I’ve always felt I should write more. I procrastinated, I waited for inspiration, etc. But I never knew how to go about fixing these issues, even after getting tenure and being promoted to full professor. By that point, I should have been the master of everything, right? Ha!
Then I discovered Paul J. Silvia’s How to Write a Lot (I’m not a referrer, go ahead and click the link). This was my gateway to the productive academic writing genre. Needless to say, I wish I had read the book earlier in my career.
Silvia identifies four specious barriers to writing a lot: 1) “I can’t find time to write”, 2) “I need to do more analyses before I can write”, 3) “I need a new computer/printer/chair/gadget before I can write”, and 4) “I need to be inspired to write”. There’s a fifth specious barrier, “I need to clear the decks before I can write”, added in the book’s second edition.
Silvia explains that creating and sticking to a writing schedule overcomes all specious barriers and is the key to writing a lot. Simple solutions are the best! As an added bonus, Silvia’s discussion of writer’s block will make reading the book worth your while.
I’d like to dig a little deeper into specious barrier #2: “I need to do more analyses first”. I think it’s something to which the OpenSees community can relate.
Say you need to write a manuscript. But in order to do so, you convince yourself that you first need to clean up your OpenSees scripts and re-run the analyses. Then, for whatever reason, you can’t “find time” to run the analysis. That “one more analysis” just became a buffer between you and writing, like a moving screen.
Sometimes the “one more analysis” card will fool your peers in to thinking you have high standards. But, the people who play this card rarely do the analyses, and they never write a lot.
Silvia defines any activity that moves your writing project forward–be it planning, outlining, making figures, or running analyses–as fair game for your scheduled writing time. Productive academic writing is not all about word count.
So, if you need to run another OpenSees analysis before you write about the results, run the analysis during your scheduled writing time. You can’t complain about “not finding time”. And when the simulation reaches the last time step, move on to writing.
Sticking to a schedule may not be much of a problem for graduate students with advisors who prescribe specific, weekly tasks. But if your advisor is more hands-off and gives long term deadlines, not scheduling writing time can lead to binge writing and binge OpenSeesing. If you’re an untenured faculty member, no one is telling you what to do. Delaying your writing projects can become a major problem for earning tenure.
Schedule some writing time. One hour, three days a week. Two hours, two days a week. Whatever works for you. Even if you can only squeeze in 15 minutes on manic Mondays, schedule it. You’ll plow through your manuscripts sooner rather than later.