One of the keys to the door leading to academic success has to be writing. I've often heard from students and peers alike that they hate writing, that they're not good at it, that they had specifically dropped English at school over the sciences because they had no intention of spending their lives committing words to paper. I've always enjoyed writing, which is not to say that I find the process of scientific writing particularly easy. Indeed, one of the things I personally struggle with is that blank page at the start of any writing project. The horrors associated with the very whiteness of that page have at times led me to procrastinate, something that is all too easy within the academic role - there are always lectures to prepare, meetings to attend, emails to send, collaborators to call, students to advise. Indeed, most of my time is spent communicating in one form or another, so quite why the blank page looms so ominously from the corner of my desktop (minimised, but open just in case) is peculiar. One thought is that the formality of the scientific writing style makes it so out of the way of the rest of my everyday scientific communications. I don't tend to hold my conversations using passive third person phraseology, or by regurgitating reels of academic papers citing authors and years as I discuss scientific arguments. Maybe I should, but it doesn't feel very natural to do it.
Another possibility, which has been raised before by numerous academics, is that time to write is typically fractured. I know just a handful of people who are able to effectively use a spare 5 minutes between meetings and teaching to dash out a paragraph or two on a paper. I do not count myself among them - my 5 minutes between appointments is typically spent doing rather more mundane but essential activities, like grabbing a quick coffee, or sending an email.
Making time to write must be a priority. We know this. And yet so few of us put it as an event in our weekly calendars, just as unmissable as that faculty board meeting, or lectures. Shut Up and Write Tuesdays is a virtual writing workshop for academics. I first heard about it from Mary Friel, who participated in this during her PhD thesis write-up. The idea is to help academics to set aside time to write, and to support each other to do so. Starting from next week, our research group is planning to hold our own Shut Up and Write sessions, and act as writing support for each other. We will each come to the session with a plan of what we're going to write, we'll then settle down and write solidly for an hour before stopping for our usual Monday morning coffee and pastries, where we'll talk about how we got on. My hope is that it will also provide extra support to the earlier career members of the group. I'm really looking forward to it, and the blank page is blinking at me in anticipation.