Best writing advice ever?

Photo by Jonathan Percy |
We're into the third week of La Trobe's Academic Writing Month!

It's also the week of the Bundoora 3-day writing retreat and - right now - there are about 50 scholars in the John Scott Meeting House attacking their writing goals on Day 1!

For this post, I canvassed some of our stalwart Thursday morning 'Shut up and write' participants for the best pieces of writing advice that they'd received. I think I actually asked for "writing advice that changed your life, or at least influenced your writing significantly". The biggies, y'know?

These lovely, giving folk responded with the treasures below!

Now, we know that there is no magic formula to writing, and these are offered in the spirit of sharing helpful aspects of the writing process and what resonated with others. Some have whole books as their source, others remembered bits of encouragement or blogpost analogies.

But, enough prevarication. Let's let our researchers speak for themselves!

LAUREN GAWNE (David Myers Research Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Finding your ‘zone’ and staying there: rituals for sustained concentration:

I was lucky enough to be part of that first Thesis Bootcamp cohort that's mentioned in this post, and it completely reframed my attitudes to writing, particularly around the need for routine, ritual, and forming a writing community. Productive writers are made, not born. This post distills so much of what I've learnt from Peta Freestone, and my own practice, over the years.

KATHERINE FIRTH (Academic Coordinator Learning Hub, Student Engagement; Research Degree Insiders blog)

The work that 100% transformed the way I talk about writing was Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird, particularly her chapter on ‘The Shitty First Draft’ — really helpful in letting people make a mess on the page without it having to be perfect, and then giving them tools and space to edit, refine and make it better.

Ernest Hemingway is supposed to have said ‘the first draft of anything is shit’ but he didn’t, but I do like his advice about stopping before you are exhausted, and before you have exhausted everything you know, so you don’t get ‘pooped’. I discuss both of these in this blog post.

RACHEL DAVENPORT (Lecturer, School of Allied Health) 

I went to a ‘Writing Clear Science’ workshop recently and the method we used there has shaped and changed my thinking and approach to writing. 

First, write for accuracy, then write for clarity, then for brevity then for interest. ACBI! Essentially, at least 4 drafts. This really hit home for me, that I need to first write without worrying about the grammar or structure. I just need to get my ideas down on paper.

Marina Hurley, the woman who facilitates ‘Writing Clear Science’, has a blog and one of the posts that I found quite useful: 

CARMEL HOBBS (Associate Lecturer, School of Psychology and Public Health)

It’s not writing advice as such but I have to say the Synonym Finder is my writing Bible! It cost about $30 and has saved me more times than I can count!

KIRSTY MACFARLANE (Graduate Researcher, School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

The thing that comes to my mind is this blog post from the Thesis Whisperer:

Learning that it’s common to struggle with writing, no matter how much you’ve always thrived at it in the past, was a transformative moment for me as it’s made me be a bit easier on myself when writing isn’t flowing.

It’s helped me go with the flow and accept good and bad writing days rather than stress out when things aren’t working.

ASHLEY NG (Lecturer, School of Allied Health)

The most important writing advice I have been given is to “write to tell a story”. It’s so simple but so powerful because to tell a story you need to know the big picture and how every bit of the puzzle (of the research) fits in. Now, this is something I also tell my students.

Another piece of advice I got was never start a sentence with "This…". Hah! It's very helpful!

One I learned this year, also a simple piece of advice, is to "Shut up and write"! Also very effective! Sometimes, we just need time to and mental space to write!


There you have it! Half a dozen pearls of wisdom from your peers about the complex and sometimes frustrating process of writing!

Remember that your style of writing, and approach to it, will be unique.

Feel free to share what writing advice has changed your life in the comments below!