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A different metric of #AcWri success: Completing sentences and paragraphs

When I read what other writers who write about academic writing, I’m often left with the feeling that there is no room for manoeuvering in their advice. “Write 1,000 words a day, no matter what“. “Write for two hours every day” (and yes, I’m well aware that I am well known for advocating this approach – with the proviso that I do recommend that people do whatever suits them best, as long as they are able to create their own academic writing practice). I have been pondering for a while advocating for the value of a different metric of success in #AcWri – success in completing sentences and paragraphs.

Let me share an example: I was working recently on a paper on evidence-based policy making, science-policy interfaces and coproduction of science and policy. These aren’t fields I usually work on, this was a commissioned paper. As a result, it’s been quite painful to finish the damn manuscript. A few days ago, I decided that it was good time to finish writing this piece, because I have to move on to other, more pressing manuscripts. I was literally about 1,200 words away from completing the draft.

As I’ve suggested above, I take the “complete sentences and paragraphs approach” because I do get tired quite easily. While I love writing, it’s hard for me to stay writing for a relatively long period of time. So, I focus on completing a sentence, stringing a few sentences, or finishing an entire paragraph. This is the idea behind the “anchor sentences” approach.

The trick for me is to focus on completing sentences, and on finishing paragraphs. So, instead of being overwhelmed by the fact that I still have 1,200 words to finish, I focus on completing a sentence that I left incomplete.

While I recognise that this approach may not work for everyone, I agree that we ought to give ourselves permission not to finish all the sentences or complete paragraphs so we can pick up the next day where we left off.

Outlining a paper and adding text allows you to form more coherent thoughts as you write.

Because I do get tired of writing after a while, I calculate “how much more work do I need to do” – so, for example, here I know that I need to write 3 paragraphs (one per bullet item). So, that’s about 300 words. That feels doable and I can do that within an hour that I may have here or there. Or while waiting at the airport for my flight.

Leaving text for the following day is a well tried strategy as you can see here.

Knowing that you can start the next day from an outline of half-completed sentences and paragraphs can actually be helpful. But more importantly, as I’ve said, instead of dreading a blank page, and wondering if 2 hours will be enough to complete 1,500 words, I prefer to focus on completing sentences and paragraphs. Perhaps this approach may be helpful to my readers. It’s definitely useful for me!

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