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If there is one book I wish I read at the beginning of my graduate studies it is Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. Although Belcher provides a detailed plan for completing and submitting an academic article, she also offers honest, useful, and more importantly, realistic advice which is applicable for other sorts of writing such as seminar papers, notes for comprehensive exams, dissertations, and even creative endeavors. Belcher acknowledges that scientific writing generally has other parameters, so she mainly addresses scholars in fields such as the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

Here are some of my favorite suggestions from the book:

  • Identify your feelings about writing.
    • Are you experiencing guilt, fear of failure, impostor syndrome? It is actually very common to have negative feelings about writing. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and even talk about them rather than repress them.
  • Prepare a realistic writing schedule.
    • Work on a writing schedule and anticipate weeks when you might not be able to write.
    • Pick a time of day that works with your other responsibilities and habits. Consider if you are a morning or an evening person before deciding on the best time to write.
    • If you cannot write at the same time every day, try to come up with a regular pattern for your schedule.
  • Make writing social.
    • Writing does not require isolation. In fact, it should be done in community. Join a writing group or attend a writing class. A good conversation about your manuscript will help you think further about your argument and will teach you how to respond to feedback and criticism.
  • Write every day.
  • Do not wait to write. Do not wait for:
    • Inspiration
    • The last minute
    • Big blocks of time.
  • Do not wait until all of your research is done to start writing.
    • It is not possible to read every book which might be related to our topic.
    • Start writing and this will help you determine what information you actually need.
    • Leave holes in your manuscript. These can be filled up later.
    • Approach writing and thinking as simultaneous tasks.
  • Persist!
    • Rejection is common, do not take it as a measure of your worth. The best writers get rejections as well, but they persist.  

Overall, Belcher’s book encourages graduates students to persevere, even when we feel we do not have the time to write. She also offers practical solutions to common internal and external obstacles. If you would like to know more about her approach or if you are interested in following her 12-week plan, you can find her book at the Hesburgh Library. (The Spanish edition is also available for online access).

Did you enjoy Belcher’s book? Do you have any more questions about it? Ask the Salmon! Submit your questions to gradlife@nd.edu or go to the Ask a Question tab at the top of this page.

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