Many people that know me would probably describe me as a ‘write-aholic’ based on the number of articles and papers that I have had published. When it comes to addictions in academia, ‘writing addiction’ is just about the best one you can have. I don’t believe I have an addiction to writing but it is a very salient activity in my life and I am a habitual writer and I write every day. In previous blog articles I examined diary writing and psychological wellbeing as well as an article on graphomania (obsessive writing). Today’s blog briefly examines some of the things that make people more productive writers (and by definition a more excessive writer). During my career I’ve published many articles on the writing process (see ‘Further reading’ below) and today’s blog looks at some of my beliefs and practices. Before outlining some general advice, it's also worth exploring many of the false beliefs that many of us have about writing—beliefs which may explain why many of us don't like writing. For instance:
Myth 1 - Writing is inherently difficult: Like speaking, writing doesn't need to be perfect to be effective and satisfying.
Myth 2 - Good writing must be original: Little, if any, of what we write is truly original. What makes our ideas worthwhile communicating is the way we present them.
Myth 3 - Good writing must be perfect preferably in a single draft: In general, the more successful writers are more likely to revise manuscripts.
Myth 4 - Good writing must be spontaneous: There appears to be a belief that writing should await inspiration. However, the most productive and satisfying way to write is habitually, regardless of mood or inspiration. Writers who overvalue spontaneity tend to postpone writing, and if they write at all, they write in binges that they associate with fatigue.
Myth 5 - Good writing must proceed quickly: Procrastination goes hand in hand with impatience. Those writers who often delay writing suppose that writing must proceed quickly and effortlessly. However, good writing can often proceed at a slow pace over a lengthy period of time.
Myth 6 - Good writing is delayed until the right mood with big blocks of undisrupted time available: Good writing can take place in any mood at any time. It is better to write habitually in short periods every day rather than in binges.
Myth 6 - Good writers are born not made: Good writing is a process that can be learned like any other behaviour.
Myth 7 - Good writers do not share their writing until it is finished and perfect: Although some writers are independent, many writers share their ideas and plans at an early stage and then get colleagues to read over their early drafts for comments and ideas.
Even when these false beliefs about writing are dispelled, many of us can still have problems putting pen to paper or finger to keypad. Insights about writing only slowly translate into actions. For most professionals, writing is only done out of necessity (i.e., a report that they have to hand in). This produces a feeling of ‘having to write’ rather than ‘wanting to write’ and can lead to boredom and/or anxiety. Furthermore, most people appear to view writing as a private act in which their problems are unique and embarrassing. Strategies for overcoming this include getting colleagues to criticize their own work before going 'public', sharing initial plans and ideas with others, and practising reviewing other people's work.
It is generally acknowledged that there is no one proven effective method above all others for teaching people to become better writers. It is also a process that can be learned and can aid learning (i.e., a skill learned through opportunities to write and from instructional feedback). Although there are no ‘quick fixes’ to becoming a better writer, here are some general tips on how to make your writing more productive. I would advise you to:
- Establish a regular place where all serious writing is done (although with mobile technology I have learned to write anywhere in anyplace)
- Remove distracting temptations from the writing site (e.g., magazines, television)
- Leave other activities (e.g., washing up, making the dinner) until after writing
- Limit potential interruptions (e.g., put a "Do not disturb" sign on the door, don't answer the telephone or emails)
- Make the writing site as comfortable as possible
- Make recurrent activities (e.g., telephone calls, coffee making) dependent upon minimum periods of writing first
- Write while ‘feeling fresh’ and leave mentally untaxing activities until later in the day
- Plan beyond daily goals and be realistic about what can be written in the time available
- Plan and schedule writing tasks into manageable units
- Complete one section of writing at a time if the writing is in sections
- Use a word processor to make drafting easier (I call this 'splurge and edit'. I write whatever comes to mind and then re-order later).
- Revise and redraft at least twice
- Write daily rather than 'bingeing' all in one go
- Share writing with peers as people are more helpful, judgmental and critical on ‘unfinished’ drafts
Obviously, the problem with such a prescriptive list such as this is that not every suggestion will work for everyone. Many of us know our own limitations and create the right conditions to help get the creative juices going. Some people can't write in silence or with others in the room. By reading this short blog I cannot make you become a more productive and excessive writer overnight. However, it has hopefully equipped my blog readers with some tips and discussion points that may help in facilitating better writing amongst yourselves and colleagues.
References and further reading
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Productive writing in the education system. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 460-462.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). How to…get students to write with confidence. Times Higher Education Supplement, June 8, p.24.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Report writing. British Medical Journal (Careers), 328, 28.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 1 - Professional journals and newsletters). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 29, 41-42.
Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 2 - Newspapers and magazines). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 30, 5-6.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Writing and getting published - My top 10 tips. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 34, 2-4.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Addiction, fiction and media depiction: A light-hearted look at scientific writing and the media. Null Hypothesis: The Journal of Unlikely Science, 2(2), 16-17.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Top tips on…Writing with confidence. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 76, 33-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on...Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.