Manuscript March: 10 Secrets Known Only to Academic Writers

Despite all the writers who write about writing, there are still a few things that I think we, as a community of writers, haven’t admitted to each other. Some seem trivial. Some are embarrassing. And all have been secret… until now.

Secret #1: Typing speed matters.

Whether we’re transcribing audio or just feeling inspired, a fast typing speed makes a real difference to our productivity. We are very grateful for Mavis Beacon, typing classes at school, and our years of excessive screen-time. We secretly get a little rush when our fingers fly faster than we thought they could.

Secret #2: Mental thesauruses are bad (see also: limited, not good, and, ah, another synonym).

How many times can we write “thus,” “firstly,” and “therefore” before they become redundant? A lot, as it turns out. Even if we have good vocabularies, we don’t always have the inspiration necessary to pick the right word at the right time. We hide the secret of our limited imaginations behind numerous visits to thesauruses.

Secret #3: We don’t fully understand every word in our own writing.

We use a lot of complex and/or technical terms. Sometimes we learn a word, incorporate it into our writing, and then forget what it means. Please don’t ask us about that word in our viva. Or at a conference. Or in casual conversation. Or ever, actually. Please.

Secret #4:We work best on screen. No, in hard copy. No, in Word. No, in Scrivener.

We have spent quite a bit of time flicking between different modes of writing. We keep thinking if only we worked another way, we’d be more productive. So we try working another way, then realise we’ve wasted lots of time converting to that other way, and it’s no magic solution. We have not learned from these experiences, and truly believe that the one great mode of writing is waiting to be found.

Secret #5: When a deadline looms, good nutrition is the first thing to go.

Desk drawer M&Ms. ‘Nuff said.

Secret #6: We bribe ourselves.

With the M&Ms, in my case. One per 100 words written, or per 2 pages proofed (double-spaced). It’s a system honed over many years.

Self-portrait during first draft revisions

Secret #7: Grooming is optional.

On hardcore writing days, no-one is really going to see us. Maybe a colleague or two, maybe a barista, but that’s about it. On those days, it doesn’t really matter if we display the odd loose hair, untucked shirt, or inexplicably crunchy hoodie. We also have slippers and/or fluffy socks that live under our desks and don’t get washed. Deal with it.

Secret #8: We write stream-of-consciousness jibberish and intend to delete it.

At least I hope we do, because I’d rather not be alone on this one. You see, sometimes when I’m really stuck, I write whatever I’m thinking into my thesis. Screeds and screeds of nonsense. I write it in all caps, so that I see it and (hopefully) delete it before I send the text anywhere. But it’s pretty ridiculous. Actual extract: “THIS SECTION ISN’T WORKING, LA LA LA, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING WITH THIS THEORIST AND MY EYEBROWS ARE ITCHY, OH NO, I DROPPED AN M&M INTO MY LEFT SLIPPER, NO NO NO, WHY ME, I THINK I MIGHT EAT IT ANYWAY???”

Secret #9: We sometimes forget to delete that jibberish before sending out our work.

True story. I’d rather not talk about it.

Secret #10: Our butts hurt.

OK, we’ve crossed over into total honesty now. There’s no going back. Butt pain! Yes! We sit in one spot for so long that it really doesn’t matter how comfy our chairs are – our posteriors feel inferior. Our rears sneer. Our cheeks freak. To the mysterious stranger in the office opposite my window: I’m sorry that you had to see me shaking my lower half that one time. I could lie and say that Shakira had come on the radio, but we both know that’s not true.

chair 1
Office chair, hour #1
chair 2
Office chair, hour #12


What have I missed? Share your writing secrets in the comments.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

2 thoughts on “Manuscript March: 10 Secrets Known Only to Academic Writers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available