Table of Contents
- Books for Writing More
- Perfecting Academic Prose
- Books for Going From Dissertation to Book
- Software, Tools, and Apps
- My Treadmill Desk
- Curbing Digital Distraction
- Tools for Long Car Commutes or Frequent Traveling
- Tools for Creating a Website
The Essential Books & Tools that Help Me Write More
- Professors as Writers (eBook): This was the first book I read before starting my tenure-track job. Reading it was the single most important thing I did that summer. This landmark book is jam-packed with practical tips on how to overcome your own writing obstacles like perfectionism and procrastination. Boice’s research promises to help you write 3x more than most!
- A writing tracking system. When I mentor junior scholars in establishing more productive writing habits, I require them to log their sessions with an expanded version of my Google Forms tracking system. Built in to the system are the key ingredients of a successful writing practice, in my experience: tracking whether you start on time, and committing to and developing actionable goals for your next session at the end of each session.
- Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks (2nd ed.): You will find this book referenced in both this section and the one on perfecting your academic prose because it book does it all! Required reading for those interested in establishing and sustaining a regular writing habit are pages 18-36, which help you assess your own feelings about writing and overcome the challenges standing between you and regular, positive writing experiences. Do also check out Belcher’s comprehensive, free, and extremely actionable “Solutions to Common Academic Writing Obstacles” webpage. There, you will find articles with how to overcome challenges such as “I can’t sit still to write,” “I’m afraid of writing because publication is so permanent,” or “I write so slowly that I never seem to get much done.”
- Write no Matter What (eBook): Jensen’s book helps you find time and space to write. Then, it gives you the tools you need to overcome the main writing myths that derail academic writers. Above all, she gives actionable tips to build a sustainable writing practice, to get unstuck, and to establish a writing community to support you.
- For those curious about how to develop habits in any area of life (writing included) Atomic Habits (eBook | Get the Audio Book free with a free Audible Trial). After reading Professors as Writers, you know that the key to academic writing is consistency. But how do you establish a regular writing habit? Look no further than Atomic Habits, which walks you through the four simple principles that will help you start (or break) any habit.
Perfecting Academic Prose
- Stylish Academic Writing (ebook): In this actionable and example-laden book, Helen Sword shows you exactly how to catch your reader’s attention and craft a convincing academic essay.
- The Elements of Academic Style (ebook): Once I started Hayot’s book, I could not put it down. He breaks good academic writing down, demystifying the “strategies” and “tactics” strong writers use and shows you how to practice for yourself. A must-read for graduate students and faculty alike.
- Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (12th ed.): This small manual breaks down the features of strong academic writing. Ever been told your prose sounds choppy or disorganized? Check out Chapters 5 and 8! Had someone tell you you can only use “while” in a temporal sense? Refer them to Chapter 2 (OK, don’t actually do that but mentally doing it might make you feel better). Been told your prose is too dense and theoretical? Consult Chapters 3 and 4.
- Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks (2nd ed.): Focused specifically on the journal article genre, this workbook nevertheless breaks down skills critical for any academic writing project, including essential moves you will need to make in your monographs’ chapters like: understanding what an argument is (and the types you can make in your field), situating your project within the related literature, ensuring your structure supports your main claims, presenting (and analyzing) your evidence in a way that foregrounds your voice, and polishing your sentences using the “Belcher Diagnostic Test.” Seriously, Chapter 11 (“Editing Your Sentences”) should be required reading early in your career. Not only has using this diagnostic test dramatically improved the quality of my own existing writing, but I have found that the prose I draft after using it regularly is stronger and more compelling.
- If you are looking for an editor, I highly recommend Allison Van Deventer. She does all types of editing–from developmental to line and copyediting–and she does it well. She edits articles and full book manuscripts.
The Books that Helped Me Go From Dissertation to Book
- From Dissertation to Book (ebook): This book remains the gold standard for how to turn your dissertation into a book. It will help you decide whether to publish, how to revise your prose, and the differences between dissertation and book styles.
- Getting it Published (ebook): William Germano, former editor-in-chief for Columbia University Press, knows what editors (and publishers) look for in book proposals and manuscripts. This book demystifies how to select a publisher, what a proposal is (and how to write one), and what editors look for. If you are publishing your first monograph and are working toward the proposal, Germano’s Getting it Published is essential.
- Thinking Like Your Editor (ebook): While not written for scholarly audiences, both Harvard and MIT University Presses recommend hopeful academic book authors read Thinking Like Your Editor when preparing their proposal. Their thorough book will help you think like your audience and craft the most compelling pitch for your book possible.
- Not a book, but a helpful roundup post by Georgetown University Press on everything you need to know about turning your dissertation into a book.
Or, see my post distilling all the information above: “All Your Dissertation to Book Questions Answered.”
General Software, Tools & Apps I Use Daily
- Scrivener: My preferred word-processor for scholarly writing because it allows you to rearrange your writing easily and keep all your research with your drafts. Read my full review of Scrivener 3 for academic writers.
- TextExpander: A program for Mac and Windows that allows you define a shortcut that will expand into a larger word, phrase, list, or even email–complete with fillable fields (name, etc.). Using my “snippets” for things I type frequently (office hours, frequent student comments, template emails, etc.) saves multiple hours per month. Get 20% off a “lifehacker plan.”
- Divvy: Have a Mac? Frustrated that you can never get your windows where you want them? Try Divvy, which allows you to set shortcuts to automatically snap your windows where you want them. I use this one at least 50 times per day!
- Naturespace: A free iPhone app I use in practically every writing session. It blocks out all background noise and lets me write, distraction free! My favorite track is “Riverwind Dreaming” (also free).
- f.lux: Do you work on your computer late at night? If so, you need f.lux, a blue light blocking app, which can help reduce sleep disturbances caused by your computer.
Tools I Use to Curb Digital Distraction
- Wastenotime: A free browser extension for Safari and Chrome that lets you block certain websites at certain times, or after you’ve spent a set amount of time on them.
- Rescuetime: A free program that runs on your computer. It shows you how productive you are during the day.
- Articles on how to turn off notifications on Androids and iPhones, and an article in WIRED about why you should.
- Article on how to set your iPhone to greyscale to make it less appealing.
My Treadmill Desk
I have a hard time sitting still (or sitting, period!) for long periods of time, but merely standing (without moving) didn’t solve the issue for me. In 2013 when I began my job, I decided to give a treadmill desk a try, and haven’t looked back since.
I find that it keeps me–a fidgety, sometimes anxious writer–much calmer and more focused for longer periods.
I have only ever used this treadmill because it is usually under $200, can go under any table/high desk, and can be slid under a bed or hidden in a closet when guests come. There are a few quirks: use this article–thankfully still available thanks to the Internet Archive!!!–to disassemble the handle bars (yes, you will want to follow the step of cutting the speaker connection, too. I speak from experience!); its max speed is about 4 mph (so it cannot double as a running treadmill); and it automatically shuts off after 30 minutes. But it is soooooo worth it.
Tools for Long Car Commutes or Frequent Traveling
- Audible: Try an Audible membership and get 2 books free! It’s a great way to get a free copy of some of the books mentioned above.
- Pocket Casts for iOS: My favorite free podcast player because it saves you time. You can speed up the playback faster than Apple Podcasts (up to 3x). You can also “trim silence” and “skip intros” to save even more time.
Tools for Setting up a Website
- I use Reclaimhosting as my hosting service. It was specifically designed for higher education and is used by institutions like Occidental College.
- I built this website using WordPress. In late 2019, I finally upgraded from a free to a paid theme–Academy Pro. It was sooooooo worth it. I highly recommend Studio Press for themes generally speaking (they made Academy Pro).
- ConvertKit is an extremely simple yet powerful email service provider. (And they launched a free plan where you can build a list of up to 100 people!). Already use an email provider such as MailChimp? ConvertKit will help you transfer everything over!
- For video conferencing with more than 2 people, I prefer Zoom. I have tried GoToMeeting, but find that Zoom is much more intuitive, it syncs with Google Calendar, and allows the meeting host to create breakout rooms (for smaller collaborations inside of a larger meeting).
- As boot campers know, I host my materials on Teachable. It is extremely intuitive for students and easy to customize for creators!
Humanities First Book Author Inner Circle
Writing your first academic book in a humanities or qualitative social science discipline? Wondering how to manage such a large project? You don't have to struggle alone! Sign up, and I'll send you resources and advice to help you get a handle on your manuscript, find the best publisher, and develop productivity habits to get the book done.