Research and writing is a love-hate kind of thing; at least it is with me. Most of the time I enjoy it but sometimes it feels like pulling teeth. How do you push through the obstacles and finally create things that are publishable? How do those really prolific scholars produce so much stuff? Like many other things in life they just put one foot in front of the other–however, they do it everyday.
An example of this can be seen on John Anderson’s blog in his reproduction of the IVP interview with John Goldingay. Here is Godlingay’s description of his writing process:
So I had no detailed maps, and no array of books really, because I wanted to let the Old Testament itself set the agenda. So I started reading it! And set myself to writing seven hundred words a day. Then when I had done my own reading and thinking and writing, I went to the books. That’s the way I tell students to write their papers, too.
When you think about it 700 words per day is not that much. But, if you put down 700 really good words per day it adds up quickly and this is why Goldingay is able to produce three HUGE Old Testament theology books in a relatively short amount of time. So, here are just a few tips on how to make writing a part of your daily scholarly life:
- Put a few hours a day of writing time into your calendar and design your day around this time. Write in a place where there are limited distractions.
- Set an average goal of the amount of words you want to write per day–I normally don’t let myself stop writing until I have at least 500 words but by the time I get around 1200 my brain is usually fried and I need to stop.
- Some days your writing time will be mostly editing, compiling proposals, stuffing envelopes, going over page proofs, or researching. This is fine because all of these things contribute to the goal of getting your writing published. However, try to spend just a bit of time actually writing.
- Writing takes practice so don’t get discouraged if it starts out slowly–practice makes perfect.
- Keep a dump file for every writing project and don’t be afraid to use it. A dump file is a file that you create to store all the stuff that you don’t use in the final version of the article or book. Instead of deleting paragraphs that you are not happy with, cut and paste them into a dump file–you never know if you might want to come back to it later. Also, some ideas are great but they just don’t fit a specific project. David Aaron once told me that as he was writing a book he dumped an entire 40 page chapter that he had written because it just didn’t fit the flow of the rest of the book. Expect that a lot of the stuff you write will never be published–much of the stuff you write you will never send out for review either and that is okay.
- Read Scot McKnight’s reflections on writing in pages 22-28 of The Professor as Scholar.
What are your suggestions?