Finding the ‘write’ time

One of the things that we can sometimes be guilty of is not prioritising the need to write articles as a means of disseminating our work. Although dissemination is always included in our project plans and we recognise it’s importance (as touched on in a previous blog), it can be easy to get caught up with the excitement of new research or education programmes and focus on ‘the next thing’ rather than finishing off our writing. It’s certainly not intentional, and not a slight to the projects coming to an end, but more a reflection on how tricky the writing process can be.

Despite being immersed in projects for months or even years and writing project reports, it’s not always easy to turn round and convert or condense all of your knowledge into a journal article. Sitting down and being faced with a blank page can actually be a very daunting prospect. Some people may find it’s not a problem while others can struggle, and it may even depend on the particular topic or project involved as to how easy each particular article is to get off the ground. In case it helps, we’ve pulled together a few hints and tips that you may find useful to get started.

First off, give yourself a break and acknowledge that there is no ‘right’ way to get started. Just because you know someone who can sit down with a cup of tea and ‘just write’ an article in an afternoon doesn’t mean you’ve failed if you can’t do the same. The following suggestions may not work for you, but might give you other ideas to try.

  • Journal or article first? Think about how you work. Are you the sort of person who likes having a structure to work to? If so, you might want to decide which journal you’re aiming for, as their guidelines will provide that structure in terms of key headings and word count. If you prefer a freer way of working, you might want to write your article first before thinking about where it could be submitted and adapting it accordingly.
  • Joint effort or just you? Writing a joint article can seem like a good idea as you’ve got other people to bounce ideas off. Knowing other people are waiting for you to do your bit can also help to spur you on and act as motivation. However, version control can become an issue, especially if more than one person works on it at the same time. If you do work as a group, it’s probably good to decide if you’re each working on separate sections, or it one of you is having a first go at the whole thing before passing it on to the next person to review and add to.
  • Audience and angle. It can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming to write about a whole project, so it can be really helpful to narrow down exactly what you’re doing. Is there a particular ‘angle’ or aspect of the project that you’re going to focus on? Are you aiming at a specific audience? Is it practice focused of more academic? All of these could affect your writing style and help to give you something more concrete to get your teeth into. They can also make it easier to decide what to include or exclude, as although you may feel something is really important, if it’s not relevant to that particular article it doesn’t need to go in.
  • Consider a recording. It might sound odd, but one colleague has found it helpful to record themselves presenting on a project and using that as a basis for an article. How often have you given a presentation and said loads of great things ‘in the moment’ that you can’t remember later on? Similarly, if you have a group discussion where you share thoughts and ideas about what you want to cover in an article, recording it (with permission) can again act as a reminder – especially if no-one’s taking notes at the time.
  • Use what you’ve already got. Remember that you’ve done a lot of work before you get to the point of article writing. Even if you’re writing while the project is still going on, you’ve obviously got things to write about. Don’t ignore all your hard work. If you’ve already got a proposal, ethics application and/or report written you’ve probably had to explain and summarise a lot of the points that will feed into an article. Why not go through those and pull out key bits to act as a starting point? You don’t have to start from scratch each time, so don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Consider a writing strategy. This is going to come down to personal choice, but different ideas include:
    • Set aside 10 minutes each day as space to write or just time to start getting ideas together.
    • Block our time in your diary so other people know not to disturb you, such as every Tuesday afternoon.
    • Try to write 200 words every day/on a regular basis to keep things moving. It might just be bullet points or ideas rather that full sentences or paragraphs, but something might be better than nothing.
    • If you’re not a ‘little and often’ person, and your workload permits, would booking out a whole week as a writing week be a better approach? If you sit there for the first four days not doing anything, maybe not, but for some people having the time and headspace to really focus on one thing in more depth is ideal.
    • Are deadlines a motivation or not? Do you need the pressure of an imminent deadline to force you to write? If yes, set yourself some!! Make sure someone else knows too, so that you don’t subconsciously see them as fake deadlines that can potentially be ignored. If no, what will motivate you to actually get started?

Some of these ideas may help, some may not, but if you’re struggling with your writing they might at least be worth a try. Often, getting the first words down on paper is the hardest bit, but who knows, once you start you might not be able to stop! And at lease you won’t be staring at a blank page anymore. In some ways, your first words don’t actually matter, as they probably won’t make it into the final version. Just because you’re written them down doesn’t mean you have to keep them.

How did we do in 2020?

Despite EVERYTHING that went on in 2020, the ADS team did manage to keep writing. Here is a list of our published articles from last year:

  • Brooker, D. and Latham, L. (2020). Restraint and dementia: guidance on rights and safeguarding. Journal of Dementia Care, 28(1) 14-15.
  • Evans, S., Garabedian, C., Bray, J. and Gray, K. (2020). Challenges and enablers for creative arts practice in care homes. Journal of Applied Arts & Health, 10(3), 333-345.
  • Cameron, A., Johnson, K. and Evans, S. (2020). Older people’s perspectives on living in integrated housing and care settings: the case of extra care housing. Journal of Integrated Care.
  • Barrett, J., Evans, S. and Pritchard-Wilkes, V. (2020). Understanding and supporting safe walking with purpose among people living with dementia in Extra Care, Retirement and Domestic Housing. Housing, Care and Support, 23(2), 37-48.
  • Latham, I., Brooker, D., Bray, J., Jacobson-Wright, N. and Frost, F. (2020). The Impact of Implementing a Namaste Care Intervention in UK Care Homes for People Living with Advanced Dementia, Staff and Families. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17(16), p. 6004.
  • Morris, L., Mansell, W., Williamson, T., Wray, A., McEvoy, P. (2020). Communication Empowerment Framework: An integrative framework to support effective communication and interaction between carers and people living with dementia. Dementia, 19(6), 1739-1757.
  • Frost, F., Atkinson, T. and Latham, I. (2020). Creating the optimal space for dementia care. The Care Environment Magazine.

We’ve also had 2 articles accepted, 2 submitted and at least 5 in progress or waiting to be written. We just need to find some time to work on them!

Whatever aspect of article writing you may be struggling with, give yourself a break. Try a few of our tips to see if they help, and chat to colleagues to see if they can offer other ideas and, more importantly, support.

There is no right time to write, so write when and how works for you. Good luck!

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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