Are you stuck in your academic writing?
If you happen to be stuck in your academic writing, the good news is:
(1) You are not alone! This happens to all of us.
(2) There are remedies. Stay with me and read on.
First, ask yourself, “Why am I stuck?”
You might be stuck because you don’t know what to say.
You might be stuck because you have too much to say.
It is likely there is an element of fear like fear of getting the first sentence “just right” or fear of getting your ideas “out there”.
Once you determine why you are stuck – and it can be a combination of all of the above – it’s time to try remedies to get unstuck.
This is the fun part!
With that, let me ask you: When you sit down to write, do you warm-up?
Warming-up is important to helping you get “going” with your academic writing in a healthy and productive way.
Three of my favorite writing warm-up activities are described as follows, and they are remedies that can help you get unstuck when it comes to writing.
(1) Free write. Freewriting is literally writing everything that comes to mind without worrying about grammar or spelling or organization. The idea is to get your thoughts flowing.
You can do “unstructured freewriting” where you just write your thoughts out. Your thoughts may be, for example, a grocery list, a list of things to do, your feelings, or anything or nothing! My favorite example is to write, “I don’t know what to write” for several minutes (if that’s literally what’s on my mind!). There’s something “freeing” about writing out that mini confession.
You can do “structured freewriting” where you write your thoughts out about a specific project you are working on. Your thoughts may be, for example, a list of questions you have about your current research topic, a list of next-steps, or a super rough draft of everything you know about the topic and the things you need to learn more about.
Challenge: You may have heard of freewriting, but the trick is to actually DO it. Set a timer for 5 minutes and free write without stopping.
(2) Read About Writing. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but there is a growing wealth of really good reading about writing! A lot of it originally came from the creative writing world – and I still love reading these books – but more is coming out from the academic writing world.
Reading what others write about their own writing processes or about the writing process in general, is motivating. You might also find ideas for your writing processes, which can be great remedies for getting motivated and unstuck! As you discover them, make note of them in writing.
If you don’t know where to start and/or you’re just looking for new resources, here’s a list of some of my favorite.
Challenge: Set a timer for 5 minutes and read about writing.
(3) Copy. This might sound like a strange suggestion, but the few I know who have tried it, love it. The idea is to find a piece of “really good academic writing” – you’ll have to define what this looks like for you in your field – and literally copy it as a 5-minute warm-up.
Sounds strange? It is! Copying is a rather old idea of imitating “experts” of writing. You may not openly say “so and so is an expert of academic writing,” but you might have people in your field that have been doing this type of writing for a long time and have been doing it well. Find those people. Of course, if your aim is to publish in a specific journal or field, it’s best to find something published in that journal or field to copy.
The point is to slowly copy your chosen piece of writing. Why? So that you pay attention to how the author(s) crafted their writing. The point is not to plagiarize – this exercise is not meant to go public. The point is for you to become a “student” of great academic writing.
Challenge: Set a timer for 5 minutes and copy.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
Remember, getting stuck happens to all of us.
Getting unstuck is something you can take control of by trying out some of these remedies/strategies.
What are you waiting for? Your timer and your pen/keyboard await!
And, if you need some reinforcement, watch this fun, one minute video of me talking about these three activities.
Dr. Margarita Huerta’s passion is to help aspiring, established, and everything-in-between academics find joy, community, and success in their careers. With over 20 years of higher education experience, Dr. Huerta founded Real Academics to do just this.