Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo

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The 5 Week Regular Writing Challenge

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A person typing on a laptop at a small table in an empty room.Graduate students, I know that many of you legitimately think you do your best writing as a last-minute and/or a Binge Writer. And I will confess, that may be the case; however, can you really know whether or not you are more effective and efficient as a regular writer with out sincerely trying to regularly write? Check out the “weird writing habits of famous authors.” Although they have their quirks, most of them also write regularly!

This post is my challenge to you! I want you to be successful in whatever you do; but, most importantly, I want you to finish graduate school. My challenge: spend five weeks writing regularly. Don’t wait for a good time to start, start now! If you have a vacation week already planned, just plan to skip over that week, otherwise, write through the rest. Hard week at work, still write (I wrote through finals week)! Commit to writing at least one, I’d argue 1.5-2 hours, 4-5 times a week.

For my first three weeks, I had to write first thing in the morning (that’s when I think best). Writing first thing in the morning also means you get it done and life can’t “happen” and impinge on your writing for the day. Writing early also might mean you get up early enough to have the house to yourself (writing without distractions). Once I got writing, however, I could easily get writing done later in the day. I will confess, each time I start a new project, it is difficult to reboot and I usually have to go back to writing in the morning. Check out these quick tips for “rebooting a writing habit” for some other ideas to help get (re)started.

Those of you who have projects that need writing up (dissertations, write-up of studies and/or revision of course papers,etc.) it will probably be easy to identify your first project with which to start. However, many of you might not have writing immediately needing completion. In How to Write a Lot, Silva also suggests having a list of the writing projects you want to get done. I’ve got this going in a couple of ways:

  1. I have a five year plan I keep in spreadsheet (for each page, 12 months across the top and 31 rows). This includes things like my annual review dates and tenure clock, conference proposal and grant deadlines, as well as dates when I want to submit specific pieces of writing.
  2. I have a one page document with all the pieces of writing I want to publish (in many cases multiple pieces per project I’m working on). On that same sheet I have my short term writing goals and a list of what is in the pipeline (proposals out for review, articles/chapters out for review, etc.).

Although I will definitely not complete everything in these documents in the timeline I’ve set up, they keep me moving forward! So before, or maybe as the last 30 minutes of your first day of writing, make your list of the writing projects you want and/or need to get done. This list will also provide what you immediately move on to next when you finish something (or are waiting for comments from your committee). If you really don’t have anything, commit to writing robust annotated bibliography entries (think EndNote or Zotero entries) of works you’ve already read and/or read and take notes of work you know you’ll use in future writing.

Finally, it is OK to have some days were you do not write. You may spend a two-hour slot copyediting, formatting, or putting in citations. You may spend 3-4 days in a row reading and taking robust notes for the next section of writing. Do, however, make sure whatever work you are doing in your 1.5-2 hour slot is directly supporting writing. For example, I’m working on projects that will eventually be written up; however, they are not yet at that phase. I will not work on those projects in my 1.5-2 hours of writing.

I sincerely hope you take me up on this challenge. I’m happy to chat with you and be a cheer leader and/or motivator, I’m happy to share the various tracking and listing documents, I’m happy to talk with you about what projects you are working on…I’m happy to do any of that and more as long as you are writing regularly!

Other tips, resources, and motivators to help get started:

CC licensed image posted at Flickr by Phillip Kalantzis Cope

UPDATED 6/16/13: An annotated image of the spreadsheet I use to track my writing

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