Writing Tip 11: Write short

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.

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Writing Tip 10: When you think a text is ready, read it out loud to someone else

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. 

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Writing Tip 9: When you are not working, don’t

Guilt is a common experience of grad school: If you’re not working and thinking about “The Dissertation” or “The Essay” or whatever you feel like you should be. You feel guilty because your not 'working.' You think about ‘the writing’ all the time. You revise in your dreams. You worry you’re not working enough.

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Writing Tip 8: Figure out what works for you and do that

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.

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Writing Tip 6: “Write a lot, and read a lot.”

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. 

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Writing Tip 2: Do one task a day

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. 

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