I have been to a few rather useful workshops in the last couple of weeks about time management, organisational skills, and writing in general. Last night there was also a rather enlightening conversation on #acwri about the worst advice you can be given in regards to writing. So this morning I though it would be useful to reflect upon something I have been doing lately in regards to my academic writing that has helped me (so far, fingers crossed) in keeping “the ball rolling”.

A few weeks ago, I had a small writing crisis. In hindsight, it was probably a bit of a hissy fit for being unable to write when I had set time to do so. Monday evenings I have a “long” block of time (from about 5 until 8) to do research as my wife is on an evening course. In those three hours, I have time to think and write, as painfully slowly as I want to. However, on that particular occasion, I was really stuck. I wrote about 10 words in 3 hours. I kept staring at the screen as if my mind was going to write the words for me. I gave up and went home and cried inconsolably to my wife with this whole “Oh I am such a failure!” nonsensical reasoning.

Her help made me get a grip of myself and move on. It was great to feel so terrible then, because in the last few weeks my writing has improved and considerably sped up. And it’s because I have been using handwriting. The same way that some people are scared of staring at a blank Word doc, my problem was (or is) that I already have a certain amount of words written on the document. I needed to pick up a place to start writing, and forget about everything else. But I could not find that particular place to start whilst staring at the screen.

Instead, I decided to print off a few pages of my chapter, and read through it superficially. I soon found something I did not like and wanted to change. I switched off the computer, looked at the printed doc, opened my notebook and just started scribbling down some notes. Those notes turned into fully formed sentences. Then they were paragraphs. Without noticing, in about 10 minutes I had sort of handwritten about a notebook page worth of content.

I did this consistently for a few days (or snack writing bits, really, but that is a post for another time). I have very limited time as a Mongrel, so I would just open my notebook, see where I had left off, and continue writing. I didn’t need much time, or much inspiration: just jotted down whatever I felt I needed to say in the next little bit of my chapter. One of the down sides of this is that then you need to type up a lot. It incorporates an additional level of useless work you could have avoided by free writing directly on a document, and it really chomps away time. The good thing is that it allows for another layer of editing before the words hit the document. So I ensure that I have looked at those words at least twice before putting them on a page. They have gone through the quality control process. And to be honest, whenever I find it really hard to write, all I need to do is start typing a particular bit… all of a sudden ideas mushroom pretty quickly, and I can go back to productive writing (at times on a Word doc, other times on paper).

The other great thing I found out about handwriting is that it helps me think at my own pace. The idea you can read over and over again is that writing helps your thinking, and indeed it is your thinking, just put into paper. Writing channels out the ideas and helps you modify them accordingly. Now, I can type fairly fast. I suppose I could say I can think really fast as well, although that is not always the case. The point is that, sometimes, I need a half a second more to make sure I know what I want to say. Typing is not very forgiving in this sense – because you can tell exactly how slowly you are typing from your normal typing speed. I have figured out that, when generating ideas in academic writing, my brain works at the same speed as the hand writes. And that is fantastic because at times I struggle to see the end of the sentence. I can also see the full sentence as it is being written and I can tell if I am subordinating too much, or going a bit ‘Spanish’ about paragraphs. Things that, you could argue, you could also do in Word. I can still visualize paragraph structure a bit better when I can scribble over things I don’t like and things that are good. It has given me a new dimension to #acwri.

This new writing situation has caused havoc in my notepad, and I have gone from using about 50 pages in four or five months to 50 pages in about four weeks. The notepad has become so confusing I have now had to devise some colour coding (green for notes to self, blue for notes from a book or quotes, black for my chapter writing) in order to make sense out of it. But on the flip side, it has become a highly successful method, and I have now surpassed the 12,000 word mark (this morning) with around 4,000 of those words coming from thoughts originally jotted down on my notepad. As much as 4,000 words in 4 weeks does not seem like a great amount, it is better than the daunting feeling of not really knowing where I am going or worst still, not writing anything.

I suppose when I was reading about bad writing advice on #acwri, the worst advice I could think of, in the end, was not writing at all. There is no worse place to be than when the ball gets stuck. Handwriting allows me to keep it rolling and physically see my progress (which at times is complex when you are putting words onto a Word doc).

This is my new secret weapon, and I won’t hesitate to use it.


jjiijfeeling stuck and procrastinating about it.

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