In September last year, I started some new writing groups. Even though my role is facilitator and training, I have learned a lot about writing itself. Here are 11 ideas that came to mind:
- Writing is annoying and rewarding.
- Writing shared is writing halved.
- Ignore the basics.
- Set up for success.
- Share your progress.
- Imagine you’re being paid.
- Aesthetics matters.
- Social media is a gateway to more writing.
- Regular writing will help your career.
- Writing never ends.
Over the last 6 months or so, I have been running writing groups and I’ve learned a few different things more than what I expected. Particularly given that I’m whatever you might call the facilitator or the trainer. So, here are 11 things that I’ve learned from facilitating a writing group over the last 6 months.
The first is writing is both annoying and rewarding. So, obviously the people that join the writing group are interested in improving their writing, and certainly for most people they find it annoying. But getting over the hump of that annoyance and getting into writing is so so so rewarding. So, if you’re interested in getting better at writing, one of the things you’ll have to do is have your action proceed your motivation. You’ll have to get comfortable with writing, start writing first, and then the reward of writing will come after. I guess in some respects it’s a bit like cleaning in that you can spend some. You don’t want to do cleaning but when the surface is clean, it feels really good, and the same often happens with writing. So, writing is both frustrating and rewarding.
The next thing is writing shared is writing hard. So obviously, no one else can do your writing, but writing as a group particularly in a pomodoro style session even if you’re sitting in silence and writing for a pomodoro can be really useful for motivation. So, in fact, some of the people that are in my writing groups go on and create their own little pomodoro sessions outside the groups, and as a way of building on the work that we’ve done on a weekly basis.
The next thing is to ignore the basics. So, if you are struggling with writing, struggling with motivation, one of the things that can happen for scientific writing is to you get fixated on writing in a particular style. Or using a particular form of words. Or particular phrases. Or sentence structure. Or long sentences. So, forget all of that. If you need to forget good spelling, forget good grammar. Perhaps even talk it out. But the whole idea is to forget the basics just write what you think should be written, and then go back and fix it up later. It’s much better to get some make some progress with writing. Particularly, given what I said about the start that some people find it really hard to write. So yeah, forget the basics, and get on with writing.
I’ve also seen, the next item number 4 is set up for success. So set your space up for success. I’d rather see people have a temporary typing space in the kitchen for example, than constantly leave their computer in the kitchen. It just ends up creating an issue where it’s really hard to distinguish between when you’re riding, when you’re not riding, when you’re working, when you’re eating, etc. So, set your space up for success. Set up maybe a small little desk. Maybe even if it is in a corridor in your house that might be better than setting up at the kitchen table, and also set it up ergonomically. Set it up so it doesn’t hurt to sit down for extended periods. And of course, use a standing desk if you want to.
The next tip is number 5, share your progress. So, I’ve seen a lot of people on social media share their progress, and what I can say about that is that the vast majority of comments are positive. So, they’re positive about the way that the progress is shared. They’re positive that people have made progress. So, if you’re looking for a slap on the back or a pat on the back, I should say definitely post your progress on social media. You’ll get a lot of positive feedback there.
The next tip, number 6 is imagine that you are getting paid. So, writers obviously get paid for the number of words that they write, and certainly if you go a day without writing that might mean a day without pay. If that’s you, if you’re struggling thinking that you’re getting paid for this, maybe you can actually set up a system where you do pay yourself or you reward yourself for writing. And I would reward yourself for streaks. So, the number of days weeks or months in a row that you write whatever every day. Writing in this case might be just two lines. It doesn’t have to be a whole heap of stuff, but it’s about making it consistent. Making it a habit so that every day it happens.
Number 7, don’t underestimate the power of a pretty program or the power of aesthetics. I know people out there who much prefer to write in word than Google Docs because one looks prettier than the other. There are lots of other programs out there that you could try. Don’t obviously let this become a distraction technique. Trying to search for the prettiest program, but don’t be afraid to change the font or to change the layout. Or change anything that you think will make it look prettier because that will probably motivate you to write more. And then ultimately at the end you can go back, and if you use things like style sheets which most word processors have, you can definitely go and easily change. For example, if you like Comic Sans, you can change Comic Sans to Times New Roman or Arial if that’s what the font of your thesis has to be.
If you’re struggling to write, one of the ways that you can perhaps overcome that is to put some constraints on it or put it on social media. So, how would you write this if it was a tweet? How would you write it if it was for LinkedIn? How would you write it if it was for Instagram? What images would you use? All of those things might help you get over the hump.
Number 9, regular writing is going to be awesome for your career. Pretty much no matter what career you’re in you’ll have to write. Whether that be inside academia or outside, and certainly in this day and age of building quote-unquote, “Brand You”, it’ll be really important for you to be able to write about yourself. Write blogs. Do content that shows what you’re capable of. So, every time you write, every time you practice writing, not only you helping on that specific writing task but you’re also helping build your writing skill set, and your writing profile in general.
The 10th item is to stop. Know when to stop. Know when enough is enough. If the enemy you’ve done is perfect, then you don’t need to worry about your article or your thesis being perfect. Reviewers want to criticize. Reviewers will criticize regardless of whether you think it’s perfect. So, send it off 80% done. It’ll probably get the same amount of criticism it would have got. But now, you get to do the next 20% of work directed towards a review of comments, and therefore get faster to an outcome that is a publication. So, know where to stop.
And finally, knowing when to stop is good because writing never ends. There will always be another article, another grant. Maybe not another thesis. Another social media posts. So, you’ll always have to be writing. So, getting good on it now will help you well into the future.
I hope those 11 tips have helped you in some way. Let me know how they go.