Academic Writing Tips: Getting Organized

Starting today, and coming at you every Thursday, I’m going to be highlighting specific issues as it relates to teaching and mentoring at the doctoral and assistant professor level. This will include things like specific teaching techniques/issues that are aimed at teaching doctoral classes, what it means to be a mentor, and tips for writing and publishing in academia.

Today I want to discuss what it means to get organized when it comes to your writing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I have a brief video on the topic:

The important thing about being successful in your writing, regardless of what your life/job looks like, is getting organized before you start. I don’t mean writing outlines. I mean thinking through what you will be writing and when you will be doing it.

I’m talking about getting yourself scheduled.

When I was a doctoral student, my adviser showed me her calendar for a week. The calendar had things in it that you would expect such as when she had to teach classes and meetings. But she had also blocked out time for her writing. What she explained to me has stuck with me ever since. It basically goes like this….

If you’re teaching class, lets say, from 9:00-11:50 on Mondays, and someone asks you if you can meet with them at 10:00 on a Monday, what would you say? You would decline because you are teaching class. You cannot walk out of class to meet someone, and everyone gets this. Now, let’s say you have a meeting scheduled on Tuesday from 1:00-2:30, and someone wants to meet with you at 1:30. What would you say? You would say no because you already have a meeting scheduled. Everyone gets this.

But, suppose you have decided that on Wednesday you will write from 9:00-12:00 and someone wants to meet with you at 10:00. What would you say? Here’s where most people slip up and say yes. They cancel or modify their writing plan instead of looking for another time to meet.

What happens then is we start to see our writing time as something that we can cut from our schedules. However, as my adviser explained, we have to treat it as a meeting with ourselves. We wouldn’t cancel a meeting with others so why would we cancel our writing time? Our writing time is no less important even if we are working by ourselves. We have to value it and safeguard it in order to make sure our work gets done (AND we get tenure AND we keep our jobs).

That’s not to say you should never cancel or adjust your writing block. True emergencies happen. Sometimes important meetings with others do need to take precedent. In my experience, that happens (at best) once a semester but generally I’m seeing it happen once a year.

Yep. On average, I have to cancel my writing time or shorten it up once a year. Everything else seems to work itself out.

Of course this begs the question….How much should you be writing in one week? And we”ll cover that next time.

For now, work on looking at your schedule. Find chunks of time that work for you. Block it out. Get it done. And remember, even a bad writing day is better than none at all. I know, easier said that done!

See the full playlist of academic writing tips.

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