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Routines

Dr. Ramon Goings

Dr. Ramon Goings currently serves as Assistant Professor in the Language, Literacy, and Culture interdisciplinary doctoral program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Dr. Goings is an expert on gifted/high-achieving Black male student success in PK-20 settings and diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce. Dr. Goings is the author of over 50 scholarly publications.

In addition to his scholarship, Dr. Goings is the founder of the Done Dissertation Coaching Program. He has expertise in cultivating the academic writing of doctoral students and early career researchers. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research, you can visit his personal website www.ramongoings.com.

Describe your writing process/routine?

I break everything down into small pieces. At first, if I have a paper I need to write, I actually outline it all in headers from top to bottom. And then I attack each header out of order, whichever comes the easiest first. I want to have easy wins, particularly if I’m writing, say, a peer-reviewed journal article, it would be the method section I write first. It’s the easiest. It’s more systematic, I’ve already done it, I don’t have to look at literature. It’s just A, B, C, D, E, F, G, type of thing. Then, I’ll just backwards map from there, going to whatever section next that comes easiest. And that’s how I typically approach writing. Easy first and I’ll progress to the hard stuff.

When did you develop your writing routine?

You know, that’s a good question. I’m trying to think when I started. I probably started when I was a doctorate student for sure, when I was writing papers for classes. I was still teaching back then, so I didn’t have a lot of time. So, I had to figure out, “Alright, if I break this paper down into small pieces, what can I do during my lunch time? What can I do during my planning period?” So that’s why I initially started doing the headers and I said, “Oh, it’s easy, if I have a 20-page paper and I have six or seven or even five sections, I’m at about five pages a section, I could do that in X amount of time.” It helped me plan.
And it got easier, I started to be like, “Oh, I’m writing faster when I do this.” I had my headers, and then I went to a bullet point under the headers. Like, “Here are the key pieces I need to talk about in this section.” Then I would write and I would make sure that I hit those pieces. And if I did, I’d delete the bullet points out of the way and I just had my narrative. And that’s how I filled out my work, and I kind of just perfected it over time.

What time of day do you find you write best?

As a morning writer, like a 9:00am to 11:30am time period I was able to write a lot during that time without interruption. But once I had Leah (Dr. Going’s daughter), that changed everything, because she was up 24/7, and so I got accustomed to writing at night. And then during the pandemic, because she was home, we had to work during the day. I had clients during the day, I couldn’t write during the day. I would write at about 9 o’clock PM. And I would write from nine to midnight, just because that was the only time that Leah would be asleep, and I could get actually focused time. So, I’ve evolved. I can do both now, but I prefer to write in the morning.

How did you improve your academic writing skills?

First, I joined R.A.C.E. Mentoring, and that was helpful to get the strategy. I think first I needed to understand the strategy behind writing, and so Dr. Donna Ford was definitely helpful in giving me the strategy. But then from there, I just would begin to read around and notice how others wrote. In my research era, I would just read people’s work that I really liked. Writers that I liked were Dr. Sean Harper and Dr. Sharon Fries-Britt, who write directly on my topic. Their work is very clear, but persuasive, and that’s why I emulated that style until I started to figure out how to develop my own.

How do you make time for writing with all the other commitments you have?

I think you make time for what you prioritize, right? For me as a faculty member, publication is a priority. But what I did, I set the foundation up when I was a doc student. In my first year as faculty, I would write. I was doing about a piece per month. At the end of the year, I had about 10 to 12 things done. And then they all don’t get accepted, and they all don’t come out at the same time. So that gave me like a year and a half out, so I didn’t feel the pressure. And then from there, I can just write what I wanted to. And so now it’s like, how do I put my students on? Now I have them write with me.
I provide the project, I provide what we want to do, and I let them take the lead on it. And I don’t even care at this point, I don’t need to be first author. That stuff doesn’t even matter now, it’s just like, “How do I put my students on so they can do the things they want to do?” That’s been great!

What are your strategies for staying productive and for maintaining momentum with your writing?

Yeah, you definitely have to have collaborators. It’s hard to do it alone. So I’ll do anything written about Black male adult learners. Most of the time I do that solo because that’s really my niche area. I’ll write one piece a year about that myself, but other than that, I’ll collaborate with other people. And so you just have to find the crew that writes at the same momentum or same speed as you. A lot of time, people are excited about going to collaboration and then it’s time to do the work, it’s like, “Yo, where your stuff at?” We said it’s going to be on the 15th and now we’re at the 15th of the next month and it’s like what happened? I’ve had great collaborators. If you look at my CV you’ll see Dr. Larry Walker. You’ll see Goings, Walker or Walker, Goings, because that was my classmate at Morgan. So Larry and I, we’ll get to cranking. We started doing that as students. It’s like, “Alright, I’m working on this, you can second. I’ll write 80%, you write 20.” And then when he’s working on the lead of something, he’ll do 80% and I’ll do 20. And we’ll just map out, “Hey I need you to do this section, this section by this date,” and then we get it done. So now we’re working two for one versus me just working by myself.

What is the best writing advice you’ve gotten?

Keep it simple is the best advice that I received. I used to get on my papers a ton of feedback that I was not a good writer. It’s crazy. People don’t believe it, but I always keep my receipts. I have papers that I wrote as a doc student, and one of them had a big X on it and the professor wrote, “You need to see a writing coach immediately.” And added, “You’re out-complexing yourself.” And at first, I blamed it on him, the professor. Then I realized it was my problem. And so, what I found is that the simpler I got with my writing, the easier it got. Because I want people to understand what I wrote, not necessarily thinking through all this academic jargon and stuff. I don’t have that vocabulary chops to do it anyway. The simpler I wrote, the better it got, and more likely one of the reasons why I got things accepted.

What writing tools do you suggest? And this could be apps, notebooks, pens, whatever tools you think are helpful to get someone to start their routine or their research agenda or just start writing?

When I use my alarm on my phone to set times and really try to block it out. And I know some people use those apps on your computer where it blocks out email and internet, all that stuff. You could do that. I’m a little more disciplined. I don’t need that, but that’s something I’ve seen be effective. I also time myself for 30 minutes, what can I get done? I started to understand how fast I write that way, when I take on projects I know, alright, this is 25 pages, I probably need about X number of hours, it means I need this amount of time. that was helpful for me. I’m trying to think other tools that I use… There’s this site, it’s called Academic Phrasebank. It’s pretty dope. They give you stems on how transition words, all that technical piece. I like that website to do help me write.

What are some specific rules for writing within your discipline that someone may not be aware of?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think that the writing rules, it sometimes is dependent on the publication. You must know who your audience is. There’s some language or some passion that you have, particularly talking about anything about race, that some journals are just not going to mess with. Even if it’s well written, they’re going to find a way to reject it. That’s just something you got to consider – your audience and the publication venue. And they won’t tell you that. They don’t have it written on their website, but just best believe, you go to your mainstream journal talking about race, it’s going to get more scrutinized and more likely to be rejected.

Who are some writers you particularly admire, and what about their writing seems most admirable to you?

Yeah. I think some of the writers I admire were just very frank and honest about what their thoughts were on something. I mean, Dr. Shaun Harper had a piece called, “Niggers No More”” It was like this counter-narrative about Black men in higher ed. It was just provocative, and the way he approached it was like, “Wow, you could just put it out there and challenge people.” I thought that was great, something I wanted to take on. Yeah. That part is the main thing.

What advice would you give fellow writers?

To read other people’s writing, if you’re trying to figure out what your style is. Find someone attached to it and then emulate until you develop your own style. My background’s in music, there are a lot of artists who start out emulating their favorite artists until they develop their style. So that’s okay. People do it and you find your style over time. That would be my advice there. Being able to have skill sets to write for different audiences is something I think people should develop more of, particularly with academics because not a lot of people are reading those journal articles. If you could translate what you wrote in a journal article for ED Week, or Inside Higher Ed or The Chronicle, now you get more eyes on your work. I have a series that I write for Interfolio called “The Smart Scholars Series”. They’re like 500-to-700-word posts that I write about various aspects in higher ed. I get way more traction, I get between 9,000 and 27,000 reads on every article. So that’s put me in front of way more people than my peer-reviewed journal articles would. If you can develop that skill set, then you can write for those type of popular presses, you can do policy writing, just developing your writing toolkit and being able to turn on and off the academic stuff.

I think writing is much more mental than people give it credit for. There’s the act of writing, but I think we have all these thoughts about writing based on our path. Sometimes it’s like undoing some of the trauma that you have from K-12. Even undergrad is like people told you that you couldn’t write, or you feel like you can’t write but I would just say it’s like a muscle, right? And so you go into the gym, you want to improve your physique, you must work out every day, eat right. So, same thing with writing. You want to become better; you have to exercise that writing muscle every day. It’s like not thinking about writing in binging process like, where I’m going to go write for one day for eight hours, but “How can I do it every day so that I just get stronger at it?” And particularly vocabulary is one. I didn’t have a strong vocabulary and then I was studying words. If there was a word, I read in an article, I would look it up in the dictionary, write my definition down, and then I would try to use it in my writing to practice.

When I used to intern with the White House Initiative on educational excellence for African-Americans, I used to write the speeches every once in a while, I would write the speeches from my boss, and so I had to learn how to talk in “David”. That’s what I would call it. His name was David Johns, I would learn how to talk and learn his phrases, so that if I was sending him something, a policy brief, or he needed notes for his upcoming talk, I would have it in a language that was how he would say it. I studied him, and then I said, “Oh, I can apply this to studying writers.” Right? You can study their writing, you get a feel for a style, you try their style, and then you develop your own after.

Check out Dr. Goings current and first solo authored book, “14 Secrets to a Done Dissertation: A Guide to Navigating the Dissertation Process Then Finishing in Record Time”. He explains that he wrote this book for the doc student who just feels burned out, and is trying to figure out how to manage being a doc student and working full-time, family, how to balance it while trying to get this project done.” You can also text #FREE to 301-701-2466, and get access to a Done Dissertation completion checklist as well as access to a free training on creating your Done Dissertation blueprint.

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