Writing vs. Working

Topsail Beach

I'm on vacation this week with my extended family, and having a great time playing in the surf with the boys and hanging out with in-laws of every type. I also have a couple of writing projects that are—ahem—overdue by a little bit—and so I feel like I should be working while I'm here.

Well, I'm not working. However, I am writing. Let me explain.

In the last few weeks, I read a handful of books about writing as a practice and a discipline, hoping to translate new ideas for projects into a plan and a schedule. One book that was really helpful is by Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. They have many great ideas, but I was particularly interested in their advice about writing structured abstracts as a way to formulate a paper from the start.

Another book that was helpful is Rowena Murray's Writing for Academic Journals, which emphasizes the importance of outlining and "free-writing" exercises to break through inertia and find one's way through a paper. Between these two, I have a better grasp on the process of creating something good through cumulative effort and iteration.

Finally, I read Paul Silva's How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Silva's emphasis is on writing regularly, every day, as a practice. He suggests that if you break your writing down into smaller tasks (cf. Murray), and set realistic and regular goals for completing those tasks, you can write much more productively than a "binge" writer.

Many academics tend toward the "binge writing" end of the spectrum, with me the worst of them all. These books have helped me clarify what it is that I'm doing when I sit down at the keyboard. Rather than completing a task of drudgery, I am thinking in written form. Rather than saying "I'm going to write an article by working all damn day," I say, "I am going to spend 20 minutes before breakfast outlining this next part" or "I am going to take an hour in the evening to write these 500 words." This may not seem like much of a shift, but it is.

I am actually enjoying my writing these days. I'm not working, I'm just doing what I do. I am learning new things and seeing progress. And so I do not mind spending a few vacation hours in Scrivener. Don't mind me; I'm just writing.