This post is by Associate Professor Evonne Miller, Interim Director of QUT Design Lab, Queensland University of Technology (and one half of the Supervision Whisperers editorial team).
Are you or your thesis students struggling to ‘find the time’ to write?
In Helen Sword’s latest book^, she destroys the myth that there is ONLY one way to write – that writing regularly, for 1-2 hrs every day, is the best or only way to write well as an academic. Instead, in facing the reality of busy life as a busy academic and thesis students, she argues we can create more time to write if we try four strategies… that I have labelled the ‘4 Rs’: Routine, Remix, Rebel, Read.
1. Routine: the majority of books on becoming a productive academic writer emphasise the value of routine, that scheduling time for writing and ‘writing hours’ is a critical component. There is no doubt that a regular writing routine can help, but it is not the only strategy that works.
2. Re-mix: this is an interesting idea that emphasises the value of experimentation, of mixing things up – of trialing (and reflecting on) how you felt and how productive you with writing at different times through the day (morning, afternoon, night), as well as with different tasks – planning, reading, thinking, brainstorming. Think about place too: are you someone who must work in your office or prefers a cafe, a shut up and write group, or the simplicity of a simple routine – writing first thing every day. Experiment.
3. Rebel: Sword encourages us to ‘write at a time that feels wrong’ (p28), proposing trying an hour or two on a busy teaching day or a family holiday, or maybe on your iPad on the couch when the kids are watching cartoons (the last is my suggestion; it is how this and most of my blog posts are written, so excuse the typos!). She encourages us to reflect on how that felt – and whether ‘sneaking’ that hour was more productive than scheduled writing time. The notion of what I have labelled ‘rebelling’ resonated most with me – a way to ‘harness subversive energy into your everyday writing life‘ (p30, 2017).
4. Read: Finally, seek help.
If ‘finding’ time to write is proving challenging, then you need to really unpack what is going on and work on those issues. Sword recommends doing some reading on the writing process – where it is a book, blog or utube videos, engage in some research to motivate and help planning a productive new writing life. My favourite book on her list is from psychologist Paul Silvia (‘How to write a lot’) , so maybe start by checking that out.
So – thinking about these ‘4 Rs’ of Routine, Remix, Rebel, Read – could we all collaboratively set two writing challenges this month? (so that we can end 2017 feeling our writing has improved!). First, lets critically reflect on our own writing practice and identify one way that could be improved – and take action on that. Second, when meeting with our thesis students, initiate a conversation about their writing practices and challenge them to explore one of these four Rs. Maybe reading a writing book, like Helen Sword’s, might be a productive first step.
Image is of a snowman with a carrot nose, from a friend’s house in Queenstown in New Zealand – be a rebel, like that snowman, and write while in weird places!
^ Helen Sword (2017). Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write. Harvard University Press. How do successful academics write, and where do they find the “air and light and time and space,” in the words of poet Charles Bukowski, to get their writing done? Grounded in empirical research and focused on sustainable change, Air & Light & Time & Space offers faculty, research fellows, and students a customizable blueprint for refreshing their personal habits and creating a collegial environment where all writers can flourish.( In my view, worth reading – and most university libraries will have an e-copy, which is how I read mine – on the iPad, on the couch, one weekend day).