Prioritizing Writing

At this point in the semester, I am surrounded by individuals trying to ride out the wave of work that surges through a semester.  The most important task is the one that is due next, and those long term projects are put off until it is too close to really give them the time they deserve.  For example, learning science and doing science are important, but so is communicating it.  Between courses, exams, teaching, lab work, mentoring, family and other commitments, how do grad students find time for writing?  One of my greatest struggles is determining where in the “To do” list to prioritize this long term task.

While it may seem like this is something that would come at the end of a large study or after a great deal of research/reading, I recently read a book that convinced me otherwise.  The book, How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva, is a fast read that discusses how to be successful in writing more consistently and productively.  There are some specific tips about writing articles v books, but the main points are

  1.  Set aside time dedicated to writing and all of its associated tasks
  2. Commit to and defend  this time

To learn more about the author’s suggestions, I suggest borrowing the book from the library or purchasing it.  This book has totally changed my perspective on writing.  While I understand that writing and preparing presentations of my work is just as important as reading background information and working in the lab, I have not been dividing my time accordingly.  Now, I am taking the authors suggestion and planning a few hours every week, on my calendar, just for writing.

So far this strategy has allowed me to more efficiently organize my thoughts and make progress writing emails, blog posts and my dissertation proposal.  I know that writing is viewed differently between humanities and sciences, but this point is relevant for any field.  So, I am eager for others to comment on their own trials and successes with writing productively.

What do you do to prioritize writing?

5 thoughts on “Prioritizing Writing”

  1. This is very relevant to me – thank you Melissa. I was told the real writing happens in the editing stages so it is best just to get something on paper – this is helpful for me because I am a perfectionist when it comes to finding the right phrase.

    1. Kenneth, I totally relate and have trouble just getting words down. It does help for me so far though. Always time to tweak it later. But I shouldn’t be stopping myself before I start! Hope it is still going well for you!

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation. I can easily write about my trials and failures with writing. I haven’t been able to find time to set aside as my teaching schedule and my current experiment loads requires changing samples every 10 or 15 minutes, which makes it tough to get any momentum. Even if I find some down time from grading or experiments, if I’m in the office with other people working, I inevitably get distracted by questions or noise, or even worse, the Internet.

    I will say that writing about the results/discussion section has been the easiest part for me, it was the literature review and background that was so tedious to me. I set page goals for me each day with working on that and it was the only thing I could do to help motivate me. I had to find a quiet space, often in the library to really focus, but I think it’s finally finished.

  3. I think the biggest thing that has helped me with writing is knowing where I can focus best to write, and making a conscious effort to spend time there. So instead of carving out space in my schedule to write, I have generally focused more on preserving a physical space where I am productive. I’ve also found that writing goals help a lot too, even if they are only small ones. I’m at the stage where I’m basically writing full-time now, but it’s still tempting to push it to the side and focus on my job search or teaching. To make writing a priority I’ll plan ahead for writing time (with buffer time for any interruptions), get my favourite writing/study snacks (currently cinnamon tea and chocolate chip cookies), and go to one of the places where I get a lot of stuff done (usually somewhere that’s not my lab or house).

    1. Shanique, This is a great point! Having a space or ritual to get you into the mode can greatly aid focus. I love your study snack plan. Little rewards go a long way in maintaining motivation and creativity!

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