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Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics (Joli Jensen) – my reading notes

Slowly but surely I’ve been amassing a small library of academic writing books. Not because I love dispensing advice, but because a lot of people ask me to recommend books, and others suggest the ones that have worked for them. But first, a disclosure statement: I buy absolutely each and every single one of my books (except for the ones, of course, authors gift me or academic publishing houses send me in lieu of payment or as a token of appreciation).

That out of the way, this is the sentence that got me hooked on Joli Jensen’s “Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics” (published by University of Chicago Press) is the following one (p. xi)

Writing productivity research and advice can be summarized in a single sentence: In order to be productive we need frequent, low stress contact with a writing project we enjoy.

Joli Jensen summarises what at the core, I believe is what helps ME move forward with my writing: I write every day, and I try to make it low stress by writing memorandums, analysing data and synthesising my thoughts in a conceptual map. I also write by hand in my Everything Notebook section for a specific project I am undertaking. These handwritten notes, these processes really help me think and develop my thoughts.

However, Jensen also zeroes in on a big problem in academia (p. xi)

Our problem is that academic life offers us the exact opposite: infrequent, high-stress contact with projects that come to feel like albatrosses

That’s why I don’t like to sit down and crank out a paper. I need to slowly and steadily think and process what I’m learning. And this is the reason why I write and read every day and I try to be in contact with my data regularly.

Joli Jensen Write No Matter What 001Jensen’s advice on writing at least 15 minutes a day resonates with what Jo Van Every suggests in her 15 Minutes Challenge. I know for a fact that if I sit down and scribble notes on a book, book chapter or journal article, I can write at least a few words. And a few words is better than NO WORDS. I really enjoyed Jensen’s honesty in attributing ideas to who originated them. She credits the idea of the 3 taming techniques to David Steinberg’s “How to Survive and Complete a Doctoral Dissertation“. I have to confess that I have not read Steinberg’s book, but I really enjoyed reading Joli Jensen’s account of what she learned from him and how those teachings became her three taming techniques. There’s also something extraordinarily refreshing about an author of an academic writing book who confesses to facing the same insecurities and anxieties that we all face.

As I said on Twitter, I write every day and I find myself stuck for MONTHS in a particular idea or without solving a specific set of analyses. Then BOOM, it all comes together.

I definitely would recommend Jensen’s book to students and professors alike. I really enjoyed reading it.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. A synthetic memorandum on advice on academic research and writing – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on July 29, 2019

    […] SPACE: Most authors I have read (Joli Jensen, Eviatar Zerubavel, Stephen King, Helen Sword) recommend that people carve a physical space to do […]

  2. Staying in touch with your writing: Opening the document on a regular basis – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on April 17, 2020

    […] while, particularly with a specific piece of research. I told my brother about Joli Jensen’s “Write No Matter What” and how I, personally, implement Jensen’s approach to “writing, no matter […]

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