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Week 1: getting started with 5 minutes of writing

I have been thinking about what I would write in my blog most of the week and I’m happy to be able to report some degree of success with establishing my ‘good writing habits’ - this may be partly thanks to the fact that I knew I would have to write this blog and so I needed something to actually say!

I have written for at least 2 hours each day and this has really been aided by Goodson's Exercise 3 which has you set your timer for 5 minutes of ‘generative writing’ when you start a writing session. I’ve come across this suggestion before but never tried to practice doing it every day for a week and found that it made a big difference in keeping me to my commitment of regular writing. It’s like going for a run, the hardest part is getting yourself motivated enough to actually put your shoes on and get out the door, once you’ve started though you’re usually happy to be out and want to keep going. Setting the timer for 5 minutes feels like the same thing because it forces you to start putting words on the page and it’s difficult to convince yourself that you cannot stay focused for 5 minutes. Once the timer goes off I’ve found that I’m in the ‘flow of writing’ and want to continue.

That said, I’m still working on doing Exercise 3 as Goodman recommends. You’re actually meant to do generative writing for 5 minutes (e.g. you’re not meant to edit even for typos) and then set your timer again for another 5 minutes to edit (e.g. reorganise your thoughts and delete or expand points) . This is to stop you from getting stuck trying to get the perfect sentence or wasting time with grammar when you should be getting your ideas out – again I’ve seen justification for this way of writing quite often, but I’ll need to keep practising as I definitely do sometimes feel the need to delete sentences, go back or fix typos in my first 5 minutes. Eventually you are meant to increase these times (e.g. 10 minutes of generating, 10 minute of editing, etc). Right now I’m just happy that the 5 minute timer has helped me start writing and meant I have actually written for 2 hours each day! Even better, it seems to be getting easier to start, it feels like I’m getting back into writing shape.

I’m happy to report that Exercise 3 has gotten me done with another draft of my paper, which I’ve sent to my co-authors for feedback. The paper will need another redraft because I think I still need to ‘nail the so what’ (conclusion sentences are SO hard! Anyone have any tips for how they write theirs?) but the structure and main arguments have really come together in a way previous drafts have not. For reference, this is about the 6th full draft I have written of this – by full draft I mean that I have tried to write a fairly polished paper (to approximately the required length for the journal article) and gotten quite extensive feedback from co-authors and then taken these comments into account to inform another draft. My previous publications have usually taken 6 to 10 of these types of drafts/feedback cycle (including rewriting in response to comments from reviewers).

I’ve also enjoyed doing some ‘reflective’ exercises about writing and academic life. Exercise 2 has you think about what you enjoy or dislike about writing, I found it helpful to think about what motivates me and why I like writing/research alongside strategies to overcome what stops me from writing (this exercise is described in the amazon preview of Goodson's book). I also liked this reflective activity from The Slow Academic on thinking about how you measure success.

It’s been a good week, I’ve gotten a paper drafted, caught up on a lot of reading, organised my computer files and office as well as taken the time to chat to colleagues about what they’ve been doing over the summer– yet I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve made progress because it doesn’t seem to feel that way - maybe that's why it's helpful to blog about it!

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