My writing routine is #BetterThanBefore

I recently finished listening to Gretceh Rubin’s book Better than before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. It was great because I understood my own habits much better after the book. Refreshing! Rubin uses many fun categories for readers (listneres) to reflect their own ways of organising their lives.

I wasn’t reading it for any particluar purpose but after a while I was encouraged to rethink my writing habits. After an intensive 2016, which was mainly about delivering against deadlines, early 2017 has been about transforming my writing habist from goal orientation to time orientation. That has not been easy since I had gotten used to writing because I had a deadline. Therefore, developing a habit of writing because it was time for it (i.e. developing ideas) seemed difficult.

Out of curiosity I decided try follow one of the examples she gave for larks, i.e. people who are at their best in the mornings.

Start immediately after you wake up.

Before I had started my writing sessions after morning streches, breakfast, and orienting for the day’s tasks. As a contrast, the new style meant starting immediately after waking up and moving on to other tasks after an hour or so. My only edition was to have something to eat while writing because everyone close to me knows what happens if I delay the first meal of the day. You do not want to be around for that event.

After a week I can happily conclude that my new habit of 60 minutes of early morning writing seems to work GREAT. It pairs up with a to do list for writing that sets up my priorities per each day & week.

Before finishing each day, I decide what I write after I wake up.

The to do list has two columns per day: (1) early morning writing goals (60 mins) and (2) before lunch writing goals (60-90 mins). In the worst case scenario, I will have to skip the second writing session because of teaching/meetings/fieldwork – but NEVER the first one. So I get writing time every week day (or every day if in hurry) no matter WHAT. And like Rubin argues, such a freedom from choice is extremely liberating. I’m in awe!

Apparently writing life can be a beach.

But remember, I’m a LARK, which means I love waking up early. Like really early. Like before 6 am. I’m serious. If you aren’t a lark, this probably feel likes a terrible idea. But if you don’t know, it doesn’t hurt to figure out if one is a lark or an night owl or something in between and rethink one’s writing schedule based on that.

(Science) fiction and writing groups as an inspiration for academic writing

I argue that academic writing process is no different from any other writing, although the results differ. I realise writing an academic text is a different genre from writing for example a novel. As an academic reader, soon into consuming, I expect an argument (delivered here in the first paragraph). Pretty soon after that, evidence. And as I skip to Conclusions, I really expect to find conclusions, i.e. how this stuff is related to anything outside the text. Goes without saying that the detective stories aren’t supposed to share up front who did it. And also goes without saying that delivering genre fitting text can be difficult.

I have learned all this from attending excellent academic writing workshops, blogs, and reading about academic writing from books such as How to write a lot and Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. These references emphasise that academic writers experience writing blocks, fear, and anxieties like any other writers. Also academic writers seem to have their own routines how to deliver text regularly. These sources and others are excellent in explaining what happens in academic writing. Put it shortly, academic writing is a skill that can be developed.

I want to share what has developed and inspired me as an academic writer:

  1. (science) fiction writing and reading
  2. writing groups

A lot what I have learned about writing as a craft has come from non-academic writing and reading. As a story, book, and (science) fiction enthusiast. I enjoy good writing. It is like breathing: I inhale stories of others’ experiences and different worlds and exhale joy. Therefore, I have tried my share of writing fiction. It gives me more energy than it most likely will ever be able to deliver to those poor souls reading my texts. As a side kick, my fiction writing hobby has enhanced my academic writing skills. Genre, plot, characters, surprise, dialogue, language, style… Many obvious connections. This doesn’t mean I understand research as fiction. The metaphysics of doing research is much more complex. Yet, research reports, articles, and text books are read by people. And what do people like? Good stories. No wonder narrative approach to research is a well rooted tradition.

My development as a writer is dependent on others. Making writing social is more important than I first realised. Support and understanding makes us flourish. I want to give full credit and appreciation to my superb academic colleagues: I would have not been able to write research texts without you. You know who you are. You put up with me as potentially deliverable.

Finally, it comes down to sitting down and writing no matter what the style is. Texts need to come from somewhere. Words need to be written. This is what I have read and reread in many quotes about writing regardless of the genre.

So better get back to my academic writing projects and start generating words!

A humble homecoming

What to write after several months of silence? What to write after that? And that? Who is interested? Would I be interested?

Apparently, blogging is out. Vlogging is in. Or something else that I’m completely unaware of. But it seems I cannot resist writing. As a matter of fact, it has been writing that has kept me away from here for all these months. My PhD research has reached a point where I mainly write. Or if I’m not writing I should be writing. So after a day writing or feeling guilty about not writing, I seldom feel like writing more unless I absolutely have to.

Yet, this blog called me back. I have to. There is something irresistable about non-academic writing and freedom in style. Although academic writing is a delicate art of mastering various styles, I miss other styles too.

So here we are. Humbly back at home. But after this post, what to write about?

I look outside. It’s past midnight. Snow and slush swirls under yellow street lights in the sunless North European night. It could be a very dark midday. The weather is uninviting for outing but excellent for writing and reading, my two passions.

So that’s what I will be writing about: my writing and reading. It just happens that I’m a PhD candidate.

From being a writer to writing

I’m about to attend a writing course in Oriveden opisto. It is my first get-away writing course and it feels like starting primary school. I have no idea what to expect! Although I want to take someone’s hand and ask him or her to escort me I know I need to do this by myself. Only I know how this will sort out. Thus, it is better that there is no one bothering my concentration.

When hearing I’m attending a writing course, a relative of mine asked me “So, you want to become a writer?”. I was struck by this question and in a short moment went through several thoughts. Of course I want to become a writer! Being a writer is my secret dream of all ages I have dared to think only for some times now. Oh, but do I need a permission to become a writer?

And that’s it. The question of “Do you want to become writer” is also a matter of others’ recognition. My self-confident me would tell you the following. I am a writer. You see, I’ve been working on a BIG book for two years already and aside written a short story or two. Additionally, I have been purposefully writing every day for more than a year, and sometimes even this blog. However, my less confident me insists adding some clarifications. Yeah, the BIG book is a non-fiction PhD research gaining an audience of 3 people (my supervisor, examiner, and mom). And the one single concluded short story is unpublished and quite clumsy. So not much of recognition there.

Great. No matter how much I detest identity work it seems that that’s just what is going on here in relation to being a writer. Silly me, I thought there would be absolutely no space left for such a debate after drastic academic identity drudgery. Yet, I find myself asking: What does it require to be a writer? Who decides that?

Before waiting for my answer, my relative commented that Finland is full of detective story authors. I sighed and smiled. To my relief I was not required to revel my unsure identity. Thus, I just replied that detective stories are not my cup of tea, as I seem to prefer science fiction, at least as a strong side flavour.

Conversational wittiness will not save me from private Analysis Paralysis. Thus, I have decided to just write. It is quite simple actually. You write.

How to manage my writing projects

I feel I have too many writing projects. First, this blog, which I don’t seem to update as much as I would like to. Second, my PhD project, which takes a big block of my daily writing time (as it should). Third, blogging occasionally about timebanking. Finally, my unpublished creative writing in Finnish. Creative writing is something new I have been doing this spring in a creative writing course and it feels great.

In fact, I think the problem is not the number of writing projects but the time available for them. As usual, I seem to have too little time to pursue all my projects. This is not good since I love writing. A though dilemma.

As I am told to be a practical person, I have started to consider how to manage all my writing projects. As a result, I complied a preliminary How-to-manage-my-writing-projects-list in order to manage them all. The ideas come from various sources, for instance academic and creative writing guides. And as I get enough of disciplined lists with my PhD project, the following list is completely incompatible, overlapping, and imperfect.

  1. Write every day. According to many (academic) writing tips, writing daily is the first thing one needs to do in order to get writing done regularly. Quite simple when you think of it. It is a miracle but I can actually do this.
  2. Write the first thing in the morning. It has taken some organising but I’m able to do this. The minute I wake up, I plot down my fist thoughts. Yes, it is sometimes hard and I have to give in and do it after taking care of my child or visiting the bathroom. By the way, hardly any writing guides mention either of these very possible morning interruptions. And still, most mornings I manage to write before I get out of the bed.
  3. Write the last thing in the evening. Now this is more demanding to accomplish. After putting my kid to bed, it is so tempting to enjoy the Happy Hour, namely the hour to oneself after putting kid(s) to bed and before going to sleep. For your information, I created this blog post during my Happy Hour.
  4. Make a list of ongoing (non-PhD) projects and deadlines. I would like to avoid this to the last moment since I need to compile lists at work all the time. Yet, it seems deadlines are good when trying to get things done. Also for writing non-PhD stuff. Thus, my very own great secret of adulthood: the most demanding deadlines are the ones you set yourself (because these issues matter you the most). In my case, they are the deadlines for getting writing done.
  5. Start a Writing Group. I thought of this only some days ago and now I’m very enthusiastic about organising monthly meetings to discuss attendees’ own texts and give & get feedback. I have already some people in mind I want to ask to join the writing group. Exciting!

If you have comments or additions to my list, I’m more than happy to get your tips.