I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton.
I research economic and environmental anthropology and resource extraction in Colombia and New Brunswick. I am writing a book about gold mining in Colombia’s northwest, which uses ethnography to explore the informal economy of a gold rush.
Today's trick from Dorothea Brande to get back into writing: Schedule a time to write, and, come what may, make sure to be writing at that time. Today, I my time was 4:00 pm. I failed, because I took a nap instead. Later, at 6:00 I went to a coffee shop and did my quota for the day. The result? Starting was harder than usual, and I used a pencil and paper, but for the first time in a year, I have a draft of a conclusion. There is so much left to do: edit, revise, rewrite, read aloud, send to my copy editor, etc. But, even on busy day a little progress feels good.
Dorothea Brande offers some advice on Becoming a Writer. There is much wisdom in the book, but one of the most helpful pieces of advice she offers is on page 74. How to learn to write with more ease.
The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can—and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before—begin to write.
Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before, a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all who are not pure nonsense.
I followed her advice yesterday morning (and this morning). I wrote for twenty minutes as I boiled tea in the early hours. When I got to editing my own book, I worked for two pleasant hours.
The advice to write first thing is given elsewhere, but Brande offers self-help for writers finding it hard to write.
My short article on getting a tenure-track job just came [out] in the newsletter of CASCA:
> Until June 2016, the plan was to move into my parents’ unfinished basement with my wife and our young son. It was a bad plan, for obvious reasons. But it was the only plan we had. I felt defeated by three years on the ‘academic job market’, and I was broke. A SSHRC postdoc in the US when the Canadian dollar fell to 68 cents had proven to be a financial disaster. I told myself that 2016 would be my last year looking for an academic job.
Blaise Pascal, apparently, wrote in a letter in 1657: “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte,” or "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” The expressions, often misattributed to Mark Twain, means it is harder to write in a few words what could be written in a few pages.
Many of these Writing Tips have been about how to get the energy and motivation to make writing a habit. I’ve had less to say on how to write well. I have some tips for that, too.
One challenge that I have in revising is that when I read my words on a screen, my mind fills in the blanks: I read what should be there and not what is there. I skip words that don’t fit, and I add words that are missing.
Writing is hard work. The first five minutes are often the most difficult. But, if there’s a deadline looming, a dissertation due, or a monograph months behind schedule, sometimes keeping at it is even harder. You’ll need some writing tricks to push through, especially when stopping while the going is good is not an option.
Today will be short because it’s Friday and Fridays are busy at Yale: I have meetings—or preparation for meetings—from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. How to write when you have no time? How to write when you are too busy?
Easy: Write less and start earlier.
When I did my Ph.D., I used to think anything that did not push my text was a case of—self-diagnosed—"thesis procrastination." Procrastination is many things, and it might be helpful, but my self-diagnosis was misguided. I was wrong because I included reading for pleasure in the list of what counted for procrastination.
I want to tell you one of the most important things I have learned about making writing a habit.
Slowly, I am learning to separate the time to think about a writing project from the time to write the project. When I write, I want to focus on the words and images and people and not get lost with questions of structure. Now, I make an outline.
The hardest part of any task is sometimes the first five minutes. Starting sucks. The last thing you want to do is make that initial push harder. So, try to decide on the day's task before sitting down to start on it.
I got a lot of work done in January by doing one task a day. Writing a book is not “one” task, it is the result of hundreds of smaller tasks. When I thought about the book as a whole, I got quickly lost in what Jessica Abel calls the dark forest. By concentrating on doing just one thing to move the book forward and then stopping, I was able to come back to writing with renewed energy every day.