Recommended #4: Helen Sword’s Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (2017, Harvard University Press)

Helen Sword has done it again: She took the time to perform extensive research on the writing habits of academics and to write a book about it (similar to what she has done for Stylish Academic Writing).

She conducted 100 interviews with productive academics all over the world and received answers from 1,223 academics on her questionnaire. I’m impressed and glad that she did all of this to show how academic writers work in a variety of ways. As she emphasizes and shows with quotes from the interviewed researchers, there is not only one way how to be productive. Nor are there two or three ways that lead to success. Rather, she shows how all the academics found their own ways of writing and working in order to become productive and successful.

As a writing coach, I deal with academics all the time and know about their challenges and successes as writers. Although I haven’t yet encountered each and every habit presented in Sword’s book, I know from working with hundreds of clients that there is no recipe to productivity. So there were not many new things that I could learn from the book. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from it.

If you are struggling with writing or finding helpful writing habits, or if you have been trying to find the one and only recipe for productive writing, you should read Sword’s book. She will not only give you a framework called BASE (behavioral, artisanal, social and emotional habits), but also gives you tons of examples from other writers. She will show you what’s possible and – even more important – that there are no hard-and-fast rules. Get inspired by Sword’s well-researched and written book and embark on your own successful writing journey.


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