Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Reinventing my approach to writing

...scientific articles, that is. For a week or so, I've tried a combination approach based on the concepts "Listing" and "Freewriting" that I got from the book "A Writer's Reference" by Diana Hacker, that I've reviewed here. Listing is simply brainstorming on a piece of paper - jotting down ideas in the order in which they occur to you. Freewriting is nonstop writing (still on a piece of paper) for a given period of time, like ten minutes, without pausing to think about word choice, context or meaning. It could be that nothing useful emerges, in which case you've only lost ten minutes. So far, this is working like gangbusters for me. However, for me, the key to success here is the use of pencil and paper to jot down whatever comes to mind. For whatever reason, my approach becomes more rigid if I try to do the same thing with a Word file. Especially if I try either approach in the actual manuscript.

Being as how I label this my "new" approach (at least for the time being), I guess I should explain how I've worked so far: Writing the entire manuscript in a Word file the order in which they appear in the manuscript (excluding abstract) - IMRAD. The most linear approach to composition imagineable. Consequently, if I've struggled with a paragraph in the introduction section, I've been stuck there until I came up with at least something preliminary, the fact that I could have written several paragraphs in other section rather effortlessly notwithstanding. This has applied not only to large sections of the manuscript, but also to single sentences; if I'm writing the sentence down in the manuscript file, I can spend hours trying to tweak it just right before I'm capable of moving on. In the words of Eddie Robinson, whenever I've hit a wall in the writing process, I've grunted, grabbed the wall with both hands and headbutted it until I've broken through on the other side.

How's that been working out for me? Not too bad, actually. Of course, the amount of time I've spent on writing is only vaguely correlated to the resulting number of pages, but I suspect it will stay that way. At this point, I've all but given up on trying to estimate the time needed to write one paper. I can guesstimate what my annual production is going to look like, but for individual scientific papers - not a chance. Maybe when I get enough of them to warrant a full Gaussian treatment....... Excluding the time required for data collection (which is a whole other ball of wax), I've written 80% of a manuscript in one night, between helping out with round-the-clock experiments at NIST. Conversely, I've spent the better part of four consecutive months writing a review paper based on (mostly) my own research.

Ahh - what the hell; cliff notes: I've found a new approach to inserting "Moreover's" and equations in Word documents.

No comments: