9 Proven strategies to help you stop procrastinating and write your manuscript
In her recent TAA webinar, “Beyond the Blank Page: 9 Proven Strategies to Help You Stop Procrastinating and Write Your Manuscript”, Mary Beth Averill shared nine strategies for moving beyond the blank page. These strategies are proven techniques for breaking out of your procrastination trap and turning your paper from idea to written manuscript.
Strategy #1 – Start with a clear, concise statement of purpose
According to Averill, “The most important part of your dissertation or any other piece of writing is a clearly articulated, well thought out, statement of purpose in one succinct sentence.” She adds that this statement makes it easier to communicate with others about the project and to maintain focus while working on the project.
To keep the project and purpose in mind throughout the day, Averill suggests posting it near your computer and in other places where you will see it regularly as a reminder of why your project is important.
Strategy #2 – Break your project into small, doable steps
If writing a dissertation, Averill notes that it is natural to break this type of project into chapters. Acknowledging that “even a chapter of writing a dissertation can feel overwhelming”, Averill suggests to “break your chapter into sections of three to five double-spaced pages each”. By writing more manageable sized pieces of the paper, the task is easier to complete, and transitions can be added between the section drafts to build the larger document.
Averill also says, “Don’t forget to provide your readers with a road map to your manuscript.” Use the introduction to clarify the complete presentation of your argument. This can be written first and used to guide the writing process, or the statement of purpose can be used as a focal point while writing and the introduction can be written afterwards as a guide to how the information flows. Averill cautions that “if you do start with the introduction, be sure to review and tweak it after you’ve written the rest of your manuscript.”
Strategy #3 – Make a topic sentence outline to keep track of your argument and to assess the flow of your ideas
The topic sentence in each paragraph should be clear and general. Oftentimes this is the first sentence of a paragraph but is not always the case. Averill suggests, “If you like to write from an outline, make your bullet points topic sentences for the paragraphs.” Alternatively, “If you are more comfortable free writing…read through what you have written and divide it into paragraphs by ideas.” Topic sentence outlines can be written after the manuscript by reducing it to a list of ideas in an effort to evaluate the flow and to verify that each paragraph has one and only one topic sentence.
Strategy #4 – Develop a daily writing schedule and stick to it
Based on more than 30 years of experience as a writing coach, Averill recommends “that you do something connected with your writing project every day”, but also notes that “how you structure your time and tasks will depend on the writing project and what else is going on in your life”.
For best results, Averill says to “pay yourself first”. In other words, for most people, writing at the beginning of day is most effective at maintaining creative energy. She adds that if you see writing as a burden, “eat the frog first”, and consider getting the writing done early when energy may be at a peak. She does acknowledge that some people are more creative in the evening, but unless you identify with that time of productivity, she suggests working on the creative part of your writing early in the day.
Strategy #5 – Use a writing journal
Averill says that “a writing journal is the place to keep track of your daily writing habits.” She recommends keeping track of both parts of your writing habits – process and product. Averill shares the following three reasons for keeping a writing journal.
- You can begin immediately by writing, not thinking each time you sit down to write.
- It is a measurable way to keep track of what you are actually getting done.
- A writing journal helps break a big project down into smaller more manageable pieces.
Strategy #6 – Consider what will sustain you as a writer
According to Averill, “this step has two parts. One of them is coming to see yourself as a writer. And the second part is thinking about what will sustain you.” Instead of approaching a writing project as a project or chore, think of yourself as a writer who is engaged in a creative process.
Averill says, “Figuring out what will sustain you in your writing is closely tied to seeing yourself as a writer.” Identify when you have good writing sessions and what makes those sessions flow to help identify those writing rituals that will sustain your writing practice.
Strategy #7 – Learn when to edit, and when not to
“Writing and editing are different activities and require different skill sets”, says Averill. It is common for academic writers to try to edit each sentence as they write. This can slow down the writing process. Averill suggests waiting until you have a large amount of text written before editing. At that point, edit only for flow and lager content related issues. Save the micro-editing (grammar, spelling, etc.) for later editing tasks. You may also want to consider separating writing and editing sessions with a non-writing related activity.
Strategy #8 – Reward yourself at every step
Averill says, “this is important because recognizing your accomplishments is motivating”. Don’t wait until the project is done to reward yourself. Find ways to reward yourself throughout the process. This may be a simple acknowledgement of word count each day or tangible rewards like reading time, permission to engage in fun activities, or other items of value to you as an individual.
When faced with questions about finishing your book or dissertation, instead of feeling guilty or ashamed by the lack of completion of the larger task, consider having a prepared response that acknowledges your recent smaller accomplishments.
Strategy #9 – Get support to get your writing done
The support of “Shut Up and Write” writing groups can help motivate you to complete your writing by providing “a place and a scheduled time to write on a regular basis”. Coauthors can also be a source of support by having someone to work with and to be held accountable to throughout the writing process.
By following these steps, your writing gets done. Consider as a result the following question posed by Averill during the webinar, “What will you do in the next week to get on track and stay there?”