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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.


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).


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.


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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  1. Caroline says

    Such an excellent piece, thank you so much. Have implemented this in my own doctoral studies and actually feel rather silly that it didn’t occur to me before.

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