November is Academic Writing Month, a month that encourages academics to be more intentional about dedicating time and effort to their writing pursuits. However, this task can be easier said than done, and there can be a whole host of barriers when trying to commit to our academic writing pursuits.
More often than not, the biggest barriers we face are the ones we create for ourselves. For example, we might be hesitant about starting (cue procrastination), or perhaps we find we don’t have the time (cue literally any other task!). We might also find ourselves starting with the best intentions and goals, but by the end of the day, we’ve only managed to write (and rewrite) the same paragraph multiple times to the point of perfect imperfection (aka, we’re chasing the elusive goal of a perfect first draft).
If you find any of these barriers apply to you or want to learn some new tips for making your academic writing process more productive, this blog post is for you! Below are some strategies and recommendations suggested by our Youth Development Leadership (YDL) team and other resources that can help you thrive with your academic writing.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
We all experience writer’s block, including our esteemed colleagues in the YDL team. Dr. Lauren Stephens has been a part of 8 peer-reviewed articles, including a recent publication with Dr. Ed Bowers (also a part of our YDL team) that was the most cited research article of the past three years in the Department of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Management at Clemson University (https://news.clemson.edu/cbshs-recognizes-research-publication-and-scholarship/).
However, Dr. Stephens also experiences the effects of writer’s block. Below, she reflects on how she navigates the feeling of being stuck when writing:
When I’m feeling “stuck” writing (think major writer’s block), it’s often because I’m staring at a blank Word doc and thinking through just how far I have to go to get to the final product. When this happens, I close the Word doc and open up the Notes application on my Mac and begin jotting down ideas there. Sometimes, I start with the introduction. Other times, I’ll pull together some ideas from what I’ve been reading that will eventually become the literature review. In this process, the task doesn’t change (I’m still drafting the paper); however, the mindset does. No longer do I have an ominous, blank, white page staring back at me – with the eventual high stakes of other scholars critiquing my work looming in the dark corners of my brain. Now, instead, I have a lower stake, a more casual forum to start jotting down my ideas. The pressure is gone. Writing seems less about the audience and more about telling my story. Others can’t read what I haven’t yet written, and so, the task becomes simply that – to let the words flow. To write.
So, what can we take from Dr. Stephens and her approach to overcoming writer’s block?
Dr. Stephens’ writing success is also due to her ability to be intentional with her time. Knowing how to use your time effectively is an important skill to develop when becoming a more proficient writer.
Being Intentional with Your Time
As we suggested earlier in the blog post, we often feel like we don’t have the time to write; this feeling can be because we either (a) feel like writing has to be a long, drawn-out process or (b) we do not manage our time effectively (or both!). Below are some tips for making our writing process more efficient.
The Pomodoro method is an approach to time management that helps you intentionally dedicate time to your writing and taking a well-earned break.
The Pomodoro method proposes that you set a timer for 25 minutes; this period is your work time. After the 25 minutes, you set another timer for 5 minutes, this period is your break time. After completing between 3 to 5 Pomodoros (including work and break time), you take a 15 to 25-minute break to refresh your mind and body.
The method is simple but effective, and it can help you remain more focused by breaking up your time into more manageable chunks. It can also help break down your writing goals; for example, you may want to dedicate 3-5 Pomodoros to focus on a particular section of your essay, manuscript, or report.
Another trap we can fall into when trying to write is editing our writing at the same time.
Our writing brain is creative and likes room to explore possibilities, but it can be more introverted and need a bit of encouragement. On the other hand, our editing brain is critical and provides pretty clear feedback on what is right or wrong with our writing; it is also typically the louder voice and, if not harnessed correctly, can be linked to negative self-talk while trying to write.
If we try to edit while we write, we’re effectively trying to multitask two separate cognitive processes. Not only does research suggest we cannot multitask (Rosen, 2008), but when we attempt to, multitasking hinders our progress, effectiveness, and enjoyment of the tasks we’re attempting. Unfortunately, the edit-while-you-write approach is common and probably why most of us find academic writing a drawn-out and painful pastime.
So, what can you do to stop (or at least minimize) the edit-while-you-write strategy? Daphanie Gray-Grant, also known as the publication coach, suggests some of the following tips:
You can see the rest of Daphanie Gray-Grant’s tips on her blog post – https://www.publicationcoach.com/7-ways-to-stop-editing-while-you-write/
Academic Writing in YDL
In addition to the tips and strategies we’ve shared, we also strongly believe in the motivating force of having a passion for the topic you’re writing about. As our very own Dr. William Quinn puts it, “the writer should want to shout their message to world!”
Our YDL team believes in conducting research that have an applied impact in the lives of young people, youth professionals, families and communities, and inform positive changes in in youth organizations and at policy level. Therefore, what drives our motivation when writing is the thought of producing output that closes the gap between research and practice in the field of YDL.
So, when you undoubtedly face some barriers during your academic writing, think about what is driving you to write, what are you passionate about, and what you hope the impact of your writing might be? We often aim to write an aspirational and inspirational conclusion in our academic writing; however, our aspirations and inspirations can also be the perfect starting point too.
If you’re interested in pursuing academic writing in higher education, Clemson University offers an online Master of Science degree in Youth Development Leadership (36 credit hours, 12 courses, 2 years) as well as a Graduate Certificate in Youth Development Leadership (15 credit hours, 5 courses). These programs are uniquely designed for professionals working in youth development settings.
For more information, visit https://www.clemson.edu/cbshs/departments/prtm/degrees/graduate-degrees/youth-development-leadership.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belcher, W. L. (2019). Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: a guide to academic publishing success. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. Chicago Press.
Mewburn, I. Firth, K. & Lehmann, S. (2018). How to fix your academic writing, by Inger Mewburn (Author), Katherine Firth (Author), & Shaun Lehmann (Author). Open University Press.
Rosen, C. (2008). The myth of multitasking. The New Atlantis, (20), 105-110. https://bit.ly/3qQOTgP