Become the master of your writing universe
We are all up against a relentless stream of competing demands when we are trying to write. These demands often seem urgent, and while they can be compelling and tantalizing, they also represent ever-present obstacles to getting our writing done. To combat this problem, and better enable yourself to achieve your writing goals, author, professor, and writing coach Kathleen P. King suggests that you become the master of your writing universe.
First, King believes it is key that you recognize that while prioritizing your urgent competing demands may seem trivial, ignoring this call is a harmful career choice in disguise. The competing demands divert your time, energy, focus, and commitment away from your writing and the achievement of your long-term career goals. Once you recognize this problem, you can work to better manage those competing demands.
Second, King recommends the use of strategic organization, tracking, and a variety of online and off-line tools to succeed in mastering your writing universe.
Academic writers don’t often have immediate deadlines or pressing due dates to meet in their writing goals, which makes it even easier to let competing demands out-prioritize writing. To combat this problem, King advises that you schedule time for research and writing and create deadlines to stay on track. In terms of scheduling, you don’t necessarily have to clear huge chunks of time; rather, be strategic and consider which writing tasks you can accomplish in smaller blocks of time and which tasks must be done in larger blocks. For example, you might schedule 30 minutes of editing or proofreading work for yourself on a particular day and then set aside 3 hours for data analysis on another day. This strategy will help you maximize your time so you don’t lose the small time slot opportunities, nor spend your only available 3-hour block of time editing at the expense of data analysis. Generally speaking, editing can easily be done in smaller time chunks throughout the week, but data analysis cannot. Over time, you will determine what works best in terms of scheduling and deadlines and learn how to more accurately estimate how long the various aspects of the writing process will take, thereby enabling you to set more realistic, self-imposed deadlines.
Another important step in the organization process involves spending time becoming knowledgeable of the journals in which you want to publish your research. This step includes understanding your target journal’s author guidelines, submission timelines, and the writing flow and style before you start writing so you won’t have to go back later to tailor your paper to the journal. In addition, King highly recommends strategically selecting three journals that are similar in regards to writing expectations so if your first choice does not accept your paper, you can more quickly and easily incorporate the recommendations provided and resubmit elsewhere.
Keeping careful track of your progress on research and writing has several benefits. It can help you stay on task, enable you to assess your progress and meet your goals, build self-accountability, and allow you to have a visual representation of your limited availability so you can delay or turn down competing demands that would derail your writing progress.
King suggests tracking the phases of each research project in your pipeline, so you know when data collection, data analysis, writing, revising, and submitting will happen. This strategy helps stagger the work for each project so you’re not overwhelmed with the intensive work of data gathering or analysis for two projects at once. Detailed tracking can also help you remember when you last submitted a paper, which journal you submitted to, and how many papers you have out at any given time so you can stay on top of your publishing goals. Through tracking, you can take control of the flexibility you have and make a plan to channel your efforts towards meeting career goals through publishing. As a professional developer and professor, King stated, “In more than 20 years working with faculty, I have found very few faculty know and track the details of their current research and writing progress. Such organization is a critical missing link in productivity.”
You might consider tracking your writing through Excel or Google Docs, or you could try one of the following options:
- Ganttpro: An easy-to-use Gantt chart program online
- Critique Circle: An online community that includes very helpful, free tools for motivation and tracking number of words written, monthly progress, and submissions
Tools to enhance collaborations
Streamline your collaborative writing projects by using digital tools. King describes writing collaboration as potentially including coauthors, co-researchers, editors, and publishers. Many writers use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word, but there are also many underutilized features in Word that can help, such as the ability to print the document with the comments showing (or even just the comments of one reviewer showing). In addition, PDF comment functions are valuable to learn and use because they are widely employed by book and journal publishers. Authors need to develop proficiency in both Word and PDF review strategies to increase productivity and quality of publications. If you are collaborating in this way, take some time to research the range of available functions that can make your coauthoring experience smoother.
There are other collaborative digital tools to consider as well, such as:
- 81 Dash: A free private chatroom for collaborators to communicate about their projects
- Diigo: A free tool that allows you to bookmark, highlight, annotate, and share sources with collaborators
These tools and strategies can help you be the master of your writing universe, enabling you to better control the demands on your time rather than allowing the demands to control you. As the master, you dictate how you will spend your time to better achieve your writing and career goals.
Kathleen P. King is Professor and Program Director of Higher Education & Policy Studies at the University of Central Florida, Orlando. Her major areas of research include transformative learning, technology innovations, leadership, faculty development, and diversity. She has published 32 volumes including Professors Guide to Mastering Digital Technology (2011), 147 Tips for Emerging Scholars (2015), and Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning (2017).