November 15, 2015
Moving Past Barriers to WritingTags: academics, writing
Many of you are thinking about research questions, arguments, and citations for your final seminar papers. Some of you are close to beginning work on your thesis or dissertation. This may also be the first time you are engaging with graduate-level writing, if you are an incoming or first-generation graduate student. Fortunately, there are a number of campus-based and online resources that offer tips and tools to help you progress and complete these writing projects.
For example, the following insights were gathered from a National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) workshop held at the Seattle campus recently. Facilitator Chadwick Allen emphasized that you must first recognize the kinds of barrier(s) you are experiencing before knowing how to address them:
Technical. Technical barriers–like constant e-mail and social media checking, watching Netflix during your designated writing time, or doing work at a noisy café–are activities you can manage or learn to avoid all together in order to get research and writing done. Close your e-mail program or internet browser. Set up an electronic block to the internet on a timer. Find a quiet place to work. Most importantly, set aside small chunks of time (30 minute writing blocks) to help you move a project forward at a quicker pace. The satisfaction of making progress will propel and motivate you. When you block time in your schedule to do your writing, it is important to honor that commitment to yourself, just like you’d honor an appointment with your faculty advisor or dissertation chair.
External. These are life events that are completely beyond your control such as experiencing illness, difficulty in finding childcare if you are a parent, or coping with the loss of a loved one. In these circumstances, reach out to your professor or advisor and let them know what’s going on (only share what feels comfortable to you). You can often negotiate for a revised timeline or deadline if needed. If you can be up front about your challenges, faculty are willing to work with you as you cope with these stressors and changes.
Psychological. Sometimes feelings related to imposter syndrome or perfectionism prevent us from doing our best work. Know that you are not alone in this, and there are tips for moving through feelings of inadequacy that can be found here or here. Try this out: During your 30-minute blocks, allow yourself to write in a truly unorganized manner. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure, just let your thoughts flow. The goal is to get words out on the screen or on paper. More often than not, you’ll have several ideas with which you can work with and build from. You may also find yourself stuck in doing online literature searches because you feel you don’t know enough about your topic. Bets are you do know plenty and have enough literature to at least begin organizing ideas for your paper. Once you’ve drafted an outline, you’ll start seeing gaps that need to be filled. Revisit doing the literature search after you’ve identified those gaps.
Additional Writing Tips and Resources
- Schedule a consultation with a UW writing tutor: Bothell, Tacoma, Seattle
- Why write alone, when you can work with peers for extra support and hold each other accountable? Check out this Writing Group Starter Kit from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
- Writing tips and guides from the Odegaard Writing & Research Center (UW Seattle)
- 10 Top Writing Tips and the Psychology Behind Them
- If you want to get signed up for “Monday Motivator” messages to promote your productivity and writing, and to get invited to future community webinar events, students, postdocs, and faculty can sign up with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity of which the University of Washington has an institutional membership.