How to Write (When you really don’t feel like it!)

Question: I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin.

Answer: Needing a bit of time to orient yourself at the beginning of a writing session is a normal part of the writing process. If you feel you’re spending too much time getting started and not enough time actually writing or if you feel overwhelmed when you sit down to write, change how you end your writing sessions.

The best time to plan the beginning of your next writing session is at the end of your current one. At the end of a productive writing session you’ve just spent a significant amount of time immersed in the project, and you’re acutely aware of what still needs to be accomplished. Take advantage of this and spend some time thinking about what you hope to accomplish during your next session before you close your laptop. Write down the following: 1) what you accomplished today 2) your next writing session (date, time, and length) and 3) your goals for your next session. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and reasonable. For dissertation writers, examples might include: edit the footnotes of chapter two, figure out how to articulate the connection between data set X and theorem Y, or outline the literature review section of chapter five. Write your goals down and place them in a visible spot in your physical or digital work space. Next time you sit down to write you’ll be able to jump back into the project seamlessly.

More generally, learning about how other academics write can help you develop strategies for overcoming your own writing obstacles. Check out Gradhacker and Profhacker. Both blogs frequently post tips and reflections on academic writing issues such as overcoming writer’s block page or developing a daily writing schedule.

If you need more personalized help with your writing, schedule an appointment with a graduate tutor at Notre Dame’s Writing Center.