Academics, Productivity, Thesis

How to Develop a Strategic Writing Plan

A routine to reach a deeper state of mind.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

I recently read an article where writers’ daily routines were romanticized albeit with useful information. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami spoke to the importance of a routine:

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

I tie this idea of repetition in a routine with a recent graduate student workshop I attended on how to develop a strategic writing plan. Here is a list of the current and developing practices that make up my writing routine.

Write every day.

The author Anaïs Nin simply stated, “I write every day.”

There has been much research conducted on the positive effects of writing every day in academia, including that of psychologist Robert Boice. As a pre-candidate, I aim to develop a strategic writing plan that includes solidly writing every day by the time I start my dissertation. That is why in my first year, I am dedicated to writing every day. I learned to start with 15 minutes and have worked up to 30 minutes every day with an ultimate goal of reaching an hour by the end of the academic year. I like to think broadly of writing to include brainstorming, reading, outlining, and synthesizing, but I have restructured my plan to write every day to focus on word count, so that means I am truly writing. There are many apps (Focus Keeper, Block & Flow, 30/30) that can help with this timed writing session. I also have been exploring more sophisticated options for time and project management such as Rescue Time and Liquid Planner (which is free to .edu emails). Some days I am writing for papers and projects, other days it’s a manuscript I am working on, and often I write for me in what I call my “Spark Files,” where I track ideas and inspiration in my academic career. I am currently writing 300-500 words a day in 30 minutes. By the end of the year, I aim to be writing for a solid hour for twice that amount.

Warm up with writing prompts. I start each writing session with a writing prompt for three minutes where I write continuously for the whole duration. I alternate between writing by hand and typing in a saved file of writing prompts. As the writer Natalie Goldberg instructed, keep your hand moving. If there is a moment where I have a blank thought and a pause, I came up with the phrase “Keep writing!” where I write that over and over again until my inspiration comes back. I encourage you to come up with your own filler phrase. I write for the full three minutes. I find my prompts online, through this great book of things to write about, and from an app on my phone, Brainsparker, that includes thought provoking prompts like “What is your soul calling you to do?” and even pictures that are incredibly moving to write about.

Broaden your perspective on ways to write. When I get what I call “typing fatigue” and I am not very productive in my writing process, I switch things up. I handwrite sections. I use colorful Post-It notes to organize frameworks and outlines. One new alternative that I have explored and loved this year is dictation. I currently use the Google Docs voice typing tool to transcribe my thoughts. If this method works out, I want to look into investing in options such as Dragon Dictation. Similarly, I pull out my phone and create a voice memo transitioning between meetings and classes when I have a thought that can shape my writing. I also invested in a powerful writing software that allows for more fluidity when I am working on big projects such as a final paper, manuscript, or thesis. There is more than one way to write, so make sure you explore all options and alternate between those that work best for you.

Write fast now, edit slow later. In meeting my word count goals, I am also focused on writing fast now, and editing slow later, a concept developed by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters. Writing is capturing ideas on paper. Editing is sculpting to express ideas effectively by scrutinizing, moving, removing, and transforming materials. You maximize your writing time when you separate the writing and editing as two processes. If you don’t believe me, try this quick exercise. Pull out your phone to time yourself as you say the alphabet out loud. Now, time yourself again as you alternate between a letter and a consecutive number (A 1 B 2 C 3). It will take you twice if not three times as long to get to “Z 26.” Separating writing and editing was a tough concept for someone like me to learn who loves to edit as I write (it satisfies the perfectionist in me!). Now, I turn off my spell and grammar checker and am focused only on getting the next word out. When I first started this concept, I taped a blank piece of paper over my screen to focus on writing. This was an excruciating experience, but I learned to write fast. I schedule in time to edit separately. My writing time is much more effective.

Protect your writing time. A previous GradHacker post outlined strategies to keep focused while writing your dissertation including identifying your most productive time during the day for writing using heat mapping. A good practice to get into is to schedule your writing time when you are the most productive and protect that time. Do not schedule anything during your writing time. Treat it as an important appointment you cannot miss or reschedule. I am the most productive in the morning. Since I am still taking courses, I enroll for classes in the afternoon or evenings and I schedule meetings during that time as well to protect my mornings. In this practice, an important concept to keep in mind is flexibility. There may be a class that is only offered in the morning, so I have to be prepared that semester to make adjustments. I protect my writing time on the weekends as well. For example, I will wake up earlier to write if I have a Sunday brunch scheduled. Protecting my writing time is a daily practice.

And so, I leave you with this quote from Oscar Wilde:

“This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.”

I have certainly been there. I know how arduous the writing process can be. However, with a steady and consistent routine, I can indeed work myself into a mesmerized state of productivity because I have reached a deeper state of mind through a strategic writing plan.

What is your current writing routine? What would you like to incorporate into a strategic writing plan?

This post was originally posted on Inside Higher Ed’s GradHacker.

[Image by Pexels user Natalie B and used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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