Librarians and Technology Part 9: Focused Writing Requires Discipline

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

April 23, 2019

Skills for special librarians include focused writing in the age of technology and an ever-expanding information universe. With technology and devices competing for our attention, we must be disciplined as we focus on each task and activity, setting aside uninterrupted time to write.

Here are some ways to focus on writing. Whether it’s a writing project you’ve been putting off or perhaps a memo you need to write that recommends new software for your information center, be disciplined and schedule writing time without all that distracting technology and social media.

Myths about writing

Anyone who tells you writing is easy is exaggerating. Writing takes time, discipline, concentration, and focus. Writing means harnessing technology. Writing memos, reports, and recommendations is work. The same goes for writing reviews, and blog posts. Writing entails solidifying ideas into a shareable form. Writing takes discipline and focus to corral ideas, hone them into something readable, and then polish them into a deliverable message. Once content is hammered out, introductions and conclusions are required—particularly those terse yet necessary abstracts and executive summaries. Give yourself undivided, focused time to write.

Writing requires discipline

Good writing requires discipline and provides an opportunity to learn as you craft your writing1. As you write you learn about your topic, product, and subject matter. Your report evolves with each connection and analogy. At the same time, getting thoughts and ideas onto the page or computer screen means banishing your internal editor and grammarian. Focus on your ideas and arguments. Solidify your justifications with solid evidence. It takes discipline to control the inner voice that wants a perfect first draft. Take the time to spit your ideas out. Revision comes later.

Revision is an imperative. Everything you write requires revision, editing, recrafting, more revision and editing until you get to the polished piece you want to submit. At that point, an essential part of writing is proofreading, which includes checking spelling, nuance of terms and terminology, a review of grammar, and a final check that what you intended to convey is indeed what your writing does.

Beginning is the hardest step

Writing is often a daunting task as it looms over our heads and causes anxiety, mostly related to doing the actual writing. So how do you get started with this task?

  • First, set aside time to work on the project.
  • Remove distractions by turning off your e-mail, text notifications, social media, and even browser and catalog.
  • Write the easiest part first. After all, if you don’t have anything written, you cannot revise it for the final project.
  • Write for yourself, then modify it for the intended audience when in revision mode.
  • Break the project into small parts. As you divide the writing, consider all the evidence you’ve collected.
  • Use groups or columns, put the evidence into logical piles or subdivisions. As you organize the evidence, you’ll find themes developing. Don’t skimp on this step. Write your ideas and evidence on a giant sticky note or on little sticky notes. Color code your ideas. Rearrange them. Write them down on paper.
  • Don’t worry about the outline, externalize your ideas then organize.

Be disciplined. Set aside time to write regularly. Write every day, several times a week, or even once a week. Writing regularly ensures completed memos, documents, and reports.

Summing it up

When thinking about skills for special librarians, remember that writing requires discipline. It’s almost impossible to write when your attention is unfocused or distracted by technology. Avoid dividing your attention amongst a variety of screens, conversations, and mental distractions. To write diligently, eliminate, or temporarily turn off, anything that prevents you from focusing on your current activity.
Schedule regular writing times. Allocate a time and a place to write. Some people can write in coffee shops where the world is buzzing around them. However, most people need a quiet, non-distracting place to focus their energies. In reality, you just need to turn off all those distracting devices. Turn off the phone, text notifications, e-mail, and even internet.

Just write. Get your ideas down on paper or typed into your word processing software. Once you’ve got an outline or the basic ideas out of your head, you’re half way toward successfully completing your writing project.

My next blog post on professional development and skills for special librarians will expand on the idea of focused writing requiring discipline.

Some articles you might find interesting:

Anna Goldfarb, “Stop Letting Modern Distractions Steal Your Attention” NYT (March 26, 2019) NOTE: Contains very distracting video clips and ads.

William Knowlton Zinsser Writing to learn (NY: Harper & Row, 1988).

1See William Zinsser, Writing to Learn (NY: Harper & Row, 1988).

<a href="" target="_self">Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD</a>

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills for special librarians. Read her previous post on active reading and focused reference.

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