Separate Preparing From Writing

In order to make this commitment to just writing work over the long term, we suggest you start separating your preparation time from your writing time. 

Preparation can involve a range of things. As well as booking time in the diary to write, it can mean scheduling time to read, get materials together, look over data, etc.  It may also mean letting people know when not to disturb you. At the risk of stating the obvious, it may also mean eating and drinking as part of setting yourself up to write. Invariably at workshops when we say, right, let’s go into another writing block, someone will need to check their phone, someone else look something up, someone else grab a drink and someone else go to the loo. Occasionally it’s the same person doing all these things at once!

For academic writing, one thing that is interesting to experiment with is just how much preparation you actually need to do before you start writing. Many of us end up hamstrung by a compulsion to get every single one of our ducks in a row before we begin. Laura recalls one summer spent doing a very thorough literature review for an article she never ended up completing; looking back, it is quite evident how all that ‘essential’ preparation was actually a procrastination technique.

Sometimes, it can be best to do just enough preparatory reading, data analysis, and brainstorming before beginning. One approach is to break the project down into small chunks and prepare to write each, piece by piece. For example, you probably don’t need to have all your data analysed to write about your experimental design or methodology. And you may not need to be familiar with every piece of relevant literature to go ahead and make your argument (the foundational stuff, sure, but for the more tangential stuff, isn’t that what footnotes are for?).

You can also let a conversation develop between your prep and your writing. Read, then write, then go back to reading. As your own ideas develop, you have a better sense of what you’re looking for when you read, and a better sense of what you can skip. You don’t need to have read every last journal article to be able to begin working on your lit review. It is rarely necessary to know every reference backwards and forwards before you begin to make your intervention. Why not try this: separate your prep from your drafting; do one at a time; and start getting words on paper now!

NEXT: Drafting Versus Crafting