Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing Process Reengineering

Writing is a core research activity. At the start of next semester, I will once again be holding a seminar to present my programme for developing the discipline necessary to become a productive writer. Though it is possible to develop this discipline as an individual, I normally encourage participants to set up groups that meet on a regular basis to share experiences and monitor progress. I've been gaining a lot experience in guiding firm but fair conversations about how and why people write, and do not write.

My seminar is not an introduction to the ins and outs of academic publication. Instead, we will focus on the day-to-day problem of protecting one’s writing process, both in space and time, from disruptions that arise from other, equally (but not more) important aspects of academic life. Academics must find time to do many things in the course of a given week, and one of these must be writing if they are to succeed.

My suggestion is to plan two or three specific writing projects (e.g., applications, papers, chapters, or popular essays) with a good sense of how they are to develop over a 17-week period, i.e., roughly an academic semester. And I present a simple template for thinking about your available resources and desired outcomes.

Like the imposition of any structured process on an inchoate ambition to produce something, much of the benefit comes from a kind of “Hawthorne effect”. The mere act of paying attention to your writing process in an attempt to improve it is likely itself to increase your productivity. But the most important reason to structure your writing process explicitly is that provides a better platform for learning what writing is. It offers insight into how long it takes you to write particular kinds of texts and will let you see how long it takes you to make a particular kind of progress on a particular dimension of writing (e.g., abstracting, outlining, drafting, editing, or proofreading).

As with business processes in organizations, reengineering your writing process is a way to develop a realistic image of yourself as a writer. The sooner you see this image, the happier you will be in academic life.

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