Writing Q & A

Writing is a strangely individualistic sport. As such it requires a certain level of personal reflection on what works and what doesn’t.  In an effort to not utterly bias my recent EMS1 article on the topic, I decided to poll a handful of writers beyond myself (CC) to see what works for them.

You can read more about each of them here:
Raphael M. Barishansky (RB)
Ari Friedman (AF)
Greg Friese (GF)
J’Aime Jennings (JJ)

Here is what they had to say:

What do you like to write about?

RB – Out of the ordinary leadership initiatives

CC – I love writing about anything relating to EMS, which is a big category from the perspective of those reading this article, but on my end, it’s only a small part of what I read and research on a daily basis.  If you love the topic, it’s easier for the words to start to flow.

AF – I basically write two types of pieces: short pieces that link some timely subject to a longstanding academic concern, and journal articles reporting the results of my research. The former I enjoy writing. The latter I have historically avoided until the last minute–I enjoy the research, and once I find the answer I’m satisfied. I’m trying to fix this for future projects by writing the parts of the paper that can be written before the results get in before I have the results. That gets me over the writing hump when I still have the new project energy.

GF – Several types of articles are most enjoyable for me to write.

  1. Race reports after running a marathon
  2. Reviews of books written by paramedics
  3. Tips and resources to help EMS professionals do their jobs better
  4. Reaction and analysis of major news and how the incident impacts EMS

JJ – Since most of my writing is for work, I enjoy writing about how hospitals engage with community-based organizations to help improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. In particular, I like getting to the “Discussion” section of a manuscript. Not only does it mean that the bulk of the work is behind me, but it’s fun to postulate about why certain relationships exist within the data; especially those that were contrary to my original thinking.

Do you need an outline?
RB – No.

CC – Depending on what I’m writing this varies.  If it’s a policy brief I use Bardach. If it’s for a trade journal I follow the format set by the editor. If it’s a research article I start with a model developed by Menachemiet al., and then modify what I’ve written to fit a particular journal.

AF – I sit down and write out a formal outline only occasionally. For medical journal articles where the form is more fixed, I tend to just start writing the relevant portions–you don’t need an outline to know that your discussion section will have a limitations sub-section, for instance. For more fluid article types, such as blog posts on the short end and economics manuscripts on the long (very long) end, I tend to outline more. Typically my outline isn’t a pure bulleted list, though, and some things that should be bullet points wind up being full paragraphs. WorkFlowy matches how my brain works at this stage, in that it’s heirarchical and bulleted but also infinitely nestable and a “bullet” can be a paragraph or even a full sub-section.

GF – I generally work from a very rough outline. I write short phrases of the key points I plan to make using pen and paper. Then I start typing.

JJ – Depends on how far I am from meeting the deadline. Generally, the answer is no. However, if I haven’t made much headway and I’m short on time, I’ve found that an outline is a good way to force me to focus my thoughts and get something on paper.

Do you need hard or soft deadlines (or none at all)? 
RB – Yes, I prefer them

CC – I require deadlines, and not the kind that I can set and then change at will, but rather those set by someone else, with the promise of an angry email and utter disappointment when I fail to meet the deadline.  Without this, I will find other things that are more pressing to fill my time.

AF – It depends for what, but in general, deadlines are helpful. The best soft deadline of all is a colleague/collaborator whom you will let down if it’s not done, which is just one advantage of collaboration.

GF – I write best with deadlines. I also do well with an assignment to write something right now regarding some specific thing.

JJ – I need deadlines! Although, I have learned to embrace the fact that I’m a procrastinator.

What time of day do you do your best writing?
RB – Morning.

CC – I don’t have the self control to write before my day has started.  In fact, my best writing tends to happen mid-afternoon once all of the various fires from the day have been handled.

AF – 4-6am before the kids are up.

GF – I am usually able to write with the fewest interruptions in the morning. I would like to write more in the evening, but I am usually too tired.

JJ – Early in the morning (6am-noon) or late in the night (10pm- 2am).

Where can you write most productively (location or environment)? 
RB – Home, and with the TV on in the background.

CC – If I’m not near the deadline I like to write in novel environments, like a coffee shop or bar.  If I’m close to the deadline I tend stick with my office or kitchen table.

AF – These days I’ll take any quiet space I can get! A proper setup with a large monitor and keyboard tray is really nice when I can manage it.

GF – I do most of my writing from a home office, the kitchen table or a hotel room. When I was regularly working paramedic shifts I did most of my writing between calls.

JJ – I’m most productive when I work at home. Although it’s nice to work from my office desk, hallway conversations and impromptu meetings tend to keep me distracted.

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