On BASE Writing Habits (and This Blog's Purpose)

As an editor, I work with texts, usually manuscript drafts that are pretty far along. I often have in-depth conversations with their authors—through phone or Skype, email, and the Comments feature in Word. We refine their points and tease out implications. We talk content, tone, audience. I serve as a surrogate reader—I read on behalf of future readers who won’t have the chance to ask the writer follow-up questions. I adore this process of helping writers refine their work.

What we don’t talk about is process. We don’t talk about what it takes to get words down on the page in the first place, or about how to find time to write when our schedules are full.

I know how fraught the writing process can be.

As the daughter of two academics, long before I went to graduate school myself, I was acutely aware of the intense pressure that academics feel to publish, and how difficult it can be to carve out the time to make progress on writing projects. In high school and college, I dealt with perfectionism around my own writing in a big away (and with the attendant procrastination). When I was accepted to grad school, I bought a stack of books on writing productivity and time management (books by Robert Boice, Peter Elbow, Alan Lakein), determined that I was going to develop more sustainable habits—ones that would serve me for the long-haul, that didn’t involve relying on looming deadlines or all-nighters to get me past my perfectionist hang-ups.

Thirteen years later, one of my favorite books on productivity—and the book that inspired this blog—is Helen Sword’s Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write. Sword’s book is not prescriptive; its ethos is one of “experimentation, empowerment, and choice.” She draws on interviews with one-hundred academics to show the diverse forms a successful writing practice can take. Sword structures her book around exploring the writers’ “BASE habits”: the behaviorial, artisanal, social, and emotional habits surrounding their writing practices.

Through my editing work, I support academic writers in developing strong artisanal habits—habits related to the craft of writing. My goal in this blog is to support academics (at least in a small way) with other sorts of writing habits as well. To help make the writing process less fraught and more joyful, and to help writers move projects forward to completion.

Ellen Tilton-Cantrell