―A few hints as to literary craftsmanship may be useful to budding historians. First and foremost, get writing!‖ --Samuel Eliot Morison (1946) Write Now! Getting Organized to Write Prof. Devoney Looser, Dept of English, U of Missouri Where Do You Write? There is a clichéd question we often ask famous writers: ―Where do you write? When do you write?‖ Some authors have had very interesting answers! For instance, Ernest Hemingway typed standing up and wrote 50–100 words a day. What do we really expect to hear or to learn when we ask such questions of successful writers? No Magic Formulas Is it possible that we ask these questions because we want there to be a solution to the ―problem‖ (and pain!) of writing? A ―magic formula‖ mindset may keep many of us from getting started, setting impossibly high standards for ourselves in terms of space, place, or equipment. The formula for successful writing is the formula for success at almost anything: practice, practice, practice. Writing is a craft. There are no ―right‖ ways to engage in the writing process. You need to find what works best for you. Even if writing isn’t what you consider the main part of your career as a researcher/future faculty member, it’s a crucial part of communicating the importance of what you do—not just in your thesis but for the rest of your career. A Room of One’s Own Novelist, essayist, and critic Virginia Woolf argued in A Room of One’s Own (1929) that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. There is something to the writers’ need for space and place. We need spaces/places that are relatively free of distractions. We need the time to make the task of writing a habit—an exercise. You are on the right track! You have made a commitment—and cleared your schedule—to spend part of today writing. You are in a great space and place to get organized to write. Take the next step: disconnect from all likely interruptions. (cell phone, email, Facebook, etc.) Commit to staying disconnected until the break. Connect to your writing task. When to Begin It’s never too early in the research process to begin writing. Writing should be part of the research and discovery process. You don’t need to have your arguments, data set, or conclusions completed in order to begin writing. You don’t need to read just that one more book or those ten more articles in order to begin writing. How to Begin Have you come here with a project or an idea? If so, your task today is to begin to draft a part of it. If not, your work today is going to be writing in order to discover possible projects or ideas. Let go of perfectionism. Don’t feel you have to start from the beginning of your project. Let First Things Be Last? Remember that first things may be best written last. Have a goal in mind as you write, but accept that writing can also be a form of exploration. It’s okay that not all of the writing you begin today will be part of the finished product. Be confident that all of the writing you do will help get you to the finish line for this project, even those parts that you don’t end up using. Writing Comes Before Revision Revising is difficult work, too, but you can't revise from a blank page. Your goal at the beginning of a project should be to get something down on the page that could later be revised. Many writers realize their best ideas, arguments, or conclusions—the ―so what?‖ of their projects—in the middle or even at the end of their writing process. ―Writing to Learn‖ The trick is to incorporate the great new conclusions you've discovered in the course of writing throughout the document when you revise. Avoid Suspense / Think Small Most finished academic writing starts with the conclusion and then leads the reader through evidence in order to persuade. Academic prose rarely deals in suspense. You can and should write without full knowledge of what your conclusions will be! All big projects must be broken down into smaller parts. Refuse ―Writer’s Block‖ Don’t get bogged down in the details. If you find you have missing information, need a reference, or need to double check a fact, trying making a note to yourself in brackets. [ADD X HERE] Then move on. There is no need to stop to check on every fact or reference. If you get stuck while writing, it's okay to write that out, too. "I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here. I think it could be x or y or z. If it's x, here's what I might say.‖ Prepare to Pick Up Where You Left Off Don’t feel you need to reread every word or to tinker with what you’ve written in the past to return to your project. That is revising. Revising is important, too, but the best time to revise is often after you have completed a significant draft (and gotten feedback from trusted readers). The next time you sit down to write, pick up where you left off. At the end of any writing session, make a note to yourself that will help jog your memory about where and how to pick up next time. Constantly Refocus and Readily Refuse As you read and as you write, stop yourself every so often and ask, ―Why does this matter?‖ ―So what?‖ In your draft, you might regularly make yourself write, ―This matters because . . .‖ (Or ―This may matter because. . .‖) Don't be afraid to throw away what you’ve written. Just because you wrote it doesn't mean it's worth keeping. Even what you don't keep in a final draft is part of the process that got you to where you needed to go as a writer. If it helps make you feel better, put the writing you don’t keep in the final draft in a file of unused bits. Be the Expert Keep your voice/argument at the center. You are the expert! Give credit where it’s due. Quotations aren’t self-explanatory. Guide your readers by telling them what to notice in the quotation. This is beginning Let’s begin. Title your document. If you are working on a laptop, save your document. Writing our first sentences together (two minutes) From The Craft of Research: ―I am working on the topic of ______, so that I can find out ______, because I want my readers to understand better __________.‖ We will be sharing these with others. Moving Forward Share your first sentences. Give feedback. What strikes you as most interesting about the project? What questions do you have for the writer? More difficult to draft at the beginning but try it! ―I am arguing _____ in order to show that ___________ which matters because _______.‖ As your work advances, make sure you ―test your argument.‖ The Craft of Research: ―If the reverse of a claim seems selfevidently false . . . or trivial, then most readers are unlikely to consider the original worth an argument‖ (133). Others’ Tips and Tricks One that hasn’t worked for me, but I like the idea! Keep a list of research and writing tasks that can be completed in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour. Make notes to yourself as you work about tasks you will want to complete later. When you have a set amount of time before you, choose one of those tasks to complete and cross it off your list. Do you have any tips and tricks to share about getting organized to write? Bibliography /Resources Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Pantheon, 1994. Virginia Woolf. A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1989. See http://gradschool.missouri.edu. Choose ―Student Development‖ and ―Academic Writing and Presentations.‖ Looking for a handbook on how to write a thesis/dissertation in your discipline? See above page, or try a MERLIN/MOBIUS subject search: ―Dissertations, Academic – Authorship – Handbooks.‖ Some of my students have appreciated Joan Bolker, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. New York: Henry Holt, 1998. Happy Writing! Relax! Try to keep the negative /evaluative voices at bay. Stay focused. Keep writing. When you need help, ask for it. (Representatives from the Graduate School will be circulating throughout the session.) Think of this as a resource for building a community for writing.
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