Academic writing is an idea-fueled system. In other words, to produce a piece of writing, we go to our ideas, shaping them into a form that has never existed before in the history of time.
What this means is, you are a creator. Academics don’t often think of ourselves in this way, but you are.
To ensure that we have something to work with when we sit down to write, our intellectual reserve should ideally be like a well-stocked pantry: We have everything on hand from spices and condiments to pastas, beans, rice and proteins, with a few pre-made sauces around for a quick fix. And much like our pantry, if we don’t attend to upkeep, a long stretch of writing will leave the cupboards bare.
Take time to think. To read. To talk with scholars in your field. Not to KEEP from writing (beware the “I need more feedback” excuse for sitting on your manuscripts), but to enliven and support your writing.
You are not just an intellectual. You are a creative. No different than a painter or potter, you create something new from your imagination.
Creativity requires stimulation.
For academics, that stimulation comes in the form of ideas. Ideas lead to questions that lead to research that leads to scribbling that leads to ideas that lead to questions that lead to research that leads to questions that lead to ideas that lead to answers that lead to writing: Your writing.
So just like the painter who studies colors and technique but also simply stares out into the middle distance and imagines how his or her vision will materialize, intellectuals need time to read and think and talk about their ideas.
Make a coffee date with your writing buddy or a friend who will engage in your topic, with the intent of sharing and brainstorming (AKA refueling).
Remember, people are bored easily, so don’t make a big deal out of it. “Hi Susan, do you have time for a coffee? I would love to run my journal article argument by you. Don’t worry. Not a big monologue! I just want to see how it sounds when I say it out loud. I’d welcome your feedback on whether it is clear.” Then do it.
Before the meeting, return to your draft. Write down a single positive thought that you have about the draft. It can be broad (This meets the criteria for submission!) or narrow (That’s a good sentence!) Once you have set your sights on the positive, go for it.
It is easy to lose track of the necessity of this “refueling” stop. All too often we see taking time to read and think as an indulgence, rather than as a critical component to successful creativity and in turn, productivity. But it’s actually the origin of productivity.
Make a regular commitment to restocking your intellectual pantry, and you’ll see results.
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