Monthly Archives: October 2012

When 500 words a day is not enough…

I’ve reached a point in the writing of an article when all the words are basically on the page thanks to writing more or less 500 words a day. Now I have to re-arrange paragraphs, work on sentences, fret over whether this quote works, and whether I have explained enough. It’s a good place to be in, but my new problem becomes how to benchmark progress when all the words are on the page. I keep returning to the same paragraphs and re-reading the same sentences. I think I’m going to try amstr’s method that she posted here. Go read it for yourself, but Amstr suggests reading through the paper and writing on the back of the pages what needs done. Then that makes it easier to cross off tasks in moving towards the final draft. That should satisfy my need to document progress and cross tasks out on a to-do list. This is why I love talking to other academics about writing, either virtually or in person, because someone always has a method that just might work.

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My Academic Life

I share an office with a faculty member who is currently on leave. Two days ago I was sitting in the office and s/he came in and said “It’s so nice to meet you,” s/he said. “How is everything going here for you?” S/he just came in for a minute and started to ruffle through some papers and books on the shelf.

I said everything’s fine and I liked it there so far. Then s/he said, “Well the library alone makes is worth it to be here. It has so many resources.” I said, “I know, the library has everything.”

Then, s/he paused, turned to me and said, “well not everything. But I’m sure if they don’t have it they can get it for you.”

Academic lesson #5341 I learned: Never be too enthusiastic or offer too much praise about anything. Always be critical, even in small talk.

Write On Site

A lot of my facebook friends who are academics constantly post that they are going to a “write on site” event in their city or university. I went to one of these last Friday here at Post doc university and found the experience to be so so. There were people there writing, but I didn’t know any of them. The pro was that there seemed to be no internet. I don’t know if the lack of internet was due to my technological ineptitude or the actual absence of it, but I must say, that part was genius.

Writing Advice from an Unlikely Source

In the Sunday New York Times from yesterday Oct. 7 I read an article in the Sunday Business section about productivity and hours worked. You can find it here. I thought the writer raised some interested questions about how an eight hour work day can actually limit productivity by putting emphasis on being in the office rather then meeting specific benchmarks. I’m not teaching this semester, but having the whole day to work is killing me. I always feel like I should get more done, even though I do work steadily everyday. I’m trying to think about productivity through meeting goals rather than hours worked. So I didn’t beat myself up today when I sat down and watched TV for an hour and a half this morning. Anyway, to that end I have made a semester plan and I’m working to meet my goals. I did like the writing advice offered in the column and I thought it was worthwhile to share it here:

WRITE FASTER Even if you need to create A-plus work for a project, it needn’t be perfect right off the bat. When some people sit down to write a long memo, they insist on perfecting each sentence before moving to the next one. They want to complete all the stages of the writing process at the same time — a most difficult task. In my experience, this leads to very slow writing.

A better approach separates the main steps in the writing process. First, compose an outline for what you are going to say, and in what order. Then write a rough draft, knowing it will be highly imperfect. Then go back over your work and revise as needed. This is the time to perfect the phrasing of those sentences.

In general, don’t waste your time creating A-plus work when B-plus is good enough. Use the extra time to create A-plus work where it matters most.

I normally don’t read the business section of the New York Times, but I’m glad I stumbled upon this yesterday. Now I can get on with the business of writing.

The 500 words that changed my writing life

For some reason I like when the first of the month falls on a Monday. This seems like a great opportunity for a fresh start. It’s like new years but without all the baggage. I have gotten back on the writing horse with 500 words a day. I got out of the habit of writing 500 words a day, even though that strategy got me through my dissertation. My goal is to write at least 500 words everyday this week on this article I’m working on. Today I managed 522 words.

Other people have asked me how I do my 500 words so I thought I would share it here:
Routine for writing 500 words a day

  1. Before I start writing I write down the word count and add 500 to it so that I can see my target number of words
  2. I write  – some days are easier than others. Some days it’s like pulling teeth to get to 500 and on others I just sail there in an hour or less. I can’t always predict what days will be what. It depends on my mood, the material, if I have an idea or not, and if I know where I’m going.
  3. I write 500 words for 5 or 6 days a week
  4. If I write more than 500 words on one day that does not subtract from the words I can write on the next day. Also, I cannot write less than 500 words, but if I do, the missing words do not accumulate to the next day. (For me I write so incrementally b/c the idea of having to produce a massive amount on one day overwhelms me. So it would be counterproductive to let my words accumulate to a later date)

I like writing 500 words because I need to be able to quantify my productivity with words on the page. I tried working for an hour a day or some specific time period and I would just not write for 2 hours. I would stare at the computer screen. So I had to start counting words. I like knowing that I can realistically write 10,000 words a month and knowing that helps me to plan what I can get done. I feel a little bit like an infomercial. Just send cash or money order to living academically if you found this advice helpful. 500 words a day changed my life, and for just $9.99 it can change yours too!