A Writer’s Methodology: Just Do It!

Writing is a dance between art and science. Writers of any stripe will try to work when they feel the urge, but increasingly busy lives and distracted psyches make this sweet blend of time and motivation hard to find. If a writer desires productivity, we have no choice but to find a way to put pen to paper when we do not feel like doing so. I am at my best when creative inspiration strikes, but that muse is often rather unsociable. In these times of muselessness, I must rely on self-discipline and careful methodology in order to produce my prose. Since I am an adjunct professor teaching anywhere from two to three classes per term, my schedule changes wildly each semester. That leaves me sometimes writing in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and occasionally in the evenings. I have begun using a weekly calendar to mark off and protect times that I will be able to spend with my computer and reference material. I find that I can concentrate best when I have at least three consecutive hours to myself, which lessens the pressure of planning where I need to be next. This gives me roughly an hour to organize my thoughts and materials, an hour to write, and an hour to review what I have done. I build these times into my once-weekly schedule planning sessions, and guard them fiercely.

These dedicated writing sessions typically find me rather unmotivated, given the demands and worries of life. In order to focus my sensorium, I try to locate the place that makes the least demands on me. Usually, that place is my home, since on weekdays I am alone for much of the day. For other people who have a busier home, a remote library cubicle is preferred. This would indeed be my second choice. Then, I get out my reading materials or notes that I have taken, and mine them for a writing prompt. I keep notes in my books, flagged with paper sticky tabs, as well as in a small journal that I keep with me at all times. Any notes written on miscellaneous paper gets scanned with a smartphone photograph, and uploaded into a descriptively labeled computer file. I also use two programs to organize ideas: Evernote and Scrivener. Both give me the opportunity to store and organize any half-baked ideas before they are “ready.”

The process of thinking, researching, and writing must generally be a solitary activity for me, in order to minimize distractions. However, I do solicit conceptual advice—in the form of social brainstorming and seeking intelligent responses— at the outset of a potential paper idea. When the writing is finished, I ask trusted eyes to edit and proofread. At this final stage, it is important to me to use a reader who has some degree of familiarity with my topic or field of study. Additionally, I try to find another reader who does not have familiarity with my topic, to test myself for clarity. I dread sounding vaguely intelligent, while being ultimately unintelligible. In order to accomplish all this, any given piece needs to be completed at least a couple of weeks before my deadline. This gives my readers time to work, and allows me time to revise accordingly.

Generally, this is my preferred method for transferring ideas to text. I have to frequently hunker down and rededicate my efforts to protecting right conditions for productivity, as life bombards me with one distraction after another. Nevertheless, with discipline, dedication, and a conviction that something needs to be said, I am able to write despite it all.

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