Throughout the past year I’ve been searching and receiving a lot of writing advice from books, blogs, fellow PhD writers, academics and, of course, my supervisors. As some struggling to get words down I’m eager to try out new strategies to see if I get any sort of inspiration or ‘aha’ sort of moments. Usually, it’s the process of trying something new that I’ve realised what works and what doesn’t work for me.
This past week has been exceptionally difficult trying to make sense of what I’m doing and I’ve been finding myself feeling discouraged because it feels like one big mess. So I’ve been trying out the following strategies as a way of trying to be a little more constructive.
1) Bullet point sections: My supervisor suggested I try this to see if it can help organise my thinking. Essentially instead of paragraphs you write bullet points, summarising your objective or concept in one sentence. One concept, one sentence. Different concept, different sentence.
Verdict: Writing this way was really awkward to carry out and I’m not comfortable using this approach but the discomfort has, surprisingly (or ironically), allowed me to pay more attention to what I’m doing. It’s certainly helped to list the main concepts of the sections that I’ve been working on and has allowed me to evaluate if I’ve gone to broad in my discussion or if I’m missed essential areas. However I can only do this in small spurts of time before I start getting annoyed.
2) Writing 15 minutes a day: A friend and fellow PhDer of mine lent me Bolker’s (1998) book “Writing Your Dissertation Fifteen Minutes A Day” where I found Chapter 3 “Getting started writing” and Chapter 5 “Getting to the midpoint: reviewing your process and your progress” to be the most relevant for my situation. The statement a done thesis is better than no thesis seems common sense but the truth, for me, is really starting to hit home. There are times where I have some serious doubts if I’m up to the challenge and, in all honestly, the thought of not finishing feels like a possibility. I don’t mean a goal to aspire to but, something that could happen. Bolker addresses this in some ways in her book and suggests just get on with the actual activity of writing instead of thinking about it – which is what PhD students are guilty of. Fifteen minutes of writing a day, minimum, is what she suggests, as a way of getting started and to build momentum in order to get your thesis written.
Verdict: I haven’t read the whole book but rather cherry picked a few of the chapters I felt I needed so I’ll have probably missed out on some further advice. I’ve tried writing for fifteen minutes a day, or one pomodoro, and for my previous chapters this has helped immensely because I had the sections organised before diving in. However, for this chapter my ideas aren’t clear and so after 15 minutes (or so) the end result is so inscrutable that I end up deleting larges sections and rewriting it. Normally this is a useful process in itself but at the moment it’s not helping me clarify my thoughts. I’ll probably stick with clarifying my ideas using the previous bullet point approach for now.
So, in all, I’m finding that different writing techniques are useful at different points of the writing process and, at least in my experience, shouldn’t be treated as THE approach to writing. Like research, thesis writing is messy. From my #AcWriMo entries for May it’s clear I haven’t written a lot this past week because my thinking isn’t clear. My aim for this week to is map out this chapter to give me some structure and make some further progress by trying out these writing strategies as needed.