I spend a lot of time working with higher education leaders to distill their thoughts and develop their ideas into topics for op-eds or other works. Despite the fact that we are discussing their areas of expertise, many become nervous once it’s time to begin the writing process.
I find writing to a soothing activity, but I know for many it can be stressful. Below are a few tips that work for me and hopefully will be of assistance to those who aren’t sure how to get started on a writing project or are interested in new approaches.
1. Allow yourself to write until you are done and only then edit your work.
I was lucky enough to attend a book reading and Q&A last week with Matthew Thomas. His first novel, “We Are Not Ourselves,” debuted on the New York Times best sellers list earlier this month at the #6 spot. He shared that he handwrote the 620-page book, because when he types he writes and then immediately edits, rewrites and re-edits the same passage in a highly time-consuming process that often stunts his forward motion. When he handwrites he allows himself to complete his thoughts and work more creatively. His original handwritten prose needs less editing than the words he reworks otherwise.
2. If you believe you are a poor writer, think through how you are most comfortable sharing your ideas and then proceed accordingly.
Last week I had a conversation with a colleague who doubts her writing skills but knows she is a solid presenter. I’ve asked her to record herself giving a presentation and then have the text transcribed. That text will serve as the starting point for a piece she has the expertise to author but was too scared to begin drafting.
3. Consider all resources available to you.
I’m still a fan of the paper copies of my thesaurus and style guides, but today’s online resources and apps available may just make me ditch my paper copies.
4. Rely on your colleagues and friends for support and ideas.
Sometimes when I’m stuck, I call or IM Kristine, Kyle or Erin and have a brief brainstorming session. We’ve talked about policy and case studies as well as goofy topics and unrelated ideas but all three have helped me find ways to reground myself. My husband is also a great sounding board, because he doesn’t work in higher education and often reminds me of the perspectives of those who don’t talk about academic issues everyday.
5. Take the time you need.
I work with a number of people who put off writing assignments until the last minute, but remember, tight timelines stifle creativity. There’s nothing worse that tackling a project, getting enthused about it as it progresses and then not having the time to finish it as strongly as you’d like.
6. And if you’re stuck, sometimes all you need is a shower .
Theresa Walker, senior editor of CURRENTS magazine, shared, “If I’m working on headlines, reworking a lede, or stuck on a closing (or some other idea), I think about it in the shower. I don’t focus on anything specific, I just let my mind wander. It doesn’t always work, but it usually helps, and I know that I’m not the only person who does this (see Mental Floss and LifeHacker articles). I know I won’t be able to hold onto the idea for long–it’s like trying to remember a dream–so I record my thoughts with the ‘voice memos’ app on my phone. Make your rote activities (showering, teeth brushing, or whatever) work for you.”
What other tips do those who love or dread writing find helpful? Any resources out there we should know about? I look forward to your comments on this topic.