Top 5 Obstacles to Good Writing

A Duke writing instructor discusses stumbling blocks on the road to great writing

One key to writing: carve out time and eliminate distractions
One key to writing: carve out time and eliminate distractions

A new faculty writing initiative on campus aims to help professors improve and focus their work. The project is run by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, who heads Duke's Writing and Research Faculty Fellows Program.

Ahern-Dodson helps faculty members work through some of the obstacles that often stand in the way of good writing.

Here, she explains her Top 5 pitfalls for faculty writing:

1) Thinking 'I'm too busy'

Successful writers schedule writing into their lives. Make an appointment to write, even if it's only 15 minutes a day or two hours per week, and keep that appointment with yourself as you would a meeting with a colleague or a class. Writing begets writing.

2) Avoiding writing and getting distracted

Reading, researching, making lists or talking about writing are NOT writing. Writing is writing. When it's time to write, turn off email, phone, Internet and other distractions as much as possible.

If you need to look up a reference or email a colleague for something related to your project, wait until after your scheduled writing time is over.

3) 'I'm the only one struggling to get the writing done'

All writers struggle at some point, and most of us work better when we can exchange and develop our ideas by bouncing them off other people. As academics, we often assume writing should be a solitary activity, but that approach can be isolating and unproductive.

Writing is work, and very few writers create a perfect academic article in one sitting and without any feedback.

4) Waiting until a late draft to get feedback

Writing is a process, and we need support to advance our writing whether we're trying to determine how to turn a semester's worth of data into an article, how to respond to an editor's critique or how to frame a research proposal.

5) Not planning

In order to keep from starting from scratch each time you write, keep a running list of each writing project, corresponding tasks, and deadlines and put the list in a visible place in your home or work office. Check off items as you go.

For example, keep a whiteboard in your office and list things such as "submit X article to X journal. Date March 15th. Rough draft complete: Feb. 1st. Share with colleagues for feedback: Feb. 15th. Final edit: March 13th. Write letter to journal and submit: March 15th."