How to write 8 articles (and a book chapter) in a year – and not lose the plot

Whatever your writing goals, there are some things that make writing easier and more enjoyable. 

If you had told me in January 2015 that 12 months later I would have written 8 journal articles (and snuck in a book chapter along the way), this would have been my face:

ElaineYoureHavingALaugh2

Ha ha ha ha!

In between snorts, I would have said, “ha ha, very funny. You’re having a laugh, right?!”.

But last year, I really did write 8 academic articles and a book chapter.

At no point in time did I set out to write that much. My plan for the year had been 2, maybe 3, potential articles that I might write, and even then that looked like a tall order.

So, what happened? Well, that’s the subject of today’s blog post. And it’s a question that I’ve been asked a lot of late.

Most people presume that I spent a large amount of time in a cave scribbling away and not doing much else. Nothing can be further from the truth. I’ve supervised numerous real life company, commercial and intellectual property law cases. I’ve spent a lot of time with my students discussing job applications, and giving careers advice. I’ve helped other people set up their own business law clinics. I’ve been to conferences in Newcastle, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Turkey and Glasgow. And I’ve spent a good deal of time at social events, and enjoyed many a Friday night in our staff local putting the world to rights. Outside of work, I’ve visited New York, London, Edinburgh and Hull. I moved house. I bought my first car.

Writing is hard work. There’s no getting away from that. And there have been some very hairy moments when I really questioned what the point was. But I managed to do it alongside lots of other activities – work & non-work related. I did not turn into Wonder Woman – let’s throw that idea out of the window right now – but I did manage to discover techniques that helped me keep plugging away with the writing, and that made the writing something I wanted to do.

Before we get on to those techniques, I want to make one thing absolutely crystal clear. At no point am I saying that you should write 8 articles in a year. Or that 8 articles in a year is a realistic goal. It isn’t. It wasn’t my goal, and it won’t ever be my goal. I firmly believe that you should do what is right for you. If it’s to write a 300 word paragraph in 2 weeks, then that’s fantastic. If it’s to complete your thesis in 3 months, then that’s brilliant too. If it’s to get yourself writing for 30 minutes each week, then I salute you. I can’t emphasise that enough.

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, onwards!

THE TOP 5 REASONS WHY I WROTE SO MUCH LAST YEAR

5. KEEPing IT ROLLIN’

I like to treat each article like a friend.

Article A is Bob. Bob likes skiing, meeting new people, and has a secret obsession with Murder She Wrote. Article B is Julia. Julia has a prawn allergy, runs 10 miles 3 times a week, and wishes she could give up caffeine. Article C is Louis. Louis likes to spend his weekends upscaling his furniture, owns 2 cocker spaniels, and manages a call centre.

In life, we don’t want to spend all of our time with one friend. We want to mix and match. Sometimes Louis will be in bad mood and he just needs some time by himself. Other days, all you want to do is sit and have a natter with Julia. You might see Bob every couple of months on a Thursday evening.

That’s how I worked last year. I didn’t spend all of my time working on one article. I always had something else rolling on in the background that I could move to if I (a) got bored (b) lost inspiration (c) became frustrated, or (d) couldn’t be bother to look at the same thing over and over again. That meant that some of the pieces that I never thought I would get round to just got done. Because I was chipping away at them, bit by bit.

I’m still doing this now. I’ve got three articles on the go at the minute. Last week I had a moment when all I wanted to do was write about business law clinics. So, rather than thinking ‘hmmm, but that’s not the article I should be working on’, I went straight to the draft and wrote for half an hour. I spent a bit of time with Bob, and it felt good.

4. COLLABORATion

If you look at my list of published articles from last year, you’ll see that collaboration was a key theme. Three out of the eight articles I wrote (one will be published this year, so it doesn’t appear on the list yet) were co-authored.

Hand on heart I can say that those articles would have remained ideas and nothing more were it not for the patience and drive of my co-authors. They pushed the work on when I let it drift. They had fantastic opinions, styles and suggestions that I could bounce off.  I didn’t want to let them down, and that really provided motivation where there sometimes was none! I recently wrote about the power of collaboration on the Piirus Blog. That post specifically references the co-authorships I was part of last year if you’re interested in reading more on that subject.

3. FINDING TIME FOR WRITING

I used to be the person that scoffed whenever someone suggested blocking off time for writing. I always had an excuse. You know the type of thing I mean….  Here’s a few gems from my past: “what if someone needs me?”, “I just can’t find a quiet time”, and “There’s no point, I just get interrupted by emails”.

Last year I made a concerted effort to make time for writing and factor it into my week.

I started by using the amazing virtual writing workshop Shut Up & Write Tuesdays. I found that it was indeed possible to spend an hour every other Tuesday just writing. I even – are you ready for this?switched my emails off for that hour. And you know what? Nothing bad happened. Shocking.

Then I looked at my diary and searched for times when things were slightly quieter. For me, this happens towards the end of the week. Most things related to clinic and supervision tend to need dealing with at the start and middle of the week. That’s when I need to give that work all of my attention. But towards the end it does lift a little. So I started to use our University Library Research Zone. It’s a place away from my desk where there are other researchers getting on with the same thing. It’s a lovely big room and, when you’re having a short pause, you can gaze out on to the courtyard and watch the world go by. I’ve recommended it to many colleagues.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s okay to leave your desk and find a spot that works for you. It could be the downstairs cafe. It could be the library. It really doesn’t matter so long as you’re comfortable. And it doesn’t mean that you have to be completely cut off, if that’s not for you. Last Friday I went to the Research Zone but had a weather eye on my emails because I knew I might have to deal with something urgently. You can be flexible and you can make it work for you.

2. NO EDITING

Stop constantly editing. Honestly, it will change your life.

1. BEING GEORGE MCFLY

We talk about Imposter Syndrome a lot in academia. Last year, I threw Imposter Syndrome into the Tyne and waved as it bobbed off into the distance.

I can honestly say that at no point in time last year did I ever think that my writing was ‘not good enough’. I did not, for one moment, contemplate that someone would turn to me and say that it couldn’t be published in their journal. I prepared myself for revisions – all of my articles have had revisions. But when I was writing, I told myself that it was the greatest thing the world would ever read.

In 2014, I went Back to the Future. I put on on my best 1950s dress, did my best 1950s hair and walked into Hill Valley. One thing from that film remained with me throughout 2015. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly’s father George is full of doubt and lacks self confidence. Marty tells George how good his stories are and that he should send them to publishers. But George responds with: “Well, what if they didn’t like them? What if they say I’m no good?“. Marty replies:  “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything“. In a newly realised future, when George is looking at his first novel, he turns to his son and repeats the same line:

If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything

And you can.

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