Monday, September 23, 2019

5 Tips for New Writers

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I am working with a number of graduate students this semester who are starting their masters' thesis writing. I've been sharing a number of writing tips with them that I thought my readers might enjoy as well. Here are 5 tips for new writers that will help with productivity while making the process fun.

1. Slay the dragon. What I mean by this is that a thesis or any writing project is not something that is unattainable or mythical. It is just a writing project. It is possible to complete it without difficulty. So many people think of writing as something that they cannot do. There are a million excuses for this:  they don't have enough time, they are not talented enough, or they cannot conceive of finishing up a big project. As we say in New York, fuggedaboutit. You do have enough time, you are talented enough, and a writing project is not a dragon--you can do it. You need to start thinking of yourself as a writer.

2. Break down the project into component parts. A big writing project is like putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea. You have to break it into parts to complete the whole. All writing projects have distinct parts. For example, a masters thesis has a highly structured introduction which includes a thesis statement and literature review followed by a methodology. Following this, there are results, synthesis, and conclusions. Each section can be outlined and each piece of the outline can become its own work package that can be tackled independently.

3. Find a time to write each day. Build writing into your calendar. If you are a morning person, do it first thing in the morning. If you have a long lunch break, do it then. If you thrive in the evening, carve out time before you go to sleep. Find a time that works for you and make it a habit.

4. Set daily writing goals. There is an old saying among graduate students that most thesis or dissertations are written in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, there is some truth to this statement. Many graduate students and other writers procrastinate and put off writing projects until the last minute. As a result, panic sets in at the eleventh hour and much writing is done in a caffeine laden week or two of frenzied activity. That is not healthy way to live and it certainly does not help you create a practice that will help you in your writing career.

5. Don't get hung up on the editing. As you develop your writing practice, you will naturally become a better writer over time. When many new writers start out, they get hung up on self criticism which slows their productivity. They worry about individual sentences and get tied up on single paragraphs. As a result, their productivity is very slow. It is best to just write a complete component of the project and edit later. Get a first draft done of a whole piece or chapter and go back and do detailed editing. It is easier to edit a whole draft of a chapter than a page or section.

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