Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Fast Writing, Slow Revising
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Fast Writing, Slow Revising
Fast Writing, Slow Revising
Just as you keep up with aspects of your field to be able to
give more to your teaching and research, I am always looking
for peak performance tools that will support my faculty
coaching clients and audiences. I have recently come across
the excellent work of Drs. Sonya Foss and William Waters on
how to write more easily.
I heard them speak on a teleconference sponsored by the
Textbook and Academic Authors group, a small professional
organization dedicated to supporting teachers who write
books. Dr. Waters and I will both be presenters at the TAA
annual conference held this year in San Antonio from
June 27-29, 2009 (see end notes for how to register). Foss
and Waters have published an excellent book entitled,
“Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done
Dissertation.” In a way it is too bad the word
“dissertation” is in the title because you might pass this
book by as having no relevance to your life as a professor
and scholar. In fact, if you cross out the word
“dissertation” and substitute the word “book,” the book is
an excellent guide to writing any academic book. You might
even find it useful for writing on shorter projects such
Just as the title suggests, the first stage of writing
described by Foss and Waters is fast writing, writing that
generates text without a lot of regard to spelling,
punctuation, or references.
During the fast writing stage, do not go back over what you
write except to familiarize yourself where you left off.
The authors even have a technique to short cut that task.
When you finish writing for the day, give yourself a phrase
or two of what you intend to write next, a bit of your
thought processes so that you can get back into the thoughts
immediately and begin writing where you left off. To
prevent the temptation of rereading what you have written
Foss and Waters suggest turning off your computer monitor
while you compose. I tried this and realized that you have
to make sure that you type with your fingers on the correct
keys. Otherwise you have a paragraph of text like mine:
“ion xrcvr;;rym yrsvjrtd str brtu jstf eptloh smf jstb
ytpib;r hryyomh s;;.” I hadn’t realized that most keyboards
have little raised ridges on the F and J so you can find
your way in the dark.
Contrary to the common sense we may have picked up in our
seventh grade English classes, these writing experts do not
recommend spending time reading, taking notes, and outlining.
Those activities belong in the later stages unless the piece
you are working on is a literature review. Their advice
reminds me of similar advice from other writing experts such
as Robert Boice who suggest that academic writers begin
writing before they are ready, not getting bogged down
thinking about writing but rather writing on what you already
know about your topic. You can backfill later with profound
insights and relevant references. Pater Elbow talked about
freewriting, writing rapidly and continuously without lifting
the pen from the page or the fingers from the keyboard. Other
writing experts have talked about the importance of getting
the “internal critic” part of your brain off the job
temporarily until you are ready to ask for help during the
Foss & Waters call the product of the fast draft a “spew
draft.” You are just spewing the words off the ends of your
fingers. Anything that interrupts the flow is to be avoided.
You are aiming to generate lots of bad text. This expectation
will take off the pressure of perfectionism so that you can
keep writing. For example, if you are fast writing and a
question comes up don’t stop to look something up. Instead,
use some sort of notation that you will recognize later right
in the text that prompts you to insert a reference or
vocabulary word. They recommended caps as a notational device;
I use brackets with question marks like this [find better
word later???]. Their advice is supported by research from
writing and creativity experts and researchers such as Boice
who found that quantity begets quality. Somewhere in the mess
of several paragraphs will be some gems worth mining for
Don’t stop and agonize over word choice. Why fix a phrase
when it might be edited out later? Instead just make a note
indicating that you don’t like a reference or word choice
and keep on writing. Schedule these fast writing sessions
fairly close together so that you can maintain continuity
of thought. Writing expert Tara Gray (also a presenter at
the TAA conference) recommends daily writing so that you
never get more than 24 hours away from your projects.
While Foss and Waters claim that fast writing can produce
6-7 pages per hour, I can’t get up to that much speed.
I’ve always suspected I have a slower brain microchip
compared to other faculty. In the bell shaped normal curve
of Ph.D.’s someone has to fill in the bottom half of the
distribution; I hold that place proudly while at the same
time always trying to improve my own work habits. These
experts have solved a number of problems we all run into:
- Feeling stuck: Try some free writing with a short
non-stop piece about your stuckness. I have recommended
in my workshops that you change the voice for this free
writing from your academic voice to one you might use to
write Aunt Tillie. “Dear Aunt Tillie, I just can’t figure
out what this 2 by2 interaction effect means and I can’t
write my discussion section until I do. On the one hand…”
- Feeling bored: Jump into another section and write on
that topic for awhile.
- Feeling frustrated with your writing speed compared to
your talking speed: Talk your ideas into a tape recorder
especially if you can do so during a class or a
presentation. You might have an assistant transcribe the
tape and then you can write over that draft or you might
listen and add additional ideas as you listen. Before I
become a smoother draft writer, I used a taped version
of a writing piece and a foot pedal so I could pause
and restart the tape while keeping my fingers on the
- Feeling disorganized: Write some key concepts for the
section you are working on and then write the
explanations and subpoints under each concept.
Foss and Waters have a simple clever way of doing a
literature search that makes the first chapter or section
of research reports almost write themselves. Gone forever
is any version of the dreaded 3 x 5 cards including any
electronic copy with highlighting, etc. Here is what you
will do instead. Once your search has turned some juicy
materials, make photocopies of any relevant pages from
the books or articles that contain the information that
you wish to quote or cite. Then come up with a code for
each reference. It might be the author’s name and
publication year (like Boice, 2000), anything that can
identify the source later. Cut apart each paragraph or
sentence that you want to save and write the code on the
slip of paper so you know its source for later.
On a large table or floor, sort the slips of paper into
relevant piles with like ideas together. Make sure you have
no pets or toddlers nearby nor windows open while this
process goes on. You might already have a logical first
draft of an outline ready or it might evolve as you sort.
Often a logical order of the subpoints will begin to
emerge as you sort the slips into groupings. Some of the
groupings will begin to subdivide into outline subpoints
and sub subpoints. Support for the points will begin
stacking up. After you like the groupings, collect the
strips of each grouping and secure with a paperclip so
that you have the order you want. Put a sticky note with
the point or subpoint on the front. The sticky could also
contain a lettering or numbering system corresponding to
your outline point.
Start with the first grouping and begin to write and
describe your concepts using the slips for support,
quotes, and references (using the short code for now).
Just keep writing while turning over the slips as you
finish with each slip appearing in the order you
established. All can be revised later.
Foss and Waters suggest editing in waves from a
macro level to a micro level. They urge us to run
a hard copy of our rough drafts so that we can
cross things out and scribble on the copy. I save
junk mail with blank backs to run these draft
copies so that more trees don’t have to give
their lives so I can edit my bad drafts.
Here are some of the macro level revisions:
- Decide what stays and what goes.
- Rearrange essential pieces into the best order
such as the points that build an argument.
- Add missing information you flagged earlier with
caps or brackets.
After the big picture of your writing begins to
shape up, you can do the micro level changes by a
- Do paragraphs follow logically?
- Do the paragraphs transition from one to another
through the last sentences of one and the first of
- Does each paragraph have a topic sentence?
- Do all of the sentences support the topic
- Do all the individual words in the sentences
- Is the word choice appropriate for what you want
- Is the punctuation and spelling accurate?
The final level of revision is the proofreading
level. Foss and Waters suggest that letting the draft
sit for a few days and then:
- Make several passes, looking for only one thing
at a time such as spelling or puncutation.
- Copy and paste all topic sentences into another
document so that you can see the flow and logic of
your presentation of ideas.
- Read aloud. Read pointing your finger at each word.
Read using a ruler on each line to slow your brain
down to catch the smallest errors.
The Writer’s Life
Foss and Waters have suggestions on how academic
writers can make writing more a part of their work
- Write regularly 3-5 times a week for an hour at
- Write at your peak energy times such as in the
morning if you are a morning person.
- Examine how you procrastinate through the
“incomplete scholar roles” you may attend to instead
of writing, such as the Housekeeper who cleans
instead of writing or the Model Teacher who rewrites
her class notes instead of writing.
- Start a “personal style sheet” for your most common
mistakes and check these in the proofreading stage.
- Keep a record of your times/pages so that you are
accountable to yourself.
- Share the record and your drafts with a writing
- Quit when you have done your time but leave clues
where you were going with the next sentence or section so
that you can quickly pick up where you left off.
Write quickly, revise slowly.
Foss, Sonya & Waters, William.
“Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am accepting speaking invitations for faculty
work/life balance and leadership workshops for
summer and fall of 2009. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: "Time Management: Why You Don't Need It,
Can't Do it Anyway and What To Do Instead”
Date: June 26, 2009
Place: Textbook and Academic Authors (TAA) Conference;
San Antonio, TX
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://
For a sample of the session and more about the
conference listen to the
podcast of Susan with Kim Pawlak of TAA
(interviewer: Chris Kenneally of Copyright
Dr. Waters will be presenting an all-day workshop
entitled, “How to Write When You Are Not a Natural
Writer” on Thursday, June 27; He will also present a
session on “Scholarly Writing: Strengthening Your
Literature Review” on Friday, June 28.
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: October 29, 2009
Place: Professional and Organization
Network of Higher Education, Houston, TX
Registration, fee, and directions:
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: November 19, 2009
Place: Lilly International Conference, Oxford, OH
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://
To start receiving the Professor Destressor e-Newsletter
send an email with “Please send Professor Destressor” in the
Subject to: Susan@Professor Destressor.com.
To stop receiving send an email with “Stop Professor
Destressor” in the Subject to: Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com.
Professor Destressor e-Newsletter is intended for
informational and educational purposes only. Coaching
should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for,
counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.
© Copyright 2009 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or
distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a
single word is changed, added or deleted, including the
contact information. However, you may not copy it to a
web site without the publisher’s permission.
Susan Robison, PhD.; 9005 Chevrolet Drive;
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Voice: 410-465-5892 or 410-461-1382