Saturday, December 13, 2014

My (Almost) Daily Writing Practice: What I Have Learned So Far

My morning: caffé, reflecting, blogging.
by Ann Abbott

This semester I finally found what I had been looking for: a write-on-site group.

I write quite a bit already. I've published articles and two textbooks. I count my blogging as writing, even if it might not count in the university's eyes.

I know how to write. Sure, I can always improve and benefit from constructive criticism, but I knew I didn't need a writing coach to tell me how to write and to critique what I wrote. It's taken me many years, but I think I know a lot about the writing process, my particular writing process, and even what the final written product should be like. I didn't need a writing coach.

You can hire a writing nag, too. They keep you accountable, keep you on schedule. Yes, in a way I needed help staying on a timeline, meeting deadlines. But it wasn't that I didn't meet deadlines because I didn't have someone nagging me. In fact, I don't want anyone nagging me.

I wanted camaraderie. I wanted to look forward to writing sessions because of the people. I wanted to not feel alone and lonely at the keyboard. I wanted to know that if I didn't keep my writing appointment, someone would know. Someone would care.

And this semester I found it! I have been meeting with my friends and colleagues Glen Goodman and Dara Goldman. I like seeing their smiling faces on Skype at the appointed hour. I miss them on the rare occasion when they can't make it. (And I am not as productive on my own.) It has worked so well that I have written and submitted two article/chapter manuscripts this semester. I'm working on the third.

Here are some of my reflections about this new way (for me) of approaching daily writing. I wrote these thoughts on a recent flight, in the little notebook I keep in my purse (in the photo above).

It takes longer than you imagine to write an article or chapter, even when you already know it takes longer than you imagine.

Plan better, I told myself. Plan differently. Map out carefully what you have to write, what parts need research (which takes extra time), and how much you can actually accomplish in a writing session.

Leave plenty of wiggle room for thinking days, brainstorming days, reading days.

They are necessary. First, sometimes your brain needs to work in a different mode. Secondly, those days can relieve some of the pressure. I have to write! Write, write, write! Well, actually, no. Today I just have to list. Today I can work on writing up the bibliography in the correct style. Today I am going to just write a very detailed outline of this section. This subsection. This paragraph. That's easy. Those days are necessary escape valves.

Ask for help.

Glen helps me, of course. Just keeping these appointments (11:00-12:00 every work day) with me is a huge help. He sends me emails that are encouraging with a touch of prodding. Those help. I want to ask Darcy to comment on my title. Just the title. In other words: be specific about help I need. I don't really need much read-and-critique help at this moment. But I do need moral support. I need positive feedback, aka praise. (Yes, I do.) I need someone who will celebrate the big and small successes with me. I have to ask for those things when I need them. 

There comes a crunch time.

There comes a time when you have to push, push hard to finish and turn it in. You have to do that. Push all aside so you can push the writing. Writing an hour each day will get you far. But you need to push once in a while and always (maybe always?) at the end.

It's really, really good to map your article onto word count limits before you start writing.

It's a great idea because you will know how much you can or can't cover. You are forced to decide if you want to go broad or deep (fewer subsections but more detailed analysis).

You can change your map.

In my push to finish the Global Business Languages article manuscript, I looked at my original outline and eliminated one subsection and combined two others. That meant that there were things I left unsaid, unwritten, but I finished. I submitted. And my main ideas will be shared (hopefully) with the world.

What's your writing practice? What are your reflections on writing? Do you have a write-on-site group?

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