August Writing Roundup
Last Month in Review
August is quickly coming to a close, and many of us have just dove headfirst into the new school year! I hope that Publish Not Perish will serve as a tool for you this academic year to prioritize writing and support you on your quest for balance, however that may look for you personally.
I have a personal goal to reach 1000k subscribers by the end of August and we’re just shy of that number. If you’re enjoying Publish Not Perish, would you consider sharing it with friends, via relevant listservs, or on your social media? Many thanks!
Here’s some of my favorite media I’ve consumed over the past month on writing, productivity, and managing all-the-things. Some of this content is new, some of it is old, but all of it has kernels of wisdom for busy academic writers.
1. Here’s the links to the August newsletters in case you missed any:
2. I loved this simple but impactful rephrasing of “finding time to write” from Rocio Caballero-Gill on the Academic Writing Amplified podcast. “Finding time” suggests that the time exists out there and if we keep our eyes open, we just may come across it. However, as Caballero-Gill notes, this phrasing doesn’t really prioritize writing as important. Writing becomes an afterthought in our schedule. She instead suggests “guarding writing time.” To guard something means that it’s important and that we are prioritizing it.
3. I rewatched A League of their Own (1992) this month. The movie is still as great as it was when it released! Tom Hanks iconic speech to Gina Davis about baseball being hard made me think about writing:
It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
As much as academic writers like to lament that writing is difficult, perhaps we just need to lean into the fact that it is hard a bit more. Being challenging doesn’t have to be a strike against the craft. Instead, it can be the very thing that makes it great and motivates us to be better.
4. Manuscript Works’ guest post from Dr. Malini Devadas drives home the fact that feelings are a key reason for not writing. Devadas recommends working with a writing coach, but if that’s not a possibility for you, then journaling is another option:
…journalling is an effective practice for getting unstuck. I use it when I’m not doing the thing that I say I want to do. The process is simple. First, stop and listen to the thoughts that are running constantly in the background. Then, write down those thoughts. Don’t censor yourself: let it all out. This is hard, but it is critical. If you censor yourself then you’ll find it hard to get to the real, and often uncomfortable, thoughts that are deep within you. The ones that are stopping you from putting your writing out into the world.
When I have writer's block brought on by feelings about writing I need to process, journaling is also my go-to strategy.
5. Speaking of writer’s block and journaling! I’ve written before about how much I love the resources from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. (See my earlier post about signing up with them, but note that this is a US-centric organization with a few Canadian institutional partners. They don’t seem to partner outside North America). NCFDD sends out a newsletter called Monday Motivator with tips and tricks for specific challenges academics face. Here’s a sample newsletter on how to overcome resistance for difficult tasks like writing:
Almost every writer experiences resistance to their writing. If you don’t, that’s great! And if you do, you’re perfectly normal. Remember, even some of the professional writers (as in people whose entire livelihood is based solely on their writing) have bad days, so you’re in good company. Tracking your resistance is all about noticing what’s going on when we should be writing but find yourself engaged in behavior that has nothing to do with writing. In those moments, it’s great to pause and identify what we’re doing. It’s even better to get ourselves back to the task of writing. But if you’re like most writers I know, some days it's easier than others to get back to the task at hand. For us, keeping a Resistance Diagnostic within reach helps so that no matter how we’re feeling, we can quickly remember a strategy, skill, or technique to get back on track.
As I state above, I journal about my writing resistance. Resistance builds for a variety of reasons so it’s important for me to practice self-awareness to push through that resistance.
6. This Twitter thread on general productivity strategies is a useful skim. I think about Parkinson’s Law a lot:
For example, people who have recently finished their dissertations often talk about how they do most of their work in the last couple months before they defend. Many of these people have had more than a year to do this work, but they weren’t as productive early on because the deadline was so far away. If their time to complete had shrank by a couple months, then the time they were spending in deep work mode would correspondingly shift earlier. Creating a strategic plan and a regular writing routine can help you complete projects faster. I give advice on semester-long strategic plans in Planning Writing Like You Plan Your Syllabus.
Learning the skill - and it is a skill - of shitty first drafts has made a huge difference in my career. For decades it has helped me deal with issues of procrastination. It has given me the courage to start writing projects that scared me. It has allowed me to keep research active(ish) while taking on academic leadership roles.
Amen! I’m also a believer in the powers of the shitty first draft and leaning into bad writing. I like the metaphor “Write drunk. Edit sober.” This way of thinking encourages writers to draft without inhibition. I began writing much more quickly and efficiently when I adopted this method.
8. While we are singing the tune of released inhibitions, I love this Tweet from academic coach Jane Jones:
As I write in On Flow Writing and the Shitty First Draft,
I am encouraging you to develop a wealth of writing that is just for YOU. Writing for you is a safer space because your inner critic doesn’t have an audience to pander to yet. Developing a writing habit of this nature makes it easier to write habitually and to find comfort in the mundane because it is writing without any self-imposed pressure to be inspired.
9. Insecure academic writers often bog down their writing in convoluted sentences in an attempt to sound smart. If you feel insecure in your ideas, then you play dress up with them to hide imposter feelings. I like the post, 10 Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing, from Shawna Malvini Redden that gives practical advice on how to avoid this trap. For example, she explains the importance of imagining a specific audience for your writing:
Very often students get bogged down with academic writing because they don’t know who they’re writing to. I encourage you to think about your audience personally. My mentor, Dr. Sarah J. Tracy, says to write to your “conceptual cocktail party.” Who are the folks you wish were reading your writing? Write to them. (And, cough, cite them, so they’re more likely to actually see your work.)
When I am trying to write clearly and accessibly, I imagine my students as the audience. This is helpful because a) they don’t intimidate me as much as an audience of experts and b) I have to be clear and give examples so they understand.
10. Anthony Ocampo wrote a post for Write and Seek called “First Week of School: BIPOC Edition” that’s full of recommended reading for students of color navigating college. He writes,
I tend to turn to biographies and memoirs of other people of color who have gone through some shit—in the academy, in Hollywood, in politics, etc. These books are comforting because they’re evidence that someone like me can survive whatever I’m going through.
His list seems to have a lot new graduate BIPOC students and faculty could benefit from.
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