Getting through the hard part of writing is forcing yourself to write, even if it’s a little bit, consistently. And not only consistently. I’ve come to understand that you can’t (well, you really can) simply write only once inspiration reaches a crescendo. Some of the best works of art are manifestations of fiery inspiration. But a good chunk of time spent writing is labor. It’s toil, it’s meticulous. For grad students, it’s reading several chapter or articles that would eventually serve to produce one or two sentences. For me, It’s also understanding that some part of my writing will marginally improve.
One piece of advice I received from a recent PhD graduate in history. He told me that it’s important to read a little of everyone’s work to sharpen my own instincts, in addition to looking more critically and honestly about personal work. I always try to read prices across a spectrum of different subjects or writers. I try and challenge myself to compare and contrast and identify different writing styles to pinpoint someone’s own voice and tone. I always try to understand why something is well written. It helps to read outside of your own subject, or even inside your subject but from different perspectives across several different publications. There are several beautiful writers, many of whom I eagerly await for the next article or essay. A main goal for me is to try and write something I’d want to read, which I also happen to believe is good advice.
A good lecture I saw on academic writing, the craft of writing effectively in the academy, aligns well (in many parts) with what I’ve heard many times. It’s mostly about breaking rules, and understanding why they’re total made-up bullshit. The head of the writing program at UChicago, Larry McEnerney, has two wonderful lectures on writing effectively. He turns the very notion of what a well produced text should look like and what makes for powerful effective writing. In these lectures he takes a class through some of the conventional wisdom about effectiveness in publishing in an academic setting, but I’ve seen these sentiments applied elsewhere, which lends validity to the program. He mentions, though, that the university is not popular amongst writing programs in the country (mostly for good reasons, but also for bad ones). The good reasons being that UChicago’s writing program gives a giant middle finger to the received wisdom of writing well, which is an odd ethic to carry at such a notoriously gatekeeping elite university. Likewise, many reasons for their unpopularity are bad. He mentions to identify language and language usage patterns in journals students look to publish in and encourages students to use them if they wish for success in their academic careers. As anyone who has not been living under a rock can tell you, it takes much more than publishing (like the mechanics of actually being published) to score you a professorship. I encourage to watch if you’re interested. There’s several pockets of useful wisdom yet many things I disagree with. That could be the next project. The video is below for you to view at your leisure.