Most researchers I know hate writing. Does the thought tense your shoulders, induce a headache, knot your stomach, or make you want to do anything else but sit down and write? If you ever feel like you have nothing to say, don’t know where to start, are paralyzed by self-doubts, or think that it’s all been said before, read on. Here are five tips to get you writing without it feeling like writing.
- Use sentence starters. Write down “I need to…”, “I want to…”, “My objective is to…,” “This text should…” and then complete as many sentences as you can. For example, “I need to…convince readers that game theory is important to entrepreneurship.” This exercise leads to questions: “How can I prove it?”, “How can I structure it?”, “Where can I find the supporting research I need?” At the end of this exercise, you have a clearer idea of your topic, objective, and next steps.
- Write in markers or colored pencils. Much of the fear, anxiety, and pressure of writing comes from a belief that writing needs to be a serious activity. When you write, you open yourself up to judgment, evaluation, and criticism. Anything that makes writing less serious and more fun is progress. So write notes in a sketch book with a purple sparkle pen and then later transfer it to your laptop. Sketch out idea maps, doodle, or write ridiculous statements for 30 minutes. If you get stuck or can’t get started, this exercise makes writing less serious and opens you up to the unexpected.
- Create a list of five. Type your topic, theme, or idea into a search engine. Write down the first five words you see and close your browser. Now use these words as a starting point: try write a sentence using all five words, write as many synonyms as you can, create a new list of words from these original five. Ask yourself “why?” or “how?” and list as many reasons as you can. I typed “writing” into a search engine and the first five words I saw were “lazy,” “symbols,” “communication,” “improve,” and “skill.” I made a sentence with them: “Many people are too lazy to improve their writing, a form of communication that requires skills to transform symbols into ideas.” This exercise generated a lot of ideas and questions: Why does writing induce laziness? Procrastination, difficulty. What do people want to communicate?…When you’re stuck, this quick, active brainstorming exercise can get you unstuck.
- Record yourself. Take out your smartphone and record yourself talking about what you want to write. Look out your window as you ramble, digress, elaborate, take detours. Talk as long as you can, then transcribe what you recorded word for word. Changing the medium from a blank screen to a device that’s likely right next to you opens you up. Most of the writing-coaching clients I have can talk for a long time and very eloquently and easily about their research, but when forced to write it they freeze up and shut down. Choose one person you want to talk to and record a message for this person. What results will be a really good start to your final draft.
- Email yourself. Write an email to yourself and schedule it to be delivered to you later—one or two hours from now or even tomorrow. Writing to yourself in a format you’re comfortable and familiar with is a way to generate ideas and text outside of the blank page or screen. This exercise eases some of the pressure of writing, and since you’re the only one who will be reading the email, you can generate a lot of text in a low-pressure environment.
Writing is about figuring out what you know, what you don’t know, and where you need to go—not about perfection. Much of my own procrastination and fear of writing comes from thinking of it in the abstract, in the all-caps, within-quotation-marks “WRITING,” which I instantly associate with perfection, judgment, and self-doubt. Writing is also about producing, and to produce, I need to get unstuck and make it a practice. These are some tips I use when I’m feeling unproductive, stuck, and out of practice.