In reading Dani Shapiro’s book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of Creative Life, she shares different segments of advice for her own creative writing practice. Much of this book is focused on her journey and experience of her own writing crafts, with anecdotes for what she has learned in the process of her creative work. Although this was not intended for academic writing practice, I think Shapiro shares helpful suggestions for academic writers and early career scholars to borrow as they develop their own writing process. It is through the beginnings, middles, and ends of writing, where some of the writing advice shares reflections and advice on writing during the struggle and flow times.
Here are a few pieces of advice from Shapiro (2013) that resonated with me the most, as I thought about how I continue to develop my own writing practice:
- Being Present: “Drop down, drop in” (p. 59). Being concentrated and directed in your writing process is a critical way to hone the craft of academic scholarship. Be focused on a single task when your are writing. Make this your primary and only priority. Consider ways to engross yourself in your writing work or project at hand. What ways do you prepare yourself to be present in your writing? How are you dropping into your writing to be in it each day?
- Rhythm: “…3 pages a day, 5 days a week” (p. 100) is Shapiro’s writing pattern or habit. What is your writing rhythm? What sort of continued pattern are you developing for your writing practice? Think about this as a habit, and consider how you develop a pattern or rhythm of writing actions around this habit. How are you building rhythm with your writing and research work? What is your schedule for treating writing as work?
- Practice: “Practice involves discipline but is more closely related to patience” (p. 131). I would say returning to the process and understanding that writing and academic work is more of a marathon. Your writing practice will involve your willingness to continue the work and know that your incremental writing practice is contributing to the larger project, piece, or manuscript. Keep at it! What keeps your patience in check for daily writing practice? How do you maintain motivation with on-going writing projects or revisions on manuscripts?
- Cigarette Break: “gazing out the window at the courtyard below, and allowing my thoughts to sort themselves out… writers require that ritualized dream time” (p. 158). I don’t smoke, but I can see the value in stepping away to space out. Taking a pause to breathe and ponder work without distraction is vital. Breaks offer writers a critical time to process thoughts, ideas, and concepts. Maybe you step away from your desk, leave your screen and devices, and find a space to just take a pause to have a bit of a think. Let your mind wander and see what comes about from a bit of spaced out time when you’re not creating or doing. How do you find mental space to space out or mind wander? How do you encourage creative thoughts to stew with your writing practice and when you’re engrossed in research projects?
- Steward: “Don’t leave that essential place. Be a good steward to your gifts” (p. 207). Figure out how to best protect your own writing craft and these habits. Stewardship means tending to the needs and practices you require to be productive in your writing work. Is there a particular place that lends to your productive writing practice? Are there particular times and days that allows you to write your best? What are the essential tools you will need to focus on writing or working on a particular research project? How do you create a bubble or force-field around this writing space and time?
Shapiro, D. (2013). Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of Creative Life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.