Writing Tips: Motivation (or the Lack of It)

In our last post we wrote about how to overcome writer’s block and the fear of writing. So now you’re on a schedule, and you’re ready to tackle this “writing thing.” You wake up, coffee and computer in tow, but there’s just one problem: You still can’t write! What gives?!

In his book, How to Write a Lot, Paul Silva, PhD acknowledges that academic writing doesn’t get easy the moment you get on a schedule. (Silva, 2007) Before you were full of adrenaline and motivated by impending deadlines. Now that you are writing a few times a week, you aren’t in the this anxiety-laden “write of be written off” state anymore. According to Silva, there are three steps to getting your writing juices flowing:

  1.  Set goals.
  2.  Determine priorities.
  3.  Track your progress.

Let’s start with goals. Clear and concise goals in themselves should be motivating. Goals give you a plan of action, a sense of direction and a deadline. What do you want to write about? What projects are you working on? Are there some papers that need revising? At first, make an exhaustive list of everything you would like to accomplish. Secondly, organize it into a list you can conquer. Break this plan of action into monthly, weekly and daily goals.

This takes us to Silva’s second phase of finding your motivation: determine priorities. With some writing projects, there are not set deadlines. Our lab is constantly developing new software and performing research projects. Some projects take weeks, months or even get revised over a period of a few years! The research most often comes before the writing. There are, however, those moments when we write grant proposals. If we miss the deadline, we get none of the funding. Writing assignments like these definitely take more priority the closer we get to the due date.

The third and final step to finding your motivation is tracking your progress. What better way to see how far you’ve come and the work ahead than to keep inventory of your writing. Behavioral research show that self-observation alone can cause the desired behaviors (Korotitsch & Nelson-Gray, 1999), in this instance writing. If you keep yourself accountable, whether that means in your planner, on your phone or with a wonderful spreadsheet we all love so much (only slightly kidding– every plan deserves a good spreadsheet.), you are more likely to stick to your schedule and meet your goals.

In our lab, we do this through a systematic process which we will reveal in our next blog post. We have records that date back nearly three years of every project we have ever started, finished and everything in between. We have sections for published works, active papers, grants, collaborations and future research projects.

Check us out next week for an outline of how our lab has reached writing success.

Hope this helps! Give it a shot and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Cited publications:

Korotitsch, W.J., & Nelson-Gray, R. O. (1999). An overview of self-monitoring research in assessment and treatment. Psychological Assessment, 11, 415-425.

Silva, P.J. (2007). How to Write a Lot. 29-40.

Interested in obtaining a copy? Here’s a link to Amazon.

Writing Tips: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Many who write regularly know what it’s like to be at a loss for words. Some days we can churn out ten pages and others we struggle to write ten sentences. Writing is hard, which is why it is intimidating to a lot of people, whether you’re a student or you’ve been publishing papers for years. There can be a dozen reasons why we can’t find the right words: can’t find the time, don’t feel inspired, too many distractions…

The key to developing great writing is all in the habit of writing frequently. Writing must be intentional. If you wait for the world to provide you with the perfect conditions to write (Spring Break, perhaps?), you won’t be doing much writing at all. Instead of finding time to write, you must MAKE time to write. Create a schedule and make writing a productive part of your day. A draft is never perfect the first, second or even eighth time it is written, but I can assure you it gets better every time.

This may sound like a stretch, I know. The rebuttals are already coming to mind: I really don’t have time. I have a busy schedule. I need to escape my routine to write. My life is sooo unpredictable.

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you give this a shot for the next three weeks? Set aside a time, at least a few times a week, to focus and write. Making writing intentional has to be a better option than writing your paper at the last minute on a Saturday skipping meals on no sleep, right?

So here is my challenge to you: get off the Internet, silence your phone and start writing!