This blog post was inspired by a twitter conversation with Studious Jen (@mystudiouslife), curator of #Acwri spreadsheets and Jackie Kirkham (@JackieKirkham) on achieving the monthly writing goals we set for ourselves. With all sort of pressures mounting in the run up to handing it the thesis it is so demotivating (e.g. that crawl under a duvet and weep sort of feeling) to see that you haven’t met your own deadlines/word counts/(insert goal here) to the point that panic really starts to settle in.  I’m not talking about the emotional freak out (e.g. wailing and gnashing of teeth) but that darker edge of despair threatening to paralyse you because you somehow have to prove that what you invested into this thesis must we worth it. It has to be, because the alternative is terrifying think about.

It’s a very real feeling that I try to manage through reminding myself that achieving the small steps is crucial to keeping a sense of progress.  When I haven’t made my daily word count but have edited a section of the thesis into something more coherent, I try to see that as an achievement.  Every effort counts because…it does. Fact.

Initially I had the idea that I would come to a point where I would be ready to write the thesis, where my ideas would be so clear that I could just transfer them onto the page. Like a transcription, just hammer it out! And then I could go back to the draft (singular), do some editing and BOOM: a thesis is born!

Photo by Julie_C from
Image by Julie_C from

Or not.  It quickly dawned on me that it is difficult to write a thesis in a linear fashion because it is a completely different product to anything I’ve written before and chipping away at it, bit by bit, for me is the only way forward.  Suzanne Ulm in her FastBleep blog post gives some great advice on “making small starts” through organising small blocks of time to keeping to small tasks.  It seems like common sense stuff that I should know about but then actually putting them into practice is making all the difference.  So I do a lot of my thinking through the act of writing where my ideas start to really coalesce. It’s frustrating because part of me wishes that I understood what I wanted to say before trying to write it down but, it just isn’t happening that way. So why agonise over that? At least that’s what I remind myself in order to snap out of the pity party and essentially just try to get on with it.  Line by line.

3 thoughts on “On making writing progress: Day 81

  1. Thanks for the mention Eljee! It was an interesting chat.

    I know when I wrote my thesis (submitted end of 2010 which feels like a lifetime ago now!) it wasn’t until right at the end (like, scarily close to the end!) that I had it in thesis form, particularly the 3 findings chapters. I had everything written, but it wasn’t until that rarefied moment right at the end where those chapters finally fell into place. For me the issue was structural rather than creating the words per se, and it ended up being one of those cartoon ‘lightbulb moments’ where there was a sudden realisation of what should go where. Which was a bit stressful, but I suppose my point is that what is important is that I had at least got everything (more or less) written, had plugged away getting it nearly-but-not-quite right, and got there in the end, needing only minor corrections in the end. So what you’re doing – writing-as-thinking, getting *something*, *anything* down is absolutely not wasted effort, even if the point where it suddenly looks like a thesis may be a way away yet.

    I’m hearing all sorts of things about Scrivener and Evernote and how they are both supposedly really helpful at the ‘just writing stuff’ stage before putting it together in linear fashion in Word; I’m very tempted to download and try them as I think that having various versions in Word was really hard to keep track of and didn’t help the writing process much.


  2. Thanks for your comments! I’ve heard similar experiences from friends who’ve been through the gauntlet (so to speak) where things seem to fall into place. I’m hoping that “ah ha” moment will come, though for me there are times when an idea becomes clearer as I write. Like when I realise what I’m actually trying to say. It’s weird and yet really interesting to observe at the same time. It’s really good to know that there is a point(s) where things come together 🙂

    I’ve been using Scrivener for drafting and doing the formatting in Word to meet my uni guidelines. To be honest, do try the 30 day free version of Scrivener to see how it works for you. In my experience it took a little while to get my head around it since I’ve been conditioned to use the Word interface BUT the benefits are great. I keep meaning to write a more detailed blog post on it (soon) but for now, it’s an efficient and effective way of organising your drafts.


  3. So I do a lot of my thinking through the act of writing where my ideas start to really coalesce.

    This is not a bug, it’s a feature!
    It took me a long time to figure that out, especially having come to the humanities from the sciences, where first you collect data, then you analyze data, then you know something and can write it down. But I’ve definitely come to realize that very often, that “analysis” step really seriously does happen by means of writing. It’s still counterintuitive to me, but I’ve learned to embrace it and give myself credit for this kind of writing as a particular type of work that is really important.

    I have *just* installed Scrivener (on the 30 day trial) and Zotero, and am excited about trying them out. I’ve been writing lots of little short papers on everything I’m reading, and am hopeful that Scrivener will help me with the analysis and synthesis work.


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