Learn from the experts


In Conversation: Double Pack September Issue

This past year has proved challenging in many ways, but one thing remained clear. I was still responsible for my writing goals (tenure track hustle) so a writing routine was a must.  In this double pack issue, we hear from veteran scholars who bring forth salient pieces of advice for us to continue marshaling on as we navigate this world.  I hope you are inspired by their honesty, brilliance and humility.
The Panel

Describe your writing process/routine?

Dr. Alston: I write when the feeling hits me. I never force it. Unfortunately, I am a procrastinator.

Dr. Byrne-Jimenez: I used to write in a binge, meaning I will write all at once and I do this because of my busy schedule. However, now I communicate with my co-authors or if I am contributing a book chapter, I communicate to the editor that I can write the piece for them but I give them a timeline so that I can prepare the best version of the writing. Sometimes that doesn’t work for them and sometimes it does, but it allows me to be more intentional with the writing, more creative and not let anyone down (including myself) because we have a mutually agreeable deadline. That’s a part of my writing routine that I learned many years late but it is very helpful. 

Also, when I am co-authoring a paper or a chapter, I like to have meetings with my team so we can be in the same space together.  This could mean talking together through the manuscript or just sitting in silence and writing.  Building that sense of community is a huge part of my writing routine.

When did you develop your writing routine?

Dr. Alston: It’s just a part of me. My writing routine was like this when I was in high school and college.

Dr. Woulfin: In grad school and through reading scholarly works.

Dr. Donnor: In grad school, but it has evolved through the years.

What time of day do you find you write best?

Dr. Alston: Night (7pm – 12am)

Dr. Donnor: I generally write in the morning. I do not have a set schedule because I want to be present for my family but what that means is sometimes, I will write on a Saturday or Sunday. 

Dr. Woulfin: I find that I work best in the mornings so I am very strict when it comes to taking meetings in the a.m.  That is my writing time.

How did you improve your academic writing skills?

Dr. Woulfin: Reading widely. 

Dr. Byrne-Jimenez: Reading various types of genres including academic.  Reading poetry is really important to me and I have found that creativity allows me to breathe life into the academic pieces I write.

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

Dr. Alston: I believe in having a balanced life. Though I know that I should spend more time on my writing projects, but again, I can’t force it.

What are your strategies for staying productive and for maintaining momentum with your writing?  (get specific and concrete)

Dr. Alston: Learn what works for you; trial and error; you’ve got to get to know yourself and who you are as writer. Then design your own way.

Dr. Woulfin: My schedule is key. I block out times in the morning for writing, and then I am very specific during those writing times.  For example, I will have a block of writing time on a Monday morning and within that block I will write “Work on methods section of x paper.”  This allows me to have a focus for that time and limit procrastination. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve gotten?

Dr. Alston: The more you read, the better writer you become.

Dr. Donnor: My advisor always told me to start with a quote to center the piece.  So you will see in some of my manuscripts that I begin the piece with a quote.  This has helped me center my writing and be able to connect the dots as I write.

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?

Dr. Alston: Google (LOL); Music; Fiction/Nonfiction; APA; Movies

Dr. Donnor: I love journals and pens.  I am still an paper and pen writer, and although I am trying to move toward tech like iPads and stuff, I find that paper and pen help me get through the ideas. Also, I recently read Air & Light & Time & Space: How successful academics write by Helen Sword which was a good review of writing techniques for me.  It confirmed my writing process while also teaching me some new things.

Dr. Woulfin: A calendar! It can be digital or paper but it’s really helpful to maintaining momentum and clarity on your projects.

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

Dr. Donnor: Learn your audience and the journal you are writing for. Consider how the writing is constructed. 

Dr. Woulfin: Read the journal articles in the journals you are submitting to.  You can learn a lot from the writers but also what the journals are asking for.

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

Dr. Alston: Parker Palmer; Dietrich Bonhoffer; J. A. Jance; Howard Thurman – These folks understand the art of storytelling; have command of the language/vocabulary; and know how to paint a picture. All of this is essential (for me) even in academic writing.

Dr. Byrne Jimenez: The work of Anzaldúa, Delgado Bernal, Yosso, Solorzano, hooks, Crenshaw,

Ladson-Billings, Valenzuela, Villenas, to name a few.

Dr. Donnor: Cathy Cohen’s Boundaries of Blackness

What advice would you give fellow writers?

Dr. Alston: Read widely: read across disciplines whether it’s a blog or a peer-reviewed article; watch movies, tv shows, documentaries, etc – they will inspire you in unbelievable ways. When you’re reading, you want to immerse yourself in the moment and the content. It will begin to speak to you (for good or bad) and from that will come what you need. Just be true to yourself and always write what beats your heart.

Dr. Byrne-Jimenez:  Remember that this is a creative process even if it is academic writing.  I write poetry and although that is for me, reading poetry and being in that creative space has really helped me to challenge what academic writing is and looks like.  There are many spaces to do this work.  One of my proudest pieces was a book chapter I wrote with my Dad. I was able to write this piece authentically and connecting with my own family to bring out a relevant academic chapter.  So you can bend the rules and write as you want.

Check out these scholars works:

Dr. Alston: Herstories: Leading with the Lessons of the Lives of Black Women Activists; School Leadership and Administration: Important Concepts, Case Studies, & Simulations (upcoming 11th edition). Purveyors of Change: School Leaders of Color Share Narratives of Student, School, and Community Success. Standing on the promises: A new generation of Black women scholars in educational leadership and beyond; Tempered radicals & servant leaders: Black females persevering in the superintendency.

Dr. Byrne-Jimenez: Un Cafecito in Leading Latina School Leaders, Huītzilin the Traveler in Exploring the Edges of Identity and Leadership

Dr. Donnor: White Fear, White Flight, the Rules of Racial Standing and Whiteness as Property: Why Two Critical Race Theory Constructs are Better Than One, Perpetuating Inequalities: The Role of Political Distraction in Education Policy, Critical Race Theory in Education All God’s Children Got a Song

Dr. Woulfin: Teacher Leadership for School Improvement, Animating the Logics Perspective to Understand Dilemmas of Reform: A review of the pre-K to 12 education and social sector literature


Explore More Routines

Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III

Bio: Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III is a third-generation educator, organizer, and artist committed to the lives, love, and liberation of everyday Black people. Dr.

Read More

Jonathon Saphier

Jonathon Saphier is the Founder and President of Research for Better Teaching, now in its 44th year. He and his colleagues deliver professional development on

Read More

Stephen Kotok

Stephen Kotok is an associate professor in the Department of Administrative and Instructional Leadership at St. John’s University in New York City. His research focuses

Read More