The main focus of my day to day working life at present is basically writing. Writing thesis chapters (where I feel completely out of my depth), draft articles (that will be rejected and need re-writing) and book chapters (that no-one will read). Writing is, however, interspersed with lots of other things. In fact other things make such frequent appearances that I often find it difficult to get on with writing. Other things manage to raise their heads, wave their hands and emphasise that they are far more important in that moment than writing. This consequently distracts me (often appropriately) from the task at hand and draws me in to an abyss of doing other things.
Now I know it is not unusual to feel disheartened by the writing process. I recognise that getting distracted is also rather common. The best tip I have been given is to just get on with it- shut up and write! This is a writing approach that has been described in detail by academics, creative writers and journalists. There are even blogs dedicated to this approach: https://thesiswhisperer.com/shut-up-and-write/. My own approach is far more literal. It requires me just to sit down and write whenever I have ANY time at all- it means I can get 45-60 minutes of writing in after I put the kids to bed, before my husband gets home from work (having anticipated this and prepared enough dinner the night before that there are leftovers for an entire week), it means I write in the car whilst the kids are doing their various extra-curricular activities (no chatting with other parents), it means I de-prioritise household chores (I love this bit), it means I don’t chat all day with my work colleagues either (only half a day).
Looking for tips on how to write can become a distraction unto itself. I recently went to a workshop on writing in our department where a number of suggestions and recommendations were made. So, in the spirit of distracting myself with important stuff I thought it might be useful to share a few of them here:
- PhD students should aim to publish one or two journal articles prior to their vivas; feedback from reviewers an be incredibly useful and give you lots of insights to the kinds of questions an examiner might ask i.e. it is great revision!
- Looking to the future: New lecturers should aim for 1-6 over census period (2 first author papers per year).
- There is no recipe to writing
- Write regularly
- Schedule time to write and defend it!
- Write down your writing goals (fold a piece of paper into 12 squares- one for each month of the year, write down your other main deadlines etc, then insert your specific writing aims into each month)
- Balance the number of reviews you do with the number of papers you write
- Prioritise 1. proofs and editing, 2. hard deadlines (grant applications/grant reports), 3. revising reviewer comments, 4. first author manuscripts, 5. stuff for other people, 6. blogs
- Use a spread-sheet to set goals and monitor progress every day (enter the days of the week in one column, your word count goal in another, your actual word count in another, add up total word counts as you progress)
- Top tips: Get off-line, be regular, take short sprints, write anything as long as its work, do it together