It’s Not Too Late to Gear Up for a Productive Summer!

I used to have a colleague who every spring submitted their final grades and printed out their syllabi for the fall semester while I was still slogging through blue books. Although I was impressed by their organization, it always made me feel like my summer was doomed before it even began. Chances are if you’re reading this, you might be feeling something akin to my fears that the whole summer is going to be wasted if you’re not already deep into your academic writing by Memorial Day.

Nonetheless, the truth is that’s it’s only June 11 and there’s still plenty of time for you to be the master of your writing destiny! Don’t fall into the trap that it’s already too late for you to have a productive summer. Here are some of my suggestions for breaking out of your summer lethargy:

1) Be mindful. What is really at the center of why you’re not working on your academic writing? There are many things that could be mentally keeping you from delving into your inner scholar–insecurity, exhaustion, ambivalence, just to name a few. Now is the time to be honest and address these concerns–both real and imagined.

2) Clear the decks. For those fortunate enough not to be teaching summer classes, this is the time to give your mind a break from writing lectures, grading, and dozens of student emails. And even if you are teaching or preparing a new course for the fall, give yourself some chunk of time to devote exclusively to your academic writing. Whether it’s a week, a month, or some time every day, keep your writing time sacred.

3) Make realistic goals. Building on the idea of setting aside a regular time for academic writing, it is important to create practical goals. Useful goals are ones that break your work into small, do-able steps and provide an easy way to track your progress. While there’s a plethora of apps and software that you could use, I find that keeping a simple spreadsheet of my time and word counts tends to work best for me.

Pro-tip: If you know what you need to accomplish this summer, set your goals by working backwards. If your manuscript must be sent to the publisher by the end of the summer, be honest about how much is left to do and divide up the work by months, weeks, days, and even hours. Sometimes putting it all in writing can actually alleviate some of the stress and anxiety related to making an important deadline.

Thanks to Dr. Joanne Hill who tweets @ontheblueyonder for reminding me of the importance of goal making!

4) Get active. Maybe you live in a locale where it’s sunny and 70 degrees every day. If so, more power to you, but I sure don’t. Therefore, now is the time to get outside and be active. Soak up those rays–albeit with a layer of sunblock–and enjoy the great outdoors. Treat yourself to a daily walk in your neighborhood or on the newest addition to your local rails-to-trails. Go swimming at your public pool. Spend time with your kids in the park. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, get out and do it.

Still not convinced that you can spare the time away from your desk? Well, remember, academic burnout is a very real thing and you need to make time to be good to yourself. In the end, your writing will thank you. If you’re still not convinced, check out Tanya Maria Golash-Boza’s latest post on her blog, Get a Life, PhD.

5) Find inspiration. When was the last time that you read something in your field just because you were interested and not for your research or a class? Pick up one of those unread copies of your professional journal gathering dust on the bookshelf and read the first article that catches your eye. Find something new by one of your favorite scholars and just read for the sheer pleasure of learning something new.

If you haven’t already, start keeping a list of books in your field or just on writing in general to fuel your desire to sit down at your desk and put words on the page. I highly recommend designating a bookshelf on Goodreads to books that will remind you why you love writing in the first place.

For more ideas on how to get motivated, I hope you will check out my previous posts on overcoming academic writers’ block and not trying to write alone.

What are your biggest obstacles to making progress on your academic writing over the summer? Have you developed any good strategies? Please feel free to share in the “Comments.”

Here’s to a productive and restful summer!

Clarity in Academic Writing

Welcome to the inaugural blog post for MargaretEdits. I thought it made sense to start off with an issue that I find absolutely critical in good writing yet doesn’t receive a whole lot of attention: clarity. Let’s face it, what is the point of writing if your readers are going to struggle to understand what it is that you want to say to them?

Tip #1: while clarity is comprised of numerous components—sentence structure, organization, and proper grammar, just to name a few—there’s a very easy and reliable way to double-check for clarity and that is simply to read your work out loud.

It sounds obvious, but I’ve been surprised by how reluctant people are to take this extra step during the editing process. Thankfully, you don’t need a PhD in English to know when a sentence simply doesn’t sound right. And folks, if you need to take a few breaths as you read a single sentence then it is probably a run-on or at least suffering from being overly wordy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a critical sentence whose main points got buried due to verbose writing. In fact, nine times out of ten, being succinct is going to serve you and your reader much better.

clarityWhen we talk about clear writing, however, what exactly do we mean? I think it is writing that communicates an idea in the simplest and most precise way possible. For your writing to be lucid, you as the writer need to know exactly what you’re trying to say. When I ask clients to rewrite a sentence using the most straight-forward and simplest language possible, it sometimes takes them a few minutes to identify exactly what they were trying to say.

Which brings us to tip #2: if you don’t know what your main point is (whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole document) then the reader will be that much more clueless. The purpose of academic writing is to communicate your ideas as clearly as possible while still engaging the reader. Make sure you are using effective topic sentences to  identify your main points and to give the reader a sense of where you’re going next.

Tip #3: related to this idea of clarity is knowing exactly what is the purpose of what you are trying to write. For example, when I sat down to type this blog, my goal was to explain to other academic writers the importance of clarity in writing. Always take a few seconds at the beginning of a writing session to evaluate what exactly you want to accomplish; maybe even jot down a short list that will also serve to get you into a good writing flow.

The bottom line: nobody has ever been criticized for writing that is too clear.