Writing Methodologies (or, Why Typewriters are Still Awesome)

“People tend to treat writing with real austerity. There’s a lot of, ‘I dressed for writing and went to my writing spot,’ and it’s like ‘What the fuck are you talking about? This is a nightmare!’ Writing is a nightmare.” – Amy Poehler

Producing large volumes of quality writing is a grueling process. Fortunately, there are some methods that can ease the pain. In the last few years, having a looming paper deadline has become the norm. In an effort to save my sanity, I adopted three methods that paid off significantly: narration, using a typewriter, and building a writing repository.

If All Else Fails, Narrate

In writing, as with most endeavors, there is a tradeoff between speed and quality. Outlining and rough drafts are two commonly accepted strategies for getting your ideas onto paper that use reduced quality to speed up the writing process. In many circumstances, these two standard tools will work well.

Sometimes, writing can get so painful that even sitting down and looking at the screen is anxiety inducing. In this situation, you may find refuge in narrating your thoughts out loud using audio capture software. In its simplest form, you hook up a microphone to your computer, open a program such as Audacity, and hit record. Start explaining the things you want to eventually write down, as though you were telling a friend. The structure of your speech is unlikely to match the writing you want to produce, but you can think of the recording as a super-rough draft.

Once you’ve dumped a bunch of thoughts into an audio file, you can make progress on the actual document by transcribing it into text. It is important to remember that you’ve already done a huge amount of work by putting your thoughts into the file, so your job at this point is to mechanically convert the audio into text. As you listen to yourself speak, you are going to have tangential thoughts about how the organization can be improved, or how certain things you said don’t make sense. Generally, it is best to keep the transcription process as mechanical as possible so that you are able to get all the raw materials into text before you start editing.


Get a Typewriter

Brother TypewriterI’m a person who can really get into formatting minutiae. It’s almost impossible for me to write anything inside of a LaTeX editor because I end up trying out all the different fonts and symbols and start programming neat macros, etc. For me to get anything done, it is of the utmost importance that I’m not distracted by formatting. Avoiding other distractions, such as the Internet in general, is also crucial to creating material at a quick pace.

Getting a typewriter was an important step toward getting a great deal of writing produced. Although you can technically start getting into formatting customizations with electric typewriters, for whatever reason it is not as appealing to me as digital formatting. The fact that there is no option whatsoever to stop and check Facebook or Twitter is super helpful for staying on track.

You might not need to go as far as getting a typewriter to reduce distractions and stay on track. There are many programs out there that have limited to no formatting options, and you could always do something like disconnect from wifi or, I don’t know, use your willpower to stay focused. However, for me, using a typewriter was really helpful for dealing with writer’s block and allows me to more easily focus on the content.

Build a Writing Repository

Producing a well-organized repository of writing about relevant topics is useful for quickly piecing together background sections or providing some context. The main idea here is to write short articles that have original wording and proper citing. This way, you can engage a topic as you encounter it, form a synthesis that reflects your personal understanding, then simply bring it into additional writing as required. Many academic authors employ this technique, forming larger articles by stitching together previous works.


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