The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
—Mary Heaton Vorse
Let’s face it: most scientists and engineers don’t love writing. That’s one of the reasons for studying science and engineering, right? There are a few people who do love both science and writing, but a great many scientists dislike, and even fear, writing.
Writing a scientific manuscript can be daunting if writing stresses you out. If you’re trying to write in a language other than your native one, stress levels increase exponentially. Enter procrastination.
Here are some tips for overcoming procrastination—at least long enough to finish your thesis, manuscript, or grant application.
1. Before you start writing, break down the project into manageable steps. For example, instead of saying, “I’ll spend Saturday writing my paper,” try breaking the paper down into its parts. Pick one day to write the Abstract, another to write the Introduction, and so on. If it still seems daunting, break it down even more. For example, you could break the Materials and Methods section into its subsections, and choose to work on one or two subsections per day.
2. Write the easiest section first. For many scientists, this is the Materials and Methods. Pick the section that is easiest for you to write, and go for it.
3. Figure out when you are most productive. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to force yourself to write at 5 am. Choose 5 pm instead.
4. Set a timer. If the thought of writing a whole section or subsection is not concrete enough, limit your writing time. Set a timer for 15 minutes with the understanding that you only have to write for that long. Once the 15 minutes are up, if you want to write more, then keep going. If not, come back to it later.
5. Many people procrastinate because they don’t like their writing or think it isn’t good. If this is your issue, and you self-edit as you write, it might be helpful to just turn off your screen, so you can’t see the text as you’re writing. You can edit it later. It’s better to get something down at least.
6. Get a buddy. Find someone else who is struggling to get their manuscript written and set a time to meet and get the writing done. Don’t let your friend suffer alone!
7. If you surf the web as a way to avoid writing, find a place to work where you don’t have access to the Internet (increasingly difficult, I know).
Here are a few interesting resources about procrastination:
Psychology of Procrastination
Shortest Scientific Paper Ever
(Please retain the reference in reprint: http://www.letpub.com/index.php?page=author_education_MANUSCRIPT_WRITING_-AVOIDING_PROCRASTINATION_LONG_ENOUGH_TO_GET_IT_DONE)