Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writers' Lab: Five Ways of Getting in the Zone

Getting started with writing is sometimes the hardest part to writing. Once we get into the zone, or reach our state of flow, the words start forming sentences in our minds and writing can feel effortless.

But too often we spend the entire day nibbling away at a paragraph here, an introduction sentence there and then a bit of polishing the figures. While I think editing and improving figures are vital elements to writing, I also think it is necessary to get to that deeper level of concentration when you need to write large blocks of text.

In my approach of writing a paper (in two days for a conference paper), I need to get into this mode of pouring sentences onto the screen when I reach the second phase of my approach: the constant writing with as little distractions as possible.

Whenever I need to get deep into my writing zone (a skill that I am using now as I type this post as well), I use the following tricks to get the writing juices flowing:

1. Clear goal

An important step towards getting your paragraph(s) written, is getting your thoughts together and knowing what precisely you want to cover in said paragraph(s). Have your keywords clear and sharp in your mind, and all necessary information ready, so that you can write constantly without getting disturbed and needing to wander in your thoughts to figure out what you actually where going to write about.

2. Mark and Go

Once you have your goal clear, you can start writing. There will always be references that you might need to look up, or figures that need to be added. Don't spend your time on these while you have your words flowing onto the screen, as this might break the inertia that you have built up. Instead, add comments, mark in yellow what you need to verify and refer to figure XXX (change this to the figure number once you have all the figures drawn and in the document).

3. Quiet environment

If disturbances cause you to lose your concentration, make sure you can write in a quiet environment. I've written vast amounts of my thesis during the evening hours at home, and on Sundays. Similarly, you might like to use headphones or earplugs if you really want to block out noise.

4. Freewriting

If you can't seem to get started on putting any sentence at all together, freewriting might be an option. 750 words is a great tool to pour out ideas as an unstructured mess of words that no one will ever look at. Simply write down what is on your mind (your research, any issues in Life, or why you find it hard to get started on writing), and before you realize you will have written your 750 words.

5. Don't start from the beginning

When the stress of writing the great opening sentence weighs on your shoulders, simply avoid the introduction and start drafting the paragraphs that feel like a safe ground for you - typically the experiments and analysis that you have spent most time working on. Once you have reached your state of flow, you can -if necessary- attack the introduction section.

What helps you in getting started on writing and having the words flow freely onto your screen?

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