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Writing by memorandums

Thanks to a relatively extended bout of health, I have been writing a lot. Even more exciting than that, I’ve been FINISHING UP a lot of papers. This afternoon, I managed to finish a journal article that I had long overdue. I consider this achievement a major victory. Most of the stuff I’ve been writing and finishing up is part of a package of papers, books and articles I had to put in the back burner because of my poor health.

AcWri at my Mom's home office

Yes, I have submitted one revise-and-resubmit back to the editor, two journal article manuscripts for peer review, one book chapter. I have completed all of these under the current trying circumstances of a global pandemic of a coronavirus and shelter-at-home orders. Admittedly, I’ve been productive, and my feeling healthy is probably the major factor, plus the fact that I am not teaching this semester, and because of the pandemic, I am also not travelling at all.

But people still seem to think that I write extraordinarily fast. The truth is that whenever people think I am a super fast writer, they’re probably thinking I literally *just* started a paper 24 hours before submitting it.

Reading highlighting scribbling and Everything Notebook

This process doesn’t work well for me.

The truth is, whenever you see me finishing something up, I probably already had a huge chunk of the manuscript pre-written in small bits and pieces.

I write by memorandums.

I learned to write memoranda (memorandums?) in graduate school, and like many of the things I do now as a professor, I still write memos.

As you can see from my Twitter thread, my process is very similar to the one championed by David Sternberg and Joli Jensen: having a Project Box. The only difference is that my Project Box is digital: I open a folder in Dropbox for each paper and a sub-folder for the PDFs associated with that particular manuscript.

What I find is that memorandums can be part of a global strategy that is much chiller and less stressful than trying to remain focused on the big picture. Memos can be simply quick “notes-to-self” written in adhesive Post-It notes, or scribbles on the margins of a paper.

What I did this morning was to assemble all the memos I had already written for this particular paper. To note: I did not have written 10,000 words in memos. I probably did have about 7,000 which means that yes, I did write 3,000 words in one day. But that’s because I had he mental space, the physical space, the time (and an impending deadline that I cannot avoid because it means letting someone down that has been incredibly kind to me).

Now, all I have to do is edit, cut words/add words, move stuff around, re-read and format the paper. But again, I insist: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WRITE 3,000 WORDS PER DAY.

AcWri

Whatever you can add to a memorandum is good enough (yes, 15 words IS good enough).

Whatever time you can devote to your work is good (yes, 10 minutes is enough).

We’re in a pandemic. BEING WELL (YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES) IS THE PRIORITY.

There’s enough pressure on us to take what I just wrote as 1 more reason to feel pressure. On the contrary. If I share my process (and my life) is to remind you that less than 6 months ago, I almost died of chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

I am writing now because I’m healthy.

DO WHAT *YOU* NEED TO DO.

Don’t listen to your inner demons or the external pressures. Right now the goal is to survive this !@#% pandemic. If my process helps you in any way, take it (or adopt parts of it). Don’t feel pressured by it. Or by academia, writ large.

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Posted in academia, research, research methods, writing.

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