the writing process

I have attempted to spend a majority of my time writing over the past few days. While the whole ‘writing’ thing has not panned out very well, I have managed to spend a good amount of time drinking tea, sleeping, watching tv, cooking delicious mexican meals, reading, and cleaning my flat. At this point I have a few hours this evening and all day tomorrow to finish the paper I am presenting on Tuesday. I am a bit stressed, but have learned that these things always, although sometimes painfully, work themselves out.

The thing I’ve realized through all of this is that while I’ve recently developed a good set of habits in regards to reading, I have yet to develop a habitual system for writing. The only writing habit I have at this point is always hand writing my first draft, but that’s more of a technique than a habit.

So out of curiosity, does anyone have a certain system they find helpful for writing?  I’d be willing to take any and all advice on this topic, as my current system makes it possible to rush through 4,000 or so words, but will be nothing short of hellish if I attempt to use this system to produce over 15,000 words this summer. Also, while I’m fishing for advice, does anyone have anything different they do when preparing a paper for presentation as opposed to an assignment or publication? and does anyone have any ‘tricks’ for presenting? I find myself getting very tense during my presentations and usually have small panic attacks during the question and answer period…


8 thoughts on “the writing process

  1. Lisa Damian says:

    Where are you presenting — at a conference as a speaker, a critique workshop, or pitching to a potential agent?

    As for writing advice, I sometimes need to simply change my location in order to focus better — to find a place that is fairly free of distractions, such as the library. I have a laptop that I can take with me, which makes the editing and rewriting process so much easier, although I will scribble notes, ideas and outlines on paper. I have also learned that it is best if I just write as much as I can stream-of-concious style before worrying about changes that need to be made. I can always go back and rewrite and edit, but I don’t want my rewrites to distract from my momentum of finishing the story.

    I am still trying to figure out techniques that work best, and it’s a learning process. I have a very different voice when writing journalism or nonfiction versus fiction. Participating in writers’ groups is helpful too.

    I recently posted about inspiration on my own blog:

  2. michaeloneillburns says:

    I’m presenting at a conference next week.

    Thanks for the advice,I need to try the stream-of-conscious writing style more. I’ll check out your blog as well.

  3. Alex says:

    First off, I’m not the best at writing either, as I, like you, leave absolutely everything to the last minute. But the advice I can offer, such as it is is trice fold.

    I heartily recommed using Writeroom for OS X. Its an incredible distraction free piece of writing software and I believe their are similar things for Windows if you are in the office (I think its called Darkroom?). Also, disconnect from the internet if at all possible.

    Secondly, I tend to write things in a highly non-linear way. If you are stuck on a point, then just start writing another section you are strong on. I often write in reverse, writing my conclusion first, main points and then working out my introduction last, because it only needs to be “jobbed” out. This technique means much editing is required, but often excellent thoughts can happen you didn’t expect when you are just blocking it out. For example, the main chunk of my dissertation, the bit on economics was so tough on my thinking (as the concepts were rather foggy), that I took the last few days just to make very detailed notes on Ruskin, which I ended up, where relevant, simply slapping into the dissertation proper.

    Thirdly, as Lisa says, sometimes when stuck, just write something anything, just get it out there. Then at least, even if it isn’t great, you literally have words on a page.

    With regard to the presentation, I also shit myself and end up reading too fast. The only advice I can give here, is basically know your structure really well, and the main discursive point and kind of pace about repeating them to yourself. We all get nervous, ask Conor sometime, he says he is sometimes standing there, and I’ve been in this situation too, where you suddenly think – shit this is bollocks. But ride it out, it isn’t, and time will pass buy very quickly.

  4. Alex says:

    Oh and PS, there is nothing better than getting something intellectually. I recall at about 3 in the morning once suddenly understanding one of Tony Lawson’s key concepts. When these omega moments happen, its all worth it.

  5. Dave Bennett says:


    I’ve recently undertaken the same kind of project, namely that of trying to understand how to write a massive document.

    I realized that my problem has been, especially with writers like Kierkegaard, that the amount of processing it takes to read a small bit of Kierkegaard requires so much subconscious processing that by the time I finish reading a certain work that the foundations of my thought are lost and invisible from the ivory tower that I have ended up with.

    So to avoid this in the future I have taken quite a new stance, and decided to record my “ah ha” moments, which have become fairly systematic as of late, in a cross-referential way.

    check out: sorenkierkegaardatwordpressdotcom

    I organize myself ethically in my analysis using Wittgenstein’s language games as a sort of basic methodology.

    Because I’ve been a stickler about keeping the notes pretty clean and sticking to MLA format, I should be able to swap and match different entries as I need them and where I see fit.

    I think of this as the digital equivalent to the novel writer’s methodical use of note cards on a storyboard.

    Of course, this is as much an on going project as it is a hypothesis. But perhaps it will be helpful?

  6. Dave Bennett says:

    whoops, I meant sorenkierkegaard.wordpressdotcom not at.

    my bad.

  7. augustinian says:

    Well, your paper techniques certainly did work out in my humble opinion! So no worries there. For papers: 100 words per minute, but then take out some so you can waffle enthusiastically if you want and quote Augustine.

    Ditto all that about
    -getting away to a library
    -not using the internet (find somewhere you actually can’t get access, or only standing access)
    -moving on
    -writing lots.

    But also:
    -write even when you’re in a reading phase
    -write to word targets (I do about 1000 a day)
    -plan well and abandon your plans if you want
    -definitely write when you are inspired to, but don’t not write because you’re not inspired.
    -edit on paper with red pen and sometimes re-draft from scratch
    -signpost research objectives
    -design writing with Thomist arguments

    And I never write backwards. Usually I discover whilst writing that my original conclusions were wrong. I found out halfway through my PhD thesis in praise of holy fools that holy fools were bastards.

    But hey, if you don’t change your mind, what’s the point in doing research?


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