On the fine balance between crafting new ideas and fighting writers’ block

My biggest problem as an academic? I’m not enough of a finisher. I get excited and distracted by new shiny things and start pursuing them instead of sitting down and finishing the paper from the last thing I’m already done with. I sometimes call this writers block… but that’s just an excuse and I know it.

So to combat this idea, and the ideas put forth in this post, Raul Pachecco-Vega wrote about how he teaches his students to write every day. It’s both a nice rebuttal and food for thought on how to approach the mountain of writing required to publish or perish. I especially like Meghan Duffy’s response.

Do you have writer’s block? Is there a way you combat it? Does it involve moving the refrigerator to clean behind it as a means of avoiding writing your thesis (Mom, I’m looking at you here)?

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4 comments on “On the fine balance between crafting new ideas and fighting writers’ block

  1. Macrobe says:

    I find more and more (under)graduates that were not required to write papers, let alone their own research project (at any scale). Nor were they required to read scientific literature beyond their textbooks or do literature searches. A subset also never had field work, but they now hold B.S. degrees in biology, ecology, and wildlife.

    I find this disconcerting about the state and quality of modern “higher” education in the US.

  2. cej9f says:

    Yes, it is true that I moved the refrigerator and cleaned under and around it, when I should have been pounding the keyboard writing my thesis. But the thesis was completed, degree earned, and thesis published. I have always found that when working on an intense mental task, I have to sometimes step away and do something completely different. So no scanning the internet, or reading something different, but a cleaning break to clear the mind, a run, a swim, or some physical task was more refreshing.

    • Macrobe says:

      I discovered that social media can be a welcome distraction while writing, but also a nemesis. Ironically, I’m more productive when I’m at a cafe. Seems there is a balanced distraction and concentration to not only think but also write prolifically. Even at a table in the campus cafeteria. (Also guilty of reading and writing during camping trips.)

      This has worked throughout my academic career and even during retirement. We all work differently, and it’s worthwhile to try different approaches to determine what works best.

      • cej9f says:

        I think that’s the most interesting part about this debate: I don’t think that there is one “right” way to read or write as long as it’s getting done. If “barf and buff” works for you, do it! If “finely craft each sentence” works, then do that! The take away should be, find what works that makes you productive. Do that. I also work better when there is ambient noise, and find a good coffee shop afternoon VERY productive. *Also I should note that the above comment was from my mother, who’s a prolific writer and my editor (which is why she has my login info). I came home from school while she was working on her thesis for her LLM (master in international law) and she was deep cleaning the kitchen. I’ve been making fun of her for it ever since. Worked for her though (the thesis was very successfully published prior to her graduation).

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