I hope this post finds you well. 🙂
Heads up: This is a longer post that might be better printed out.
This morning I logged into PhinisheD to post my accountability goals and give and receive encouragement and KITAs, and I encountered the following thread starter:
It’s 9am (somewhere), does your muse know where you are?
I have adopted Stephen King as my imaginary coach.Coach King says, “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic. . . . What do you do that lets your muse know you mean business?”
I took a moment to think about this: I kept dwelling on the word’s “meaning business.”
Well, after yesterday’s super productive writing session, I realize that I probably have inadvertently made my muse’s work difficult! Poor muse! 🙂 And I think I know the main issue: At some point my “writing-as-thinking” needs to solidify/congeal to “writing-as-speaking-on-paper.” If you are a writer-as-thinker type (as I guess I’ve been! Eke!), then this is only done very consciously.
Due Dates, Deadlines, and Email Requests from My Advisor Motivate a Helpful Review of My Work Habits
So, yesterday I buckled down to transition from writing-as-thinking to writing-as-speaking-on-paper, and voila!: By the end of the process, I had 1,058 honed words . . . and counting! NOTE: It helped that I was inspired by an email from my advisor requesting a draft. 🙂
As I noted above, if you are a writer-as-thinker type, then transitioning from writing-as-thinking to writing-as-speaking-on-paper requires a conscious decision. To accomplish this yesterday, I gathered my prior writing-as-thinking drafts and parsed out the best from those to hone a writing-as-speaking-on-paper draft. I did this by using Sanford Kaye’s Quick Writing Process (QWP), or rather, my version of what that process has evolved into for me. I consider the QWP to be smart, pointed, designed, fast freewriting that yields BETTER writing than plain freewriting. Details are below!
IMPORTANT: If plain freewriting works for you, don’t abandon it!!! Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken! Especially when it comes to academic writing! 😉
My Version of the Sanford Kaye Quick-Writing Process: Designed Freewriting
If you’ve designed it, can it really be considered freewriting? 🙂 I think so! You’ll have to decide for yourself. But again in my view, the QWP is basically smart, designed, free-writing that is less foofery and more pointed and thus more usable than plain freewriting. Here’s the basic method . . . or actually how it’s evolved for me over time
- Pretend like you can do no more research. You simply can’t access any more sources or data. You can’t read another thing. You can only write. You can’t even open up a PDF file to check something. You can ONLY write. Just imagine that you are on a deserted island (with plenty of food and water ;)), have no wi-fi, and are working on a type-writer. That’s right: You have no PDFs anywhere, digitally or physically!
- Further, you must submit your writing today (within the next hour or couple of hours). How you will do this on the deserted island without wi-fi is besides the point, right? 😉
- Start by making an outline of what you need to say, as quickly as possible. NOTE: I limit the whole QWP to 1 hour and give myself 10 minutes to do create this quick outline, and I just list what I think should be in the outline. No self-editing! Just write the outline out. If outline elements get written out-of-order, then no worries: I just number them correctly after: Simple. You are NOT ALLOWED to self-edit during this. If you must edit the outline, then edit it for 2 minutes MAXIMUM afterwards (by numbering outline items, crossing some items off, quickly adding an outline element you think is missing, etc.)
- Next is the quick writing: Give yourself 40 minutes to write the best draft you can in 40 minutes. Even if it’s supposed to be a full chapter, just play along with the hypothetical situation: You only have this hour, and you have already used 10-12 minutes of it! All you can do is write enough of the eventual paper so that when you submit this quick write to the powers that be, they are intrigued and say, “Okay, yes. We want to see the full version of this come to light. Yes, we see where this is going, so okay: Go ahead and produce it fully. Why, yes! Carry on! :)”
- In the remaining 8-10 minutes in the hour, print out what you’ve typed and make notes on it, such as “I need to say more here about so-and-so. This is too weak . . . need some supporting citations and/or quotes . . . etc., etc. The argument loses traction here . . .” etc.
- Finally, get an audience (often this is my accountability partner) and talk aloud from your printout and notes on it. (Kaye doesn’t include this step nor step 5 I don’t think, but I do). If you have no audience, you can record yourself (no need to go back and listen). The point of this: It is EXTREMELY hard to talk nonsensically for a sustained period of time. You kind of sort of naturally and automatically start adding more words, notions, explanations, and ideas to make it make more sense. Immediately after you do this (or while you are doing this), note the extra words you added when speaking.
- Lastly, talk to your advisor or a peer in your field about the gaps you feel remain in your knowledge-base from which to write. Explain to your advisor what info/points/support/evidence/backup from authority that you wish you had. Your advisor might say, “Oh. You need ____ (Shakespeare). He writes about _____, and that will shore up that part of your argument.”
It has gotten harder and harder for me to “psych” myself into believing I only have an hour to do the quick write. So I’ve had to get an accountability partner who contacts me and says, “I don’t have my email copy. You said it would be an hour. Just send what you have.”
I don’t allow myself to view my quick-writes as rough drafts or freewrites. This is because I have to work very pointed, psychologically, to move from writing-as-thinking to writing-as-speaking-on-paper. No: For me, these quick-writes are simply beginner’s drafts. I must begin SPEAKING on paper, and not just continue to think on paper. I like beginning (beginning is GOOD!), and thinking of quick-writing as beginning helps: No pressure. It’s just a beginning draft that may not be all that rough necessarily, and I have begun to speak, on paper. Victory. 🙂
So that’s it! I find the QWP to be an AWESOME way to get unstalled–to just get stuff down on paper so that it’s captured, but stuff that you plan to KEEP largely and that is not terribly difficult to HONE.
IMPORTANT: Again, if plain freewriting works for you, don’t abandon it!!! Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken! Especially when it comes to academic writing! 😉
On the spectrum between writing-as-thinking and write-as-speaking-on-paper, I consider the QWP to be in between the two but closer–for me–to writing-as-speaking-on-paper. It is FAR BETTER for the way my mind works than producing a stack of meandering freewrites. I can’t TELL you how many drafts of freewrites I used to collect and let stress me out as I tried to read back through them to understand what I was thinking at the time and to try to determine what, if anything, was salvageable and of quality from them. It was messy and a LOT of work.With the QWP, you know exactly what you were thinking: The quick outline spells it out.
I’ve discovered that producing 2 quick-writes for one section, and certainly no more than 3, works. If I leave a week or so between quick-writes, then usually they are sufficiently different for it to be useful for me to have produced a second quick-write.
THE KEY: The quality of a quick-write is a function of how well you have done your pre-writing tasks of annotating and note-taking. Quick-writes based on prior reading alone are hard to do. If you follow the Single Method of Academic Writing, wherein you read a work just 3 times and by the end have cite-able notes, the information is in your head sufficiently to be under your command. And if it’s in your head sufficiently to be under your command, then you can quick write!
So what about you?: Do you find that you get stalled if you don’t separate your thinking-writing from your speaking-on-paper writing? In what ways do you separate the two? Have you been able to make plain freewriting work well for you? Please share your thoughts!