Information Age Education Blog
About Being a Prolific Writer
Recently I received an email message commenting on how prolific a writer I have been. The message suggested that I share some of my “secrets.”
Some Personal History
Throughout my life I have been saddled with poor handwriting and spelling skills. At the same time, I have had the ability to translate my ideas into words with ease. I think about some topic. I synthesize and perhaps write myself a few brief notes, I talk to myself in silent sentences or parts of sentences for some time, and I then write what I am saying to myself. I tend to be a slow thinker, but my thinking tends to be good.
I distinguish between several types of writing. First, there is “diary-type writing.” When I was in high school I won a contest that provided winners with a month-long bus trip from my home in Oregon across Canada, visits to the United Nations in New York, visits to various places in Washington, D.C., and then back to Oregon via a route across the United States. I found that I had little trouble writing my travel log. A page or two a day quickly grows into a lengthy document. This was "easy writing."
Also, I found that I have a gift of gab for talking about things that interest me and that I know quite a bit about. My "easy writing" flows in a natural manner from this particular type of talking.
Second, there is the type of writing required in English Composition and other courses I took as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. I distinctly remember how slow and labored the writing process was in the English Composition course. It typically took me eight or nine hours to produce the weekly theme—and I had my 10th grade sister to help me on the spelling and grammar. I had similar problems with other courses that required writing. Fortunately, little writing was required in the math and science courses that I took for my major!
Interestingly, in college I had no trouble quickly turning out long written responses to essay questions in class tests. The only challenge was to “think” sentences that contained words that I knew how to spell!
Third, in my college courses I took copious class notes. I often rewrote these both as an aid to learning and to fill in the holes. This was an easy and relatively quick process. I was writing to myself, and that is much like talking to myself in my head.
Fourth, there are the informal notes I wrote for myself when I became a faculty member and was preparing class lectures. I also wrote a lot of handouts for my classes. This was easily and quickly done. I was writing material that was fresh in my mind and on subjects I knew well.
Fifth, there is the more formal writing of books, articles, newsletters, blog entries, Wiki entries, and so on. I have become better at these through lots and lots of practice. The fourth type of writing listed above led me into writing books as well as the less formal materials I write and publish on the Web. I found that after I taught a course once, I wanted to write materials that fit my insights into the course content. This type of writing was not much different than writing up course outlines, assignments, hand-out materials, and exams. I produced a number of books based on my teaching.
An ordinary person’s mind and mouth work fast enough to speak 125 or so words a minute. Think of a person delivering a class lecture at full speed, not stopping for questions. In fifty minutes, the production is over 6,000 words. This is fifteen 400-word typed pages.
Wow! Do that just three times a week over the length of a 10-week course, and the production is about 450 pages. Of course, there are some difficulties, such as the fact that at best I only type or keyboard 35 to 40 words a minute. At that speed, I make lots of typos. Also, there is the need to reorganize, edit, rewrite, do more careful thinking, do more online and library research, and so on.
When all is said and done, in this type of academic book writing I figure my final productivity is somewhat below five words a minute, or 300 words per hour. Moreover, this is hard, brain-draining work, so I am quite satisfied if I accomplish four hours of this type of writing in a day. Still, that is a productivity rate of three pages a day, 15 pages in a five-day week, and 150 pages in a ten-week academic term. Many of the books that I have written are well under 150 pages in length and were produced following the type of schedule just described. Even with an extensive amount of time spent revising and polishing a book manuscript, there have been a number of years in which I wrote two short books.
The newsletter, blog entries, and Wiki entries that I write are much shorter and less complex than a book. Typically I have no trouble averaging a final productivity rate of about 10 words a minute in writing short pieces. My speed depends on whether or not I am writing about things that I know and care about.
So… The secret is a combination of persistence and having good knowledge of what I am writing about. However, let me share another of my secrets. For quite a few years I have done all of my writing by composing at a computer keyboard. I make use of the software’s built-in spelling and grammar checker. I no longer have to worry about examining a mentally composed sentence to see if I can spell the words. I just think a sentence or a chunk of a sentence and let my fingers do their thing—and then fix up each of the words that my software so generously underlines in red for me. I look carefully at the green underlines that might be errors in grammar.
Composing at a computer keyboard has other major advantages. I can quickly access the Web, email people to ask questions, and access my earlier writing. I often make use of small pieces of text that I have previously written. A little judicious cut, paste, and (perhaps) rewrite of what I have written in the past often speeds up my current writing productivity.
This leads to one more of my secrets. Almost anything that I write can be gist for my published writings. Over the years I have written many grant proposals and reports. Some of these grant proposals and reports have contained sections that I eventually used as book chapters or articles. In addition, I eventually wrote a book about grant writing. I am a productive writer when I write about things that I know about!
A final secret is that I have learned to write in a desktop publication mode. That is, I write using a set of word processing “styles” that layout/format my material in final publication format. This saves me time in moving from the writing to final publication. In writing books, other features in the word processor allow me to do the Index, Table of Contents, Internet links, and Tables as I write. I find that these word processor features are quite helpful.
What You Can Do
Writing can sometimes appear to be a daunting or even an impossible task. I hope that by sharing some of my "secrets" and experiences I can encourage readers to find easier ways to write about their own experiences and ideas in order to share them with others. Please consider making a comment on this IAE Blog entry!
It is common to have students do journaling in a course. Think about doing daily journaling yourself on some aspect of your teaching. Imagine that you are your own audience, and the goal is to capture and share important ideas that you have learned during the day, ones that are worth sharing with your future self. Fifty words a day seems like a very modest effort—but can accumulate into a quite respectable piece of work.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
A study skill: Reading for learning and understanding. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/a-study-skill-reading-for-learning-and-understanding.html.
Self-publication of books. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/self-publication-of-books.html.
The academic publishing system is broken. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-academic-publishing-system-is-broken.html.
Written by davem, January 02, 2012.
I first tried out blogging a number of years ago. It was not a satisfactory experience for me, and my efforts attracted almost no readers.
About 15 months ago I started over. I created the Information Age Education Blog. I have found this to be personally rewarding and it attracts a lot of readers.
I find that this type of writing is quite easy. I read a lot. As I read, I think about what the material means to me and whether I want to share my insights with others. If my insights are related to the IAE goals of improving education at all levels and throughout the world, I often compose an IAE Blog entry.
From time to time a reader will suggest a topic or ask a question. This also can lead to an IAE Blog entry. As of 1/2/2012, the IAE Blog contains 184 entries. These typically are about a page in length. So, I have written the equivalent of a short book via my blogging.
This is a comment that Frank Withrow sent me on roughly 12/30/2011.
Subject: Re: Information Age Education Site
From: Frank Withrow
Very interesting. I have been a terrible speller but a constant writer from my early years. I even wrote news letters home to friends when I was in the Marines in World War II. I somehow found a typewriter and monograph machine in the South Pacific. I felt compelled to share my views of the world with others and have continued to write almost daily. Spell checkers have made my life easier and more productive. I turn 86 next month and assume I will still be at it for several more years. My 93 year old friend from Seattle published her first book at 93 recently, but she always wrote notes all her life. She died a month or so before her book was published but she saw the proofs. Her family was a true pioneer in the Settle era and she wrote a delightful history of a young girl growing up in that area. In her 80s she created a her own web site. Some of us just have a great urge to write. My family is spread from the west to east coasts and writing helps hold them together.