Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Snack or Sandwich? - Finding Time for Writing

Regardless of whether you are writing a short piece for a newsletter, a book review, an article or a book, time has to be allocated for writing. It’s a mistake to think you need large swathes of time in order to write.  Many busy people including myself find time to write; perhaps at the kitchen table, on trains, in coffee shops and at a desk. Some such as myself are at their most creative in the morning; others at night. Rowena Murray (Writing for Academic Publication) writes about snack and sandwich writing. Snack writing is where you have a small slot of time, perhaps 15 minutes; the sandwich is a longer period, perhaps a few hours or more. If your schedule is very tight and you have a lot of commitments which make making time to write difficult, the snack writing habit may suit you. It’s likely if you are writing this way – perhaps a few hundred words a week, it will take about two months to draft a 2,000 word article. There are many journals in different disciplines that are actively seeking short articles; frequently these are based on practice rather than research. When I started academic writing it was mostly 2,000 word articles for practice-based journals. I learned to write by writing. My first 2,000 word practice-based article probably took about 10 to 20 times as long to write as a recent 2,000 word article for the same publication. During 23 years writing I learned a lot about the mechanics of writing; the need for structure; the need to put a fence around my writing (what you leave out is as important as what you leave in); the need to write and rewrite and when finished to put it aside and return to it a few days or a week later with a fresh eye to do a final edit; the need to let go when I’m 90% complete and let the editor or peer reviewers do their job and work from their guidance. My writing habits are somewhere between snack and sandwich. After 23 years I still find it difficult to sit down and begin writing. I tell myself that I’ll write for 15 minutes (snack), but once I get started I often find that I don’t want to stop after 15 minutes and might continue for an hour or more (sandwich).
Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi, world-renowned writer on creativity talks about finding flow in various activities. He suggests that flow is more likely to be found in active activities such as writing rather than passive activities such as watching television. He writes about activation energy; that is the effort you need to put into something before if begins to be enjoyable, suggesting:
Each of the flow-producing activities requires an initial investment of attention before it begins to be enjoyable. One needs such disposable “activation energy” to enjoy complex activities (Finding flow. P. 68).
Frequently after the first fifteen minutes investment of energy in writing, I find myself in a state of flow, finding ideas I didn’t have at the outset.
Try writing for an initial 15 minutes; then continue without stopping for another 15. Was it easier to write during the second 15 minutes?
Realistically assess how much time you can devote to writing. This is likely to influence what you write. If you’re new to writing and have significant time constraints, consider a professional journal article (generally practice based and usually don’t require research) or book review, conference report or short piece for a newsletter.
The important thing is to write!

Helen Fallon

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