Learn from the experts


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. Davis is an assistant professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education and director of the Campus Abolition Research Lab at the University of Michigan. Drawing on frameworks from the Black radical tradition, decolonial studies, and critical theory, Dr. Davis’ research employs visual and digital ethnographic methods to examine the racialized consequences of higher education on society. He is currently focused on interrogating notions of campus safety and the role of university expansion and urban renewal projects in creating the conditions that necessitate the policing of Black communities in proximity to campus.

Describe your writing process/routine?
I am actually quite disorganized and inconsistent when it comes to an established routine. My day-to-day has changed drastically since I transitioned to a tenure-track position while becoming a new parent during the pandemic. This has forced me to be more agile and responsive to unexpected moments of availability to write for shorter periods of time, sometimes in inconvenient places. On few occasions, I have found day-long writing retreats with colleagues throughout a semester have been helpful for more intensive writing. In other instances, early-morning and late night blocks of time have provided some pockets of uninterrupted time, which have been critical to managing the demands of teaching and advising as well as commitments to my family.

When did you develop your writing routine?
I’ve developed different processes over time based on my life and career stages. When dissertating, I often wrote between 4:00am and 8:00am before work as a research scientist. When I transitioned fully into my early-career, I dedicated one day a week to writing outside of my research and teaching roles. As a full-time clinical faculty member I often wrote on weekends out of necessity. Now, I am learning new ways to find time after organizing and planning my writing tasks to partition projects into more manageable, discrete activities that do not require large blocks of time to complete. Changes in professional roles and life-stage required constant adaptation required me to develop my writing routine.

What time of day do you find you write best?
Morning (5-6am – 12pm)

How did you improve your academic writing skills?
Trial and error have been a consistent part of the process to figure out what works best for finding my own voice, which included writing things that were published that I did not love and writing things I loved that were not accepted for publication in traditional academic venues. I also realized my voice, as a person with a creative writing and literature background, needed to engage with writing outside of technical and academic texts that told stories in ways that best brought my research to life. This has included exploiting alternative means for documenting and disseminating my scholarship through essays, photography, film, and other media productions.

What resources helped you become a better writer (books, mentors, writers, etc.)
Reading the work of historical and contemporary Black writers (and scholars) like James Baldwin, Derrick Bell, Kim Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, Davarian Baldwin, Angela Davis, June Jordan, Kiese Laymon, Joy James, Jesmyn Ward, Damon Young, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Marlon Pederson, Aja Monet, and Eve Ewing.

How do you make time for writing with all the other commitments you have?
I’m really not good at this to be honest. I often get forced into a tight windows and work under duress to meet deadlines.

What are your strategies for staying productive and for maintaining momentum with your writing?  (get specific and concrete)
I try to make sure I write what moves me and is politically useful for people engaged in serious study and struggle. This helps keep motivation and discipline high because there’s something of consequence outside of my own professional benefit or ego that requires I write, which has been really key to getting things done during always already difficulty moments.

What is the best writing advice you have gotten?
There is no such thing as good writing, only good revision.

What are some specific practices and rules for writing within your discipline that other researchers and graduate students might not be aware of?
Writing for academic venues is largely a technical and stylistic exercise that has certain conventions that best facilitate publication, sometimes regardless of the subjective quality of one’s empirical or theoretical “rigor.” Mimicking the techniques and styles of productive scholars within one’s field can be a helpful starting point toward finding an academic voice and garnering more revise and resubmit decisions than rejections.

Who are some writers you particularly admire, and what about their writing seems most admirable to you?
I’ve always appreciated Derrick Bell’s prose and the way he uses allegory/storytelling as a method of his racial analysis. James Baldwin’s collection of writings demonstrate a certain prophetic fire and unapologetic disposition to material realities faced by Black people under white supremacy that is clear and declarative without mincing words. Kim Crenshaw, especially in her footnotes, writes forcefully and matter of factly to the audience and subject of her work without concern for the white gaze or white western epistemologies that may take issue with her arguments. 

Any advice you’d like to offer graduate students?
Read outside of your primary field of study and do so often. This should include writings that are non-academic and from a variety of genres. Good writers must first be avid readers.

The first season of the #PoliceFreeCampus Podcast is now available to listen and watch at bit.ly/policefreepod. Much of my other work is available at hfdavis.com and campusabolition.org. I can also be followed on social media at @hfdavis.

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