I came across this funny (NSFW!) article, "How to write", today through my facebook feed (thanks to Victor Kumar). Basically, the message is: to be an effective writer you need to wake up super-early in the morning and be near-psychotic in your level of devotion to getting words out on the page, ignoring everthing and everyone during "writing time." Finally, about 3/4 of the way down the article, the author writes what I expect just about every reader is thinking:
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "This person is kind of an asshole. If I become a professional writer, I won't be so discombobulated and distracted and self-hating." That's what I used to think...
Be that as it may, I think there's some real truth to the post. I was a really ineffective writer throughout much of grad school. I slept in, tried to write in the afternoon or evening, slaved away on papers, and tooks weeks or even months on end to get stuff into shape. Then, late in my graduate career -- as I've discussed many times before -- I found an unsolicited book in my grad school mailbox on "how to write a dissertation" (I still can't remember its exact title!). Anyway, the book said basically what this author says: wake up early, write first thing in the morning while is your brain is fresh (or even tired!-more on this momentarily), force yourself to get stuff out of your head and onto paper, etc. Although I had never been an "early riser" before, I was desperate, so I tried it out. I work up early, wrote first thing in the morning, etc...and just like that, I was suddenly far more productive.
What was it? Strangely, I think being tired has something to do with it. I read somewhere not too long ago (I can't recall where) that people are actually more creative when they tired, in part because our inner "censor" is weak when we're tired. The more that I've worked in the morning, the more true this seems to me. Stuff just flows out in the morning because I'm tired, whereas later in the day, when I'm much more self-critical, I linger on things, obsessing over whether I've got things right. The great thing about writing in the morning is that you can do both. For instance, I've just started revising my book manuscript from page 1 and am revising a couple of R&R's as well as a couple of new articles to send off to journals. Here's what I do: I wake up the morning and write new stuff non-stop from about 9am-noon. Then, after lunch, I may write some more new stuff, but around 2-3pm, I'm tired of it, and I turn to revising old stuff. It's at this point in the afternoon that I no longer feel "fresh" -- or able to really spit out a lot of new stuff -- but I still have plenty of energy to work old stuff through the ringer.
Anyway, I know I've talked about this stuff before, but if you've never tried it -- and you're someone who struggles with writing efficiently -- I really advocate giving a real shot. I never would have imagined any of it would work as well as it does, but it does work, at least for me -- and there were others I gave the book to for whom it seemed to work wonders for, as well.
One final thing that occurred to me while reading the above article is also how important it is to be in a non-distractable environment -- no email, no internet, etc. I do almost all of my paper-writing at the dog park. I find that when I do stuff other places -- my office, Starbucks, whatever -- I get distracted by things. I check my email. I check this blog, etc. At the dog park, nothing bugs me. I put in my headphones, blast my music (I always write to music now), and get on with writing. Then, if I need sources, I'll head to my office for them in the afternoon. Here again, this was sort of a lucky accident on my part. I never had a dog before, but once I had him, I just started writing at the park by accident, and strangely, it seemed to work wonders.
So, I guess that's what I'd suggest too: if you have trouble writing, don't just try to write first thing in the morning; try to write somewhere you don't normally write -- a park, etc.; and, by all means, turn your internet and cell phone off! :) I have no idea whether these things will work for everyone or even most people, but I thought they might be worth sharing.