What’s your best writing advice?

When I was doing my PhD, we would go on a yearly writing retreat with all the PhDs of the department. It was a fun event where all of us would bring something particular to work on, and we simply worked on it all day. A small team took care of food, we went for daily walks, and the evening was usually for games. Not only were they a lot of fun, I also always started with a blank page and returned three days after with a reasonable draft manuscript. You can do a lot of work in three days. Having the right people around you helps to create the right mindset.

Today some team members suggested we do something like that in our team. I loved the idea. It brought back good memories. Even though I am not sure we can fund any of this from our current budgets, I’d like to do the retreat anyway.

“What would you be doing on a retreat then? You’re not one if the PhDs” you might be wondering, and I sort of think the same. On the one hand, such a retreat among PhDs is a good experience to have. However, I also think that having a couple of more experienced postdocs around to write and guide it, would have been fun, and perhaps even more useful than the writing alone.

One of the things I offered my team was to have an ‘Ask Me Anything’ kind of workshop, where they provide me with a set of questions, and I develop a bit of a crash course around it. I thought it would be a nice challenge, and although I am by now means an authority on all things writing (and particularly academic writing), I am one of the most prolific writers in my own (small) circle (admitted having this blog worked well to accomplish that). From that angle, I could probably help out and give my thoughts on many things.

Now, I know that many of the people that read my blog are academics, that may in this or previous life times have been exposed to writing classes, workshops and retreats. To you, I would ask: what has been the most memorable academic writing experience, and why? To all others: if you could give a top three of your all time favorite tips to be more productive in writing, what would they be? Please comment below 👇.

Mine would probably the following:

1) Write every day. No excuses. Half an hour works!

2) Words on paper > quality content. (Editing comes later)

3) Curb the perfectionism. Just trash it right away. Good enough is good enough.

What are yours? Help me help others 😀.


Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

2 thoughts on “What’s your best writing advice?

  1. 1. You don’t need to begin writing the introduction of your paper, you can start where you feel most comfortable, be that the methods, or the results.

    2. Consider “writing” the first draft of your paper through speaking out loud to a voice recorder. I find that it is particularly helpful, and this method allows you to record whenever inspiration takes place, eg. on a bike ride or in the supermarket.

    3. Consider starting with the creating the figures and diagrams first because then they can give you the structure you require to begin writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Number 2. is especially genius if you struggle to get started. I voice recorded my dissertation intro and discussion (because my hands suffered from extreme RSI at that moment). I have suggested it to various people that could talk easily about their work, but always struggled with words on paper.

      Thanks for your input. 😀


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