficult for me to get motivated to work in the evenings, but because of the check-in, I put in a great few hours on Thurs. evening. I’ve arranged to have my article revision as a second priority this summer, and I hope that the work I do on it will help my diss. chapter be better as well.

    My big trouble this week was thinking about revising the article into a chapter. I’m not excited about working with two forms of the same material, and I have trouble with large-scale revision anyway. Here I’ve got 10K words already that need to be reframed to fit into the dissertation. I think I’m going to have to start with a blank page this week and plan to cut and paste a lot into a “new” draft. The article as it stands seems to me to exista as a whole, and it’s hard for me to modify it.

    Goals for next week: I’m heading out of town for a long weekend with the family and my mother-in-law, so I need to be modest about my goals, and I also need to figure out how much working I need to do on the trip. So let’s say, 1) find books/article for one section of Article Revision revision, 2) finish Ch. 3 revision pass, 3) make photocopies from overdue library books, 4) “draft” 5 pages of Ch. 2 (copying lots from the article).

    • I too like Anne Lamott’s advice to write shitty first drafts for the same reasons. I tend to focus on the beginning of an article, chapter, etc. struggling for perfection. Writing a shitty first draft I “allow” myself to write with placeholders for ideas, etc. Otherwise, I keep writing the same three or four pages over and over aiming for a perfection. I also like her advice on short assignments, using the one inch frame. Often if I’m stuck, I’ll start with the one inch frame and before I realize it I’ve written several pages. I’ve used those two chapters of Bird by Bird with my graduate students who are having trouble getting started and most have found them helpful.

  6. Goal: finish one freelance assignment, start 2nd if time. Survive student conferences & family event. Take care of self. Bonus: Check in with J article material once or twice.

    Accomplished: finished one freelance assignment. Student conferences for last week survived (some still to go this week). Did not get enough sleep, but kept just this side of really exhausting myself (and am trying to do some catching up this weekend). Family event felt good in the moment,feels still generally positive in retrospect (still processing how it fits into various larger pictures). Did not touch J article materials.

    Analysis: the main advantage of the freelance assignment is that it reminded me how good it can feel to get something (about 2200 words in under 2 weeks, actually) done. I was also reminded that I find word limits helpful, since my problem is often deciding what to leave out (the more I think about this, the more I wish somebody had given me word limits for my diss chapters). The main difference between the freelance (reference-work) writing and original scholarship is that for the freelance work I just need to find something true and sensible to say that fulfills the prescribed function of that paragraph. When writing original scholarship, I care much more what gets put in and what gets left out. This time I was writing about a work I know very well; next time I’ll be writing about one I’ve heard of, but that’s about it. The latter might actually be easier (though I doubt it will be less time-consuming; I’m also noting that some of these entries are on poems and some are on novels, and so far I’ve drawn the novels). I’m still mulling over how to juggle the freelance work, the J article, and some part of the P project (plus class prep and another department project and a church project and household/financial tasks, plus some vacation time, which I really, really need — it will be a “staycation,” but never mind; that will do). And I still have to finish the summer class, which runs through the end of this week, with grading to follow. So,

    Goal for the coming week: finish up class and get as much grading done as possible. Get as far as possible on 2nd freelance assignment. Generally prepare and protect time for very badly needed real break after grades and 2nd freelance assignment are in. Touch base with J materials if possible.

    Like Amstr, I like Lamott’s “shitty rough draft” advice, too (and often quote it at my students, if only for the shock value). But I think the advice (really a writing technique) that’s been more influential for me, because I learned it earlier, is reverse outlining — making notes in the margins about what each paragraph of an existing draft is about, and working from there to an outline (either in the margins or on a separate page) that represents the current shape of the paper. I actually haven’t done that for a while, but I haven’t written anything very long for a while. And I’m somewhat surprising myself by working from something halfway in between an outline w/ list of quotes and a series of brainstormed sections in the J article. I think I’ve always had mental outlines, but I seem to be becoming more fond of physical outlines constructed before writing at the moment (in fact, if I get back to the J materials in the next week, that’s what I’ll be doing: constructing a fairly detailed outline for the next section of the paper).

    • List of quotes and series of brainstormed sections is basically my idea of what I call an outline. Works for me.

      • I’ve been doing the list of quotes and brainstorming notes a lot more lately! In fact, I’m currently in the process of doing exactly that for a new chapter right now. I love that it gets me past the blank page.

    • I didn’t know the term “reverse outlining,” but that process is very useful for me, and I certainly do it with my students when I’m helping them with papers, and I train to teach them to do the same, especially so they can find the paragraphs that are doing several jobs that should be pulled apart and handled individually. So that is indeed something that I have begun to do in my own writing that I’ve been passing on to them.

      Glad you had positive family time!

  7. Goal: teach the intensive course; put together some notes on the paper with the MSc student explaining to myself why exactly I’m struggling with it, work out who to talk to about it, and arrange a meeting.

    Accomplished: taught the course. Stressed about but did not work on any of my various writing projects. Unless administrivia-report-writing counts; I did two pages and two big tables of analysis for that.

    Analysis: the teaching was fine, the students were a nice group, the weather was fickle but never cruel… and everything ELSE (exam meetings, teaching meetings, politics, general work stuff) was a mess

    Goal for the Coming Week: survive it! Seriously, I have refereeing, I have packing, I have references to write, I have meetings… tons of stuff. Ideally, I would rough out the problem with the MSc paper, do an R&R, get a first draft of the NextBigPaper out to collaborators, do a re-rewrite of the intro to ComplicatedPaper based on the comments from co-authors that have come in along with a final polish and submit, and complete the administrivia-report. In practice, I’ll settle for SOME activity on ANY ONE of those.

    Tips for writing:
    ‘A scientific paper is not like a detective story, so the discussion shouldn’t be a big reveal scene’

    ‘Show you’re clever by explaining complex ideas clearly, not by regurgitating a dictionary’

    ‘Jane Austen is catching. Watch what you read when you are writing’

    ‘all writing benefits from a week in the bottom drawer’ [take a break from your work to get a fresh perspective]

    All from my PhD supervisor

    ‘Send your work out for comments when you think it still needs editing rather than when you think it’s done, that way you’ll be less upset and more open to improving it when told it needs changes’

    I’ve benefitted a lot from the idea of a zero draft, a private messy document that I never need to show anyone, and from the idea of writing as thinking.

    The one tool that really changed my writing practice and the quality of my work is reverse outlining. I never really found essay plans useful, but making a plan from the first draft then rewriting from the plan improves my work hugely (plus forces my paragraphs to each have a clear central idea, which is definitely a Good Thing).

    • I love the Jane Austen comment. So, so true! I think I might write better with a model in front of my computer– especially for methodology sections– channeling their writing style works (if it’s a good article!). Sounds like you had a fun PhD supervisor.

    • I give the “detective story” line to my students all of the time, and I also have to remind myself of it with my own work.

      And I really like the idea of sending out the article before it’s done. I did that in the fall (although I’m not sure I realized how not-done it was), and I’m able to see the comments as super helpful. And I feel grateful for the one positive review rather than resentful of the negative review.

  8. 1. Goal–an hour a day, using WYJA.

    2. Accomplished–not quite an hour a day, but 4 out of 7.

    3. Analysis–I did the same amount last week, so maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. I try to set aside some “day job” time, since it is a tenure-accruing position requiring publication, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ll keep working on finding good writing nooks.

    4. Goal for next week: 5 or 6 hours. I will be traveling Friday cross-country for a conference, and can usually concentrate well enough to avoid unsettling personal conversations with strangers on the plane.

    5. After travelling on Friday, I will be knee-deep in committee meetings and panels from Saturday early morning through noon Tuesday. I cannot be sure I will be able to check-in with the group, although I will try if the interwebs pixies are on my side.

    Writing tips:
    My dissertation advisor told me to write long before I thought I was ready. I struggle with perfectionism and an Inner Critic who is most unpleasantly reminiscent of my college Romantic Poetry professor, so it has been good advice. Although I can’t quite bring myself to the SFD in wither fiction or academic writing, I have loosened up in the past year or so.

    I am intrigued by the idea of reverse outlining. I have been trying to mix things up since I tried to revise an old conference paper and realized with a shock that I didn’t write like that any more, didn’t like writing like that any more, and had no idea how to change things. I think reverse outlining might solve the problem.

  9. Goal: Work on EOCP every day; try to do it first thing in the morning when getting into the office / turning on computer.

    Accomplished: Monday, Thursday, Friday; on Saturday I worked on a different publication.

    Analysis: I had previously been fooling myself that I was working after dinner, and would stay up post-midnight usually doing a combo of email and internet surfing. That didn’t mix well with my infant’s 6am wakeup call, and so I wasn’t getting to writing-work until too late in the morning (after getting another morning nap). I’m finding that if I get to bed before 11pm, I not only get to play happily with my baby in the morning before work, but also WORK. more. On a couple days last week last-minute work for teaching and research meetings made it impossible to do my writing. I need to make sure I keep myself on track more– that not only the writing gets done, but committee work, tasks prepared for RAs, and teaching work get their proper times too. Keeping in mind that I’m ALWAYS busy is tough. It’s so easy to waste small amounts of in-between time, thinking “Oh, I’m not sure what I should do next, I only have 15 minutes before I have to [go home / etc.] anyhow..” that add up to big amounts of time!

    Goal for next week: Work on EOCP or writing every day. Again, try to put it first if possible. Also try to be more efficient about other kinds of work, fit them in on “regular” days so that they don’t entirely take over on “last-minute” days.

    Writing advice I wish I took: Schedule writing time, and make it as sacrosanct as teaching time– you have to do it at that certain time, and any other meetings or duties just have to fit around it rather than vice versa. (The sacrosanctness is the most difficult part, but actually just scheduling writing time has helped me in the past. I think I’ll try it again this week.)

    • Even without a baby, I hear you. I wish I had someone to tell me to GO TO BED. And I really have trouble with that scheduled writing time, despite good intentions. Scheduling it with a writing buddy helps enormously, if you can find someone whose schedule works with yours.

    • When I was working on my diss. with two kids and no childcare, I had to use all those 15 minute chunks of time. It is pretty amazing how much one can accomplish in little chunks of time. I often have to remind myself that 15 minutes of work is better than nothing.

  10. 1. Last week’s goal: Finish primary source, type notes and quotes.

    2. Achieved: Nada.

    3. Analysis: I spent Monday running errands, taking care of kids, and cleaning out my work e-mail inbox, which was full (ours get full quickly, and then we can’t send messages–drives me nuts). But it was great to purge old stuff from last term. Tuesday, I went to the office to do some service work projects (Bleck). Then, Tuesday night, Hubby and idea had the brilliant idea to purge the stuff in the house and have a garage sale on Saturday. There went the rest of the week (oh, and we through in a trip to the Waterpark the day after the last day of schoo).

    So, the week was a wash. But the house feels good!

    4. Goals for next week: Same same–Finish primary source and type notes and quotes. Will be tricky as I try to complete service work projects and get ready for a long trip.

    5. I leave town next Saturday and will gone for a month. Should still be able to check in from the road.

    Regarding writing, I’ve put most of my favorite bits of advice (both received and given in the comments above. I find that I only freewrite–truly freewrite–at the very beginning of the process. After that, anything beyond notetaking is directed, at least to some degree, by topic/section/etc. I find it very difficult to get much text going until I have the argument, so I do a lot of freewriting before that. Afterwards, I do more outlining and paragraph drafting.

    Writing the dissertation has taught me a lot about writing, and I’ve had to learn new processes. I used to write only after I’d done all my research and had a thesis and a full outline. Then I would write for 2-3 days until I had my 25-page paper. I can’t do that with the dissertation, so I’ve had to learn totally new processes, which has been great. And I’m so glad my supervisor told me to start writing immediately when I started the diss. I took it as permission to write from a place or ignorance. By doing so, I’m really able to learn wheeee then holes are–what I still need to know.

    I talk to my students a lot about the logic of organization/paragraphing/etc., but many of them just aren’t going to spend a lot to time thinking through the best organizational strategy for their topics. But some will!

    And I love the term “reverse engineering.” I do it a lot with my students, but I didn’t give it a “name.” Thanks!

    • I’ve had the same experience with learning how to write in a new way. I can’t say I prefer it yet, but I think my life now wouldn’t allow me to work in the old way anyway.

      Sometimes a cleaned out house is the best thing for writing! And fun with the family is definitely necessary.

      I hope all the prep for the trip goes smoothly!

    • That last bit was supposed to be “reverse outlining,” not “reverse engineering”–although I suppose the latter makes sense, too.

  11. I am intrigued by the divide between people for whom free-writing and shitty first drafts are The Answer and those of us for whom the key thing is to slow down and outline. Of course I do free-write and produce SFDs, but like Cassandra, it’s terribly easy to produce mounds of words I can’t fight my way free of, so I feel like my most important writing advice, after all, was from a high school teacher who taught me about arguments and outlines. More recently, I’ve picked up the idea of a two-column document from, I think, Carolyn See: “What I Have” and “What I Need.” It’s reverse-engineering moved out of the margins and into a separate document, with advice about what that paragraph should actually do.

    Last goal: Finish draft of the MMP-companion-piece essay, recognizing that there will be holes to fill in when I have all the necessary books and so on.

    Achieved: another 350 words from where I was a week ago.

    Analysis: Migraine Sunday, travel Monday, 350 words on Tuesday, campus day Wednesday (checked out a book needed for the project), household tasks day Thursday, not entirely sure what happened to Friday/Saturday. Sleep problems & thus being off my Ideal Schedule were part of it, and the rest is trying to deal with Other Important Work and Life Stuff before my five weeks in Oxbridge. Still, 350 words is more than I had before. And last night I went to bed at an almost-decent hour and Glendower slept till 6:45!!!! So I am back to a happy schedule, and I hope I can keep that up this week.

    New Goal: keep trying to finish the draft. Seriously, I need about 500-700 new words, another 1000 moved in from a conference paper version, and then a lot of grooming. If I can keep getting up early, it’s do-able, even with all the Other Important Tasks.

    • Although SFDs work for me, I do find that at some point I have to slow down and outline and organize. Free-writing absolutely does not work for me. Worked somewhat as a creative writing major, but does not work for me as historian. My SFDs have to be focused if not outlined. I try not to let my enthusiasm for SFDs lead me to push my graduate students to do this because some of them will just produce mounds and mounds of writing without ever figuring out what they’re trying to say.

    • As an SFD-needing writer, it has never occurred to me to produce tons of unfocused writing. I think I’m inclined to always be puzzling toward an argument, so once I have “finished” an SFD, I’m hunting around for the argument, outlining on scraps of paper, re-outlining on backs of envelopes, yapping at my husband about what I’m trying to prove, etc.

      Like GEW, I used to research and outline until I had a perfect 30-page paper in my head and then write it in three days. I think I’ve had to head toward SFDs because of my earlier writing habits and how they limited me in larger projects.

  12. Also I’d like to thank amstr again for taking over the writing group. It’s helpful for me, but the way things are going, I was absolutely right that I couldn’t have managed to do the admin this summer, even though I enjoyed running the spring group and hope to do another one in the future. But as long as we can get people interested in having these groups, I hope they’ll keep going in some incarnation for a good long time!

  13. Last week’s goal — finish writing up the literature review and work on Chapter 6 of WYJA, structure

    Accomplished — Finished both goals despite multiple and numerous distractions on all fronts.

    For this week — I plan to work on revising (the intro and the conclusion), editing, etc. I want to have a full draft with the new literature, etc. by the end of this week. To get there I need to write first thing in the morning, which I should be able to do every day this week except one when my spouse has a doctor’s appointment.

    If I can get the complete draft done by the end of this week, then I can finish the edits (week 10 of WYJA) and submit the article by mid-July at the latest.

    Writing advice —

    Two pieces of advice that I have found helpful (both from my dissertation chair)

    Write for an informed reader not an academic. That is avoid the jargon, the academicese. Don’t bore your reader. Challenge your reader but avoid being pompous. My dissertation chair said she wrote for her mother, a well-read reader but one who didn’t hold an advanced degree in the field.

    My chair also shared with me her writing process and shared early drafts of her work. That willingness to share work that was still in process helped me understand just how much of a process writing is, that pristine drafts do not happen the first time and do not happen without a lot of work.

    • It sounds like you had a wonderful chair!

      I haven’t though much about audience (other than my committee) in this process. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I feel fortunate to have had a committee of public intellectuals who trained me to be one of them. Sometimes I feel like I write more like a journalist than a scholar, and I’ve learned to be OK with that. There are certainly publication opportunities available, but I think my publication record would be seen differently at an R1 than at a LAC. Here’s to hoping for tenure.

  14. I’ll just say hi and be on my way today, mainly because the part about “goal” and “accomplished” makes me want to cry right now. Fairly disastrous meeting with supervisor on Friday – several months of work feels rather useless… So goal for this week is to regroup and figure out which way to go. I know everyone has weeks like that, they’re just rough when they happen…

    • Daisy, I’m sorry to hear that. Good luck with the re-grouping. And it’s true, we really do all have weeks like that, and probably there is salvageable work from the last few months once you get over the initial shock. Even if it really is as bad as it feels right now, you still did a lot of thinking and reading that is going to contribute to a new and improved draft. Do what you need to to re-group, and then keep on truckin’.

    • Oh, Daisy! What a bummer! I’m so sorry to hear that. But I can’t but think that at least some of the thinking/writing you did will serve the project in some way.


    • I’m so sorry you had such a meeting. I hope the re-grouping week reminds you of all you have accomplished so far and helps you know that you can and will move forward to that finished thesis.

    • Oh, dear. Yes, cry as needed, do whatever helps you to relax a bit, then regroup. Realizing that this is a normal part of the process is a big (if unpleasant) part of the battle.

  15. Goal: Read more
    Accomplished: Read 1 paper
    Analysis: I was still tied up with another project at work. But I think it’s over so this week should be more productive for me
    Next Goal: Read at least 1 paper a day for this manuscript – I have to get this done!

    Like many others, I too loved Anne Lamott’s advice on writing shitty first drafts. It’s one thing I think I do well. There’s something about getting the ideas on paper that makes them easier to tweak later.

  16. I totally forgot to respond this past weekend! We were planning a spontaneous mini-vacation which we took Mon-Wed, during my husband’s break between the spring and summer quarters. So sorry this is late!

    Goal: Finish Week 3

    Accomplished: I did a few more hours of reading and note-taking, but definitely did not finish week 3 yet. I am continuing to work out how to frame the argument of my article, which is good.

    Analysis: I was enjoying having my husband home too much, after not seeing him hardly at all for the previous few weeks due to final projects he was working on.

    Next Goal: WYJA Week 3 (again!)

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