I have written few manuscripts so far and those have been published already (some ordinary peer-reviewed journals). However, I feel stressed so much when I write my new manuscript. How to manage/overcome this stress. I feel that other researchers also feel similar to me.
A few things that have really helped reduce the stress in writing for me:
Writing the introduction first and the abstract last. Hopefully, the background to your research won't significantly change during the writing process, so your introduction should be pretty static during the whole writing process. On the other hand, I've found that as I write a paper, what I believe to be the important aspects of the paper often changes with the writing process. As such, my first idea of what the abstract should be is often completely different than the final abstract.
Starting with a skeleton of the manuscript (i.e. titles of sections and subsections, with an explicit plan of what should go where). This allows you to break up all the writing and work in separate chunks. I found that I was surprised how much stress is involved in moving paragraphs around and trying to keep a good flow to the paper.
Starting with putting words on paper (that is, LaTeX, Word, etc.) with little concern for quality! My first draft is always going to be horrible, so my first goal is to put all the ideas down, just to get all the ideas on the paper. I'll worry how it looks later. Plus, there's nothing more frustrating than putting a lot of work in the "perfect paragraph", ultimately to decide it is not necessary for the manuscript.
Working in consistent, but divided blocks. I have to take the train for 2 hours everyday to get to work and back. But I'm amazed how much using these two blocks of time seems to help the quality (and reduce the stress) of my writing! When I try to write everything in huge blocks, my patience and attention to detail drops, leading to a sloppy writing. But when I consistently work in small blocks, my overall patience level is much higher.
Your problem is common to many researchers, I think. However, the solutions are very different for each and everyone. My key concepts to avoid stress while writing, especially articles at the moment, consists of the following steps and ideas:
- Strict time management. I set deadlines for every step I have to take. Like 1 week literature search, 1 week literature examination and reading, 1 week to construct a thesis and a research question etc. (or how long you need)
- I try to create a structure of the article beforehand and extend it during the process of writing the paper. In the structure (I make a table of contents) I add bullet points to remember what important things I have to go through.
- I continuously read and revise the mansucript I have already written.
- When writing with co-authors I try to work together with them in one space, rather than skyping now and then. However, your time management is only as good as theirs, when you have to cooperate. So: direct communication with opennenss and honesty is important.
- Never ever I plan to use extensions of deadlines. I only make use of extensions if things really are in trouble. Inform the persons who are awaiting your manuscript in time that you won't make the deadline.
All in all, the strategies against stress can also include recreational sports after an afternoon of writing. Or explicitly doing other things so that no other tasks are left behind. The perfect strategy is quite individual I think.
I find it really helps me to start by doing a really bad draft version. The aim of it is just to get your ideas and points down on paper but you give yourself the permission for it to be terrible. Use bad spelling, bad structure, bad diagrams - it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you at this stage. The focus is just on what you want to say and the message/conclusion you want to get across.
Once you've got all you points written in a bad draft, you can focus solely on fixing up the language, diagrams, structure and make it in a nice, publishable paper.
Breaking it down into these two stages helps me because I find trying to do both things (get my message across and write something of publishable quality) at the same time is really hard and stressful without years of experience (which I don't have yet).