Reading about writing

After writing an article and revising another (and doing admissions for my department), I’ve returned to writing the book I started in April. I’ve been trying to write in the morning and do teaching and admin in the afternoons. To help me along I’ve been reading some stuff about the processes and practices of writing. For some reason I always find it interesting and encouraging to read about other people’s writing practices (i think this must be the case for other people as well because the post I added recently about making revisions to articles is already my most visited post). A place I often look for stuff about writing is Stuart Elden’s blog Progressive Geographies. Stuart often includes posts on writing or links and comments on other peoples’ posts on writing – i’ve commented on one or two of these in the past, including a short post about the use of presentation slides to guide writing.I’ve noticed that he has commented that his posts on writing often generate a high level of interest. For example, here is a post he recently published about the number of words he writes in a day (the post also includes links to other articles and posts discussing this issue).

The consensus here and elsewhere seems to be to aim for consistency, with a target of about 500 words and a daily accumulative approach to writing. There have been one or two posts about this before on Progressive Geographies with Stuart indicating that he aims for about 500 polished words. Which I suspect means that he often writes more but then this averages out when you include days where the editing work is the focus. At the moment I’ve been trying to aim for about 1000 words a day, but this is unpolished as I’m leaving the editing until I have a complete draft of the book. Sometimes I manage more, although I’m sure that there is a lot of editorial work to do when I get to it. But this approach of doing some everyday, or every weekday for me, seems like a good way to work. Stuart makes some further comment here on managing the writing and scheduling it in to working patterns – I notice that there are also quite a few comments in response to this post. So far I’ve accumulated about 50,000 words on this book project by working like that. And it means that I know that about 20 days writing will mean I’ve got a complete draft. Although I’ve got a good deal of reading on my desk to do at the same time. I’ll need to do this in order to progress the writing.

I noticed that some of the posts at this excellent site about writing, called writing on writing, mention a more sporadic approach to writing. William Outhwaite’s piece makes some comment on this with reference to C Wright Mills famous notes on intellectual craftsmanship (which he notes endorsed the approach of writing everyday). The intermittency in writing is, of course, often caused by other work commitments. These types of commitments can intervene in writing, and I expect that once term starts I’ll slow down a bit.

This writing on writing site includes lots of short posts from some prominent writers. There are some really nice pieces here, many of which are quite practically orientated with lots of tips. These include the ever entertaining Howard Becker, who has contributed a piece about the way that the context in which we write shapes the form of our outputs. Fans of Becker’s amazing book Telling About Society won’t be surprised by the open outlook to writing that he describes in this short piece. There is also a great post by Les Back. He talks about how writing should be a sensitive form of communication that can only thrive if we listen properly during the research process. He suggests that writing should be something that creates a sensory feel for the subject matter. This is something that he says can be lost by an over reliance on research equipment and apparatus. Amongst this resource of materials on writing there are various pieces about daily practices, approaches and the development of writing as a craft. I’m still working through them at the moment. I might post some more links if anything catches my eye.

Finally, I’ve also been flicking through the Scholarly Kitchen blog. Amongst other topics there are often posts there about writing and publishing. For example, here is a post about the role of publishers.

This post by Dave Beer was originally published on Thinking Culture.


Categories: Sociological Craft

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