Academic Writing Hacks Part 1: Setting up Good Writing Habits

N.B., all the posts in this series were planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your priority at this time should be staying safe. If you happen to have time for writing, then these tips may help. If not, bookmark this and come back to it later when the world has calmed down and we have conquered this virus.

I’m aiming to write four posts in a little series titled “Academic Writing Hacks”. Hopefully it will help you to knuckle down and write that PhD/grant/paper.

When I started my PhD journey my supervisor recommended that I buy a specific book. He told me to buy my own copy because if I borrowed someone else’s that I wouldn’t ever give it back. The book was Paul J. Silvia’s “How to write a lot”. As the subtitle suggests, it is indeed a practical guide to productive academic writing.

It was a short, easy to read book that not only gave me really practical advice but was funny in places. I found myself saying “of course” and “that makes total sense” and “why did I spend money on a book with advice that was so obvious?” However, it’s nice having all that obvious and comforting advice in a single place. And also, sometimes we can get so lost in PhD writing stress, it’s nice to have someone practical and funny sit us down and gently explain things to us (in book form).

I’ve linked a few reviews here (but I thoroughly recommend you get a copy of your own):

But, in short, he tackles common barriers to writing such as

  • I don’t have the time to write!
  • I need to do more analysis/read more articles first!
  • I need a new desk/computer/nice chair before I can write
  • I need inspiration to write

He also provides motivational tools such as tracking writing (using a spreadsheet) or having small achievable goals (such as writing 200 words a day) as well as how to start a writing group (or Agraphia Group as he calls it). There are also some great tips on how to set up a writing schedule (whether it be a daily writing time or just three times a week).

Reading this at the beginning of my PhD journey really helped me to set up some good habits. Towards the end of my PhD journey I fell off the wagon and writing this blog post made me realise that I need to read this book again.

One way I love to procrastinate from writing is to look up productivity tips. It is so easy to keep reading blog post after blog post touting practical habits and excellent apps/tools to start writing. But ultimately, all you need is a small window of time and something to write on. The rest seems to be a frame of mind. Hopefully this book (and the other posts to come) will help.

Have you read this book? What other books helped you with writing?

— Alessa Teunisse

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