Ok, not really. By “kids” I mean 24-year-olds.
(If you are my student, why are you Googling this? Stop it and go back to work on your paper!) (Also, please don’t tell anybody my secret identity. Thanks.)
Everyone else is doing writing these days! Once more I attempt to incorporate writing into my content course for juniors and seniors in the major. For them I am summarizing a lot of work by Robert Boice, author of the amazingly useful Professors As Writers. But, most of the stuff here in this post comes from his other book, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency (1994). I just couldn’t find a link to the other one, it’s hard to get ahold of. It’s worth it, though, because it has more details than Professors as Writers, and it has particularly useful bits (almost half the book!) about how to get motivation and ideas, and how to answer your own objections to implementing a writing schedule. Some of this stuff is new to both #1 and #2 so I’m plopping my notes here, just in case anyone else wants to know. [Editorial comments in brackets.]
These are really my own notes, so most are not in comprehensible sentence-form, sorry. Also, remember not to plagiarize. Personally, we find Boice inspiring, and we hope you do too. (Although if you are a student for whom this looks very familiar, note that this post may have totally been plagiarized from your own professor… you just can’t tell on the internet. Or it could be great minds thinking alike.)
First, an example of my own freewriting when stuck [I show this to students after they have already taken a version of Boice’s blocking questionnaire, and have tried freewriting at least once themselves.]
Getting over some problems:
Before you are ready
– Informal outlines
– Talk aloud, freewrite
Keep going: contingencies
– Go back to freewriting if necessary
Finish: revisions (not today) [I don’t talk about revision until later, because I don’t want to distract the students from producing a first draft]
Starting before you are ready is hard for impatient people but will help them avoid doing it all at once. It will help procrastinators and challenge perfectionists. Informal outlines or talking will help perfectionists.
How To Get Motivation:
Boice (1994, p. 22) summarizing Murray:
1. “[B]ecome an avid collector of details, facts, thoughts, anything including references.”
2. “With immersion in a subject, the next step, wanting to order & organize the information, comes naturally.”
3. “…realization emerges that much of what has been collected & clarified is unknown to others…”
4. “Finally, after rehearsing the material in their minds, writers impose a plan & a schedule….”
“Motivation and inspiration follow, not precede, the practice of regular, accumulated work…” (Boice, 1994, p. 19)
Writing can be conceptualized as problem-solving task. To solve a problem, you have to try stuff.
The anticipation of pain is often worse than actually experiencing it.
BRIEF DAILY SESSIONS (not huge blocks)
Where do you get your ideas?
“There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ’em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.” –Harlan Ellison [#2 likes saying Schenectady]
Boice book 1994, pp. 54 – 57: steps to get ideas from taking notes (presented here in much-reduced and adapted form)
(This also leads very naturally to a useful outline that won’t feel too rigid.)
If you know experts in the field, ask them where to start.
1. As you read, ask how it can help your writing. How do your thoughts fit in with the conversation?
2. Take notes.
3. Go back through notes and write comments to yourself. Have a conversation with yourself and author. Agree, disagree, expand, argue.
4. Set limits. (E.g., <20 minutes per article, ≤1 page of notes per article)
5. Carry your notes with you. Pull them out when you have 10 minutes. Continue conversation.
6. Organize sources in different ways. Arrange by topic, methodology, etc.
7. Turn all notes into 1 page that integrates them. Agree/disagree, tell a story, note gaps. Congratulations, you made an outline!
8. Start turning notes into prose. Don’t try to read every article ever. Start writing before you feel ready.
— It can be informal. “And then I will say the part about how XYZ…”
— explain it to someone or talk out loud
Now your outline won’t feel too stiff and you won’t ignore it or hate it. This will actually make the writing of the paper go faster and easier, really!
*** Outline is a PROCESS, not a THING, and it needs to take place in brief daily sessions. ***
Stimulus Control: Environment
Teach yourself that THIS LOCATION is for WORK ONLY [#2 really needs to work on this]
Minimize distraction: quiet, headphones
No interruptions: turn off phone, twitter, email pop-ups, close the door
Arrange objects for comfort & convenience
Don’t get lost in environmental tweaking
Use social control
Stimulus Control: Habits
Write every day (but don’t shut out family, sleep, exercise, etc.)
No time? Do a time audit
Write when your brain is fresh
(Pre-) Write in small, frequent amounts
— Warmup time for each session increases with time since leaving project
Plan for next session at end
Keep a chart: time in, time out, work finished
Making work visible; accountability
Structures Do Not Impede Creativity
Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
The muse works for you!
Contingency strength is important: get you to write, but not to hate it
Binge writing results in fewer total pages over time, and more misery
Social contingencies: appointments
Once again, these are my own notes, summarized from other authors and a variety of sources. Please don’t copy them. I also show my students part of this video by Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird I deeply love: