Let me describe a good day’s writing. Time stands still. Time flies. Words come, hesitantly, then all in a flood. Words ebb and flow. I get up, I sit down. My fingers move and then they stop. At the end of a few hours, I can produce several pages of good writing.
For academic writing, there’s a lot of legwork behind all that writing. A few months of data analysis and field work might yield one or two good papers. The ratio of analysis and legwork to writing would be on the order of maybe 20:1 (a rough guess).
Robert L. Peters (1997) includes a quote in his fine book Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD. It is something along the lines of “writing is the only profession in which one can make no money without looking ridiculous.” Perhaps I’ve bastardized this quote (I can’t find the exact quote), but I take to heart it’s essence, that writing is an honourable end in itself. Writing gets better with practice. People like to read good writing. Good writers love to write. Sometimes they might even get paid to write.
I’ve been published a few times, but have never been paid. The only times I can say I got paid to write were when it was part of an already paid position, mostly doing something else (like making maps).
There’s also a lot of background reading to any good writing project, and I do not see any clear boundary between reading and writing. Thus the need for good scholarship, and correctly citing all sources directly quoted or paraphrased. There are always big stacks of books all around any time I write.
When you get in that zone, there’s really no way to describe what’s happening. It’s neither good nor bad, neither manic nor depressive, here nor there. Sometimes the snow is falling for days on end outside, sometimes the hot greasy sun is falling into its pit on the far side of a glum river. The zone is all that matters.
Write a lot, and write every day. Sleep on it, and if you don’t like what you’ve written you can cross it out and start over again. There may be a nugget in there that you like. Different kinds of writing inform each other. Poetry is excellent for honing in on the barest most essential parts of what you want to say. Writing is about what to keep and what to throw away.
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