Greetings, all! I hope this post finds you well.So, a few months back I asked around for advice on how to overcome the problem of thinking I can only get writing down if I have HUGE CHUNKS of time available.Then I accidentally obtained a fix, and what a fix it is! What happened was: I purchased the second edition of Rowena Murray’s book “Writing for Academic Journals” . . . just so that I could ahead-of-time be very gradually learning how get a journal article out of my thesis while I’m writing the thesis. Lo and behold! Within the Murray book is the FIX to the “I-can’t-write-unless-I-have-huge-chunks-of-time-available” problem.
The Gist of the Fix
The fix is to do what Murray refers to as “snack writing.” I qualify this and call it keepable snack writing, and define it in my own mind as “writing that you KNOW is coherently filling in its place in a draft and that can be done in 30 minutes or so.”
I know what you’re thinking: Well . . . duh! If I could do that, I would! Who wouldn’t? The problem is not in trying to DEFINE or DESCRIBE what I want to do. The problem is needing and wanting to “snack write” and not being able to do it effectively, or at all.
And here is where the marvelous wisdom of Murray comes in: Likely the reason you (or I) cannot do snack writing . . . at least KEEPABLE snack writing, is because such writing has to be well-planned for . . . via Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and sometimes Level 4 outlining and we are probably trying to write–quickly–without doing so.
Here’s what those levels of outlining are (this is my interpretation/summary of pages 122-124 of “Writing for Academic Journals” by Rowena Murray, 2nd edition):
- Level 1 outlining entails listing out the headers of the sections of the paper.
- Level 2 outlining entails planning out all SUBSECTIONS for each of the sections from Level 1 (give each subsection a descriptive name or title).
- Level 3 outlining results in a detailed plan for the paper.
- Level 4 outlining is, in my view, at the level of planning out a paragraph:
“And level 4 outlining means that you define the content of your subsections, the points to which you have allocated 100 words. For example, if you decide you want to make three points, that could be three short sentences of about 30 words each, or a long one of 60 words plus a short one of 30 words” (p. 124).
I view Level 3 outlining as noting the WORKS you will cite.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I think it is best to WAIT to do level 4 outlining JUST BEFORE you write the paragraph or group of paragraphs. Just imagine trying to do Level 4 outlining for an entire paper, up front. Eesh! No. 🙂
The Implications of Level 1, 2, 3 (and 4) Outlining for Your Writing
Murray (p. 125) says:
What are the implications of these approaches for your writing practice? If you only do level 1 outlining, you create a set of writing tasks that inevitably require large chunks of time. If you only do level 2 outlining, you still have decisions to make about content and continuity, and you will have to make those as you are writing. If, however, you have writing tasks as small as 100 words, you know you can do those in short bursts. You can more easily fit them into your busy timetable. Your writing process is more easily and coherently ‘fragmented’, in a positive sense.
How I Fared With This Process
A few weeks in to using the process, I really got it WORKING for me! I still needed larger chucks of time to do level 3 outlining (see excerpts below), but once I gradually get my level 3 outline done, then AMAZINGLY I actually had the ability to write keepable stuff in small chunks in 45 minutes or so. I usually accomplished this by doing level 4 outlining for the sub-sub-section at hand, though.
Below I share the pertinent excerpts from Rowena Murray’s book about all of this. And all of this is only a SMALL piece of advice in this excellent book. I give it 7 stars!
Excerpts are shared below. I share a photo gallery of the process on physical note cards here.
Blessings! I hope the upcoming week is amazing for you.
From pp. 125 of Rowena Murray’s “Writing for Academic Journals”
[This type of] outlining is not about word counting for its own sake; it is about you finding a way to prompt yourself to make the numerous decisions about content and order that will construct your argument. Each stage involves much more thinking than counting, but counting your words as you go is a way of keeping a check on your writing. It is safe to assume that you will not always write exactly the number of words that you set out to write. You are likely to write more or less, in unpredictable patterns. In order to keep control and focus, you need to have some way of checking that what you are writing is relevant to your paper. An added benefit—and an important motivation tool—is that as you complete each section you see yourself achieving numerous sub-goals.
. . .
Once you have designed writing tasks, get them into your timetable, diary or electronic organizer. Establish writing slots for each task: how much time will you need for each task? When will you find it? This may involve some trial and error: how much time do you need, for example, to write one of those 100-word-sub-subsections?