How to get back into Academic Writing

photo of a doodle I made after my coaching session with Rich Fuhrman the details are actually explained in this particular blog post
Reflective Doodle after Coaching Session: Version 2

Rich Furman @WriteNThrive and I had a video coaching session to advice on writing issues specific to academics with ADHD. I am still (months and months later) deconstructing and reconstructing all the advice. One of the main insights I got from this was that it is all about change in increments. Since I am fond of the elements of Kaizen (改善)* that relate to incremental change, it was an insight I could buy into.

I have called this coaching session Learning to Deconstruct the Monster. During the discussion with Rich I figured out that the key problem is the projection of anxiety and emotional turmoil onto the writing space. I made the article I had to write into The Article. Yes, it became a solid anthropomorphic personification—a thing; a monster; THE ENEMY to fight against. This of course is no state to write.

Now it’s no wonder that I wouldn’t write, that I had become panicked and claustrophobic when having to write. Rich provided an interesting perspective (some more here) stating that the doctoral training basically ruins researchers for writing. ‘Because we train them so much on writing that one big thing.’

The Literature Review does not Exist

N.S.: ‘So far the Lit Rev is boring, painful, a drag to write.’
So Rich asked me to define what boring means and very quickly totally sassed me. Yes, boring in this case was a cover up for negative self-talk.

R.F: ‘Rephrase this attitude.’—Change the tune!

The Lit Rev is only there to tell the reader what the story is about.

Learning: I have the agency! It is my story! I choose what I want to write about!
I don’t have to satisfy the thesis committee anymore, and what the peer reviewers want to see is something I cannot predict anyway. So I might just write what I want and then consider the peer-review as an editing process in this regard.

So far so good. My job is to tell the story.


So I learned that it is important to set up rituals for daily writing. No need here to get into detail about the research on this. Just remember my PhD and writing binges and cognitive hangovers. This is not sustainable, particularly when writing is just a small part of daily life and not the core focus like during the PhD write-up phase.

The heroes of this section are writing blocks and micro-tasks.

Find a time and place. Maybe I should go somewhere for my half hour writing exercise. I could try and set up in the library, or take my little to a cafe. I actually sometimes sit in the Botanic Gardens to write and think. But all of this could be build into a daily routine. The first half an hour before going into the office, for instance.

However, routines are incredibly difficult to develop with the ADHD brain. So, Rich suggested micro-writing tasks and I have since experimented with them. Write for ten minutes while you wait for an appointment, have 15 minutes before you have to leave for a workshop? Write!

Sticky notes with exact task for the day such as:

  • Write 500 words about the relationship between learning and teaching
  • Define creative learning
  • Structure all the elements of learning spaces

Breathe—Let Go—Write

Generate! Generative Writing first. Write before you read.


Yeah he is giving all the advice that is opposite of the advice we have been given during doctoral training: such as read before you write. I love this so much because I never got the hang of the other advice. 12 years since the start of my PhD and these have never worked for me and I always thought something is wrong with me.

Am still to try out a specific writing ritual:

  • Same place
  • Same time
  • Same starting ritual

If you do something that is not sustainable, your body will sabotage this behaviour. So creating rituals that are sustainable and associated with positive feelings will be more productive than binging or “having to write”. Set intentional blocks (keep them short) they will force focus on writing.


MindMaps are not Architecture!


Know what your story is. What you want to write about. Then look for a couple of potential journals. Choose some that have roughly the same word-count. Then write your article.

Every Article should have these features:

Start: The purpose of this article is to ….

Next: What sections do I need to pull this off?
E.g.: definition of creative learning (500 words), data (700 words), discussion (1000 words) split discussion into subsection etc

Then: assign rough word count to each of the section

  • The author will …
  • I explore xyz because of …

Most important section should have the most words!
E.g.: intro to ethnography 500 words, data 700 words, discussion 900 words

After the Structure: Set up writing tasks

Bite-sized assignments

Once these sections are done submit for peer review: you can’t predict what they are going to say anyway so focus on making the story strong, treat peer review as form of editing

The item I found most interesting is that Rich usually has 2-3 articles going on: primary, secondary, tertiary … he says: ‘I am not working on an article but I am working on page 7 … 300 words … like student assignment’. For me this was the most significant reframing of thinking about writing. Writing is not linear, our thinking, reflecting, researching is not linear. So how come I always expected to just sit down and linearly write an article? This now does not make any sense anymore. No wonder I was stressing out so much.

The Journal

Decide what to do first, what is the story I want to tell, then find a journal. Look for the following elements:

  • General: topics, values
    • Does it still fit?
  • Check articles: titles
    • Does it still fit?
  • Check abstracts
    • Does it still fit?
  • Is the journal author friendly?
    • Look for a question that is not on the website and write to the editor
    • Do they come back?
    • Talk to them as peers, are they treating you the same?
    • How fast do they respond?


MindMaps are not for developing the architecture! LET THEM GO before writing. Treat MindMaps like literature, they are resources, a piece of data. MindMaps are a method of inquiry, do not use them to translate them into the architecture of the paper. That perspective again was something I never considered. For me MindMaps were always structure, but I never successfully managed to translate this into an article or chapter.

Yeah I know all this learning from just one session! No wonder it took me a long time to write it up, and this is not even the extent of it but the most important insights, which I thought I share with you. And don’t forget:

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