“Write No Matter What” . . . about what?

February 16, 2018

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Scott Jaschik interviews Joli Jensen (link from Tyler Cowen), a professor of communication who wrote a new book called “Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics.”

Her advice might well be reasonable—it’s hard for me to judge; as someone who blogs a few hundred times a year, I’m not really part of Jensen’s target audience. She offers “a variety of techniques to help . . . reduce writing anxiety; secure writing time, space and energy; recognize and overcome writing myths; and maintain writing momentum.” She recommends “spending at least 15 minutes a day in contact with your writing project . . . writing groups, focusing on accountability (not content critiques), are great ways to maintain weekly writing time commitments.”

Writing is non-algorithmic, and I’ve pushed hard against advice-givers who don’t seem to get that. So, based on this quick interview, my impression is that Jensen’s on the right track.

I’d just like to add one thing: If you want to write, it helps to have something to write about. Even when I have something I really want to say, writing can be hard. I can only imagine how hard it would be if I was just trying to write, to produce, without something I felt it was important to share with the world.

So, when writing, imagine your audience, and ask yourself why they should care. Tell ’em what they don’t know.

Also, when you’re writing, be aware of your audience’s expectations. You can satisfy their expectations or confound their expectations, but it’s good to have a sense of what you’re doing.

And here’s some specific advice about academic writing, from a few years ago.

P.S. In that same post, Cowen also links to a bizarre book review by Edward Luttwak who, among other things, refers to “George Pataki of New York, whose own executive experience as the State governor ranged from the supervision of the New York City subways to the discretionary command of considerable army, air force and naval national guard forces.” The New York Air National Guard, huh? I hate to see the Times Literary Supplement fall for this sort of pontificating. I guess that there will always be a market for authoritative-sounding pundits. But Tyler Cowen should know better. Maybe it was the New York thing that faked him out. If Luttwak had been singing the strategic praises of the New Jersey Air National Guard, that might’ve set off Cowen’s B.S. meter.

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