Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

“Shitty First Drafts” and Summer Writing

I’m one of those people that always feel like time is slipping by too quickly– for example, I’d really hoped to get a lot of writing done this summer. But the month of June was filled with twinges of guilt and panic for not having gotten much written. I’d set myself some personal deadlines for July and am not sure how I’ll meet them. June was one of those months when lots of other “stuff” took priority: dissertation chairing and advising, planning next year’s projects, buying a house, moving, being a dad… I have no idea what July will look like, except that we have a lot of unpacking to do and family coming into town throughout the month.

Thrown into this mix are (a) that feeling that the piece I’m about to write is too big to wrap my head around and (b) the sense that whatever I do happen to write is actually kind of “shitty.” These are related problems. They involve needing clarity about what it is I actually think, intend to say, and have the ability to support in a scholarly way. They also involve needing to relearn the beat of academic journal article writing.

Flickr: Jeffrey Beall

Flickr: Jeffrey Beall

I’ve been trying to address these concerns in a few ways.

  1. I’ve revisited Anne Lamott’s advice that a “shitty first draft” is a natural and necessary part of the writing process. I think of a lot of these early stabs at writing as placeholders for what I’ll want to say the right way later on.
  2. I’m outlining. While my arguments have importance, how they fit together into this weird thing called a journal article is of equal importance. I find this difficult to do without figuring out which bricks need to lean on each other, which play foundational roles, and how the supporting details fit in.
  3. I’m doing office gimmicks. For example, I’m using speech recognition so that I can at least guarantee that something is written down (and probably shitty). I shift over to a stand up desk, try to work in a cafe, or go back to the office again. I turn off my internet.

OK. So on that last point, this is what happens when I turn my internet back on.

If anyone has other tips on surviving academic writing, I’d love to hear them!



2 comments on ““Shitty First Drafts” and Summer Writing

  1. Great thoughts. What helps me is a deadline – I saw a study once that a journal that went to open submissions (rolling acceptance with no firm deadlines) saw submissions drop by about 25%. For my own output, it’d be more like 90%!

  2. vinnycho
    July 2, 2013

    Thanks Justin! This makes me wonder why self-imposed deadlines are so much harder to keep to than external ones!

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This entry was posted on June 30, 2013 by and tagged , .