Keeping Writing Projects Alive

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Has this happened to you? You have brilliant insights and are raring to go on the new writing project, then life happens. The project slips to the bottom of the pile, then you move it off your desk altogether. One day something happens that triggers your memory: oh yeah, I was writing on that topic…where is that file?

In a previous post, I discussed a few ways that you might revive a writing project you set aside and left for dead. In this post, I want to share some thoughts about how to keep the momentum going so you actually complete the article, chapter, or book.

First, think about the reasons you set the writing aside. Then think about how you can avoid being derailed by them again.

In a post about academic writing I identified four inter-related components of the process. We falter when one or more of these pieces come unglued. If we can’t find the time, and/or can’t focus on writing in the time we have, we have a problem. If our content is dated, or needs redirection, we need to take steps to address the issues.


Time. How will you make time for this new priority? What can you take off your plate, at least temporarily? 

Some of us work well with established structures. We need to set specific times to write, establish checkpoints and a target completion date. Firm dates are essential when others are involved such as co-authors or editors. A regular, fixed time to write can help us build good habits we can use to continue to write productively once we complete this project. Others need to find a way to fit writing into the daily routine, rather than expecting to get it all done in one block of time. And some find it helpful to either attend a writers retreat or make their own. I’ve had doctoral students get over the proverbial hump on a neglected dissertation/thesis by renting a cheap motel room for a weekend.

Focus. Still, even with an allotted period of time, other things can take you off course. You sit down to the computer and find that those great ideas going through your head during the faculty meeting two hours ago have now fled. Or maybe you are like me: you see a notification of breaking news and think now what? Do I need to duck and cover? You read the news item, and decide you need to call your Senator right now! Or things you want are on sale, today only. I can measure my level of writers block by the number of boxes that arrive to verify the degree of distraction.

Can you put up a real or virtual “do not disturb” sign? Turn off email, text messaging, and notifications. Ask family members to leave you alone for a defined amount of time.

If you can’t get anywhere with the piece that is in front of you, work on something else and come back to it. Use your writing time to make progress on another section, on figures, or formatting. Or perhaps you need to step away and take time to reflect and connect with your muse. Take a walk, it can do wonders.

Content. In a previous post I mentioned out-dated data or literature, two common content-related issues we have to think about when reviving old pieces of writing. Another issue is your own engagement with the content. If it no longer excites you, and you can’t find the passion you had for it before, look at ways you might reframe it in light of current interests. Can you look at the topic from a different angle? Or can you take a different point of view or frame it for a different audience? In my own recent book project, I shifted from aiming towards readers who would think about my ideas to aiming towards readers who who would use them. This shift re-energized me. I was able to be more strategic about content-related updates.

Maybe someone else’s fresh perspective would help if you are bogged down with the content. Is this a time to form or join a writing group? Or can you ask a friend or colleague to review your work? Is there an online community of people in your field where you might find someone who has the same need, and would trade feedback?

How will you stick with your plans? Sometimes it takes sheer willpower to knuckle down and just get it done. Find what you need for self-affirmation, your own way of reinforcing your intentions. Once you you committed to your writing plan, what accountability measures will help? Calendar alerts? Buddy system? If you’d like to buddy with someone who has responded to or retweeted this article, raise your hand!


LEARN MORE AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION: This series of posts complements the June #HEdigID chat. See the archive here. Join future chats!

Higher Education Digital Identity (a.k.a. #HEdigID) Chat.  This Twitter chat is designed to discuss what it means to be ONLINE as a higher ed professional (e.g. staff, faculty, graduate students, etc.) today. As we work and play on social networks, linked platforms, and open media spaces, there are opportunities to connect to communities, collaborate with peers, and share our practice. That being said, digital engagement also comes with challenges, issues, or limitations we need to talk about together.
For more on academic writing, see the MethodSpace AcWriMo series of posts.

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