It’s 30 °C outside – however, the PhD thesis is alive and kicking, even though its author (me) is hardly moving when it’s that warm outside. Well, writing up goes well and because I received my certificate for the teaching module “Writing and Teaching” the other day, I’d like to give some advice for everyone who also has to get something down on paper during these summer days. It’s not only PhD theses that want to get their word count, up, there are also essays and so on…
Write every day
Why should one do that? That’s easy, and there are several reasons why this helps. First of all, there is progress every single day. More and more words get written, the word document adds one page after another, and at the end of a working day, the next steps towards the goal – a finished essay, for example – are taken. That’s a neat psychological trick. Even though there might not be thousands of words written in one day, there is indeed progress. Second, a habit is formed, slowly but surely. The first few days may be hard and frustrating, however, the writing phase will make its way into the daily routine and will then be an easier task. For people who love planning, I recommend to set a word count for each day that has to be and can actually be (!) reached. Of course, sticking to this word count is not always possible, however, when the task is done, one can (and should!) call it a day.
Write what you like the most
Well, everyone is familiar with the following situation: there are chapters and paragraphs one just doesn’t like, doesn’t want to write, doesn’t want to anything, however, things have to be done. One cannot avoid the theoretical background or the methodology section forever.
But one can today.
I’m not usually the one advertising procrastination, however, summer heat is an exception to the rule. It’s hard to focus on writing as it is, and so I’m lenient just this once. Also, writing is still done – just not the hard parts. After all, who says that research papers or essays have to be written in chronological order?* I think that if you know what you want to write about, if you know your theories and the like, you may let it be or just take a few notes, and go on to what you really want to get down on paper. Life’s (close to) a picnic this time. One can always get back to these parts later on, when the “fun” parts are done.
Write, write and unblock your head
Alright, life’s not always a picnic, even if there are nice parts to be written. One gets stuck, ideas vanish into thin air, book titles follow suit and are just gone. Everything’s gone. What now? First of all, take three steps back, then take a deep breath. And then go on – with a mind map, for example. Mind maps are a great way to get one’s thoughts back in focus, and maybe even give a slightly ordered picture if one desires to classify thoughts in such mind map. Ideas and thoughts will come back, they just need a bit of help and time. Freewriting does also help – one way is to sit down and write relentlessly for three minutes straight. Whatever comes to mind, put it down, and just don’t let the pen leave the paper (or the fingers the keyboard). Even thoughts that do not belong to the task at all – “I’d love to be outside, I’d like to buy some ice cream” – should be written down. Because with this, the brain eventually restarts. One is sitting there, writing and writing, and after a while, it’s not hard to switch to the actual task because of the already established writing flow. Sometimes it’s quite useful to fool oneself.
However, just a little piece of advice so that thoughts and ideas might not get lost in the first place or are easier to find later on: write ideas down when they come, and the case of book titles, just take a picture of the cover with a mobile phone. The mobile phone are around anyway, so one can put them to a good use, eh? By the way, there are also apps for note taking, so there is not even need for pen and paper.
Things still won’t work!
Okay. No worries – leave the library and get some ice cream. Paying a visit to the outdoor pool sound great? Go for it. I’m repeating myself, but here it comes: breaks are crucial, especially when it’s hot outside. And even more so if one is not used to temperatures like this; I am definitely not since drizzle constitutes nice weather where I’m from. So, if you have to work in this heat, don’t forget to relax every once in a while. Everything’s better after ice cream and iced tea.
After all, it’s like this when there are lots of words to be written: don’t get it right, get it written! Revision comes afterwards, but there no revision without anything to edit.
So here we go – good luck with your essays, dissertations and so on!
* Just one footnote: I recommend to write the introduction first. I do know that the introduction is the chapter that many people write last. However, I think that knowing what one wants to do and using the introduction as a guideline for not getting lost in details is valuable. But that’s just me, and I’m a top-down writer. Just do it the way you like and that is successful for you, however, I recommend to be aware of what other tactics are out there.