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Let me ask an academician who knows lifehacks well. I'm thinking of ways to avoid the following vicious cycle related to writing manuscripts.

Go straight to one's keyboard or terminal → people can't come up with anything → People can't write manuscripts → Procrastination related to writing them

How can we avoid this vicious circle?

How about starting from the handwriting or brain-storming (e.g., KJ method) stage? Does this method put people off in the aspect of transcribing of handwritten manuscripts? How can we avoid this transcription procrastination problem?

For the time being, is it recommended to input anything what I can come up with and repeat the revision (brush up) with the text-to-speech system?

Dr. SJP of Microsoft Research advocates writing the paper first, but is there possibility that one may postpone this step. Please also advise how to avoid this procrastination.

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Full disclaimer that this is a subjective answer which originates from my personal experience from both academic and creative writing. It may not apply to everyone reading this, but I sure hope it will help!

The way I do it is somewhat similar to the KJ method, except I skip the handwriting part altogether because transcription, in my opinion, sucks. What I do is:

  1. I open up a new word document (dubbed lovingly the word-vomit document), create a few headings like "personal ideas" (sometimes also adding rough section subheadings), "literature excerpts + sources" (classified by topic/section/however I think is suitable), and other relevant headings I might need.

  2. I do what needs to be done in the day, making food, doing chores, regular human stuff etc., and whenever I have a particular idea on how to start a paragraph in my academic work, or a random sentence I want to use, I quickly type it down into the document, and go about my day. Reading some papers and found an excerpt to paraphrase/use? Copy and paste that bad boy into the word document. Do this for a few days, and I usually end up with a substantial amount of material to work with.

  3. Once I believe I have enough information to work with, I start to visualize how my current points in the word-vomit document will fit in the big-picture. At this point, it becomes more clear to me what is lacking, what is redundant, and I go from there. Sometimes, if things are too messy, I'd open up another new word document and do one more pass of reorganizing. Once I'm done with this, I'm usually ready to start working on my main document, and everything in a word file means easy copy-and-pasting/editing my own ideas! I've noticed that my brain is especially intimidated when staring at a blank document, but once I have something to work with, either to add to, edit, or correct, it's substantially easier to manage.

  4. When writing the main document, I try not to stress myself too much on going section by section. Sometimes my brain itches and really wants to work on a particular section, so I take that free motivation and do that instead!

Again, I believe there is no "one true answer" when it comes to motivation. Some people like to plan things out and do things methodically, some prefer to let the last-minute adrenaline take over before pumping out words, and others may rely on something in-between. What I'm about to say might sound like (and probably is) a non-answer, but I think it's important to find what's right for you. Everyone is built different mentally, and sometimes it just comes down to experimenting with what works and what doesn't. Whatever you do, just try to do something, any progress in the right step is good progress, however small. :)

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  • I appreciate your post.
    – user15181
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:59
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    One small remark: When copying&pasting from an existing paper into a notes document, ALWAYS mark the source right away, right next to the copied passage. That's the only way to avoid accidental plagiarism when later using material from the notes document for the final document.
    – DCTLib
    Jun 21, 2023 at 12:51
  • @DCTLib I wholly agree, not to mention the added bonus of being easily able to refer back to the main paper when required!
    – Talos0248
    Jun 21, 2023 at 12:56
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For me, I usually draft a plan of analysis before I begin my work. The dataset I'll use, the method, background, simple hypotheses tests.

From then on, if I'm honest, you just gotta be hungry enough! Life for me will get in the way (between school, internship, other projects), but very generally, for the papers I care about, I'm self motivated to move them forward.

And that's what it takes. You have to want to move it forward, as nobody else will do it for you. I don't have a method, so much as I have a mindset.

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  • I appreciate your post. thanks
    – user15181
    Jun 22, 2023 at 6:40

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