Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to write a middling to fair amount

It’s the bane of every PhD student’s existence: writing. You’ve conducted the research, analysed the data, made sense of it all…and then you have to put metaphorical pen to paper. What was so clear in your head all of a sudden seems clunky and rambling when it’s written down. That witty title you thought of a week ago is trite when you’ve read it fifteen times in a row. So you agonize over sending the draft to your supervisor and end up missing the deadline. Again.

Unfortunately, this is a normal experience for a lot of students. People often have angst over writing – is it good enough, does it make sense, if they read it will people finally recognise me for the fraud I am? The natural response when people feel like this is to avoid writing all together. This is not a functional response.

So the trick to reducing angst about writing is to do it. A lot. In his book How to Write a Lot, Paul Silvia offers this advice: write every day. Not only should you write everyday, you should jealously guard your writing time and lock yourself away like a hermit to do it. This might seem a bit excessive and impractical for those of us who share an office with other postgrads. So what is another option?

Peer pressure, pure and simple. Have other people pressure you into writing when all you want to go is put it off and collect more data. Silvia recommends starting a writing group for people who need social support (or pressure) to meet their writing goals. In a writing group, you publicly announce your writing goals then own up the following week if you haven’t achieved them.

I can speak as someone who is a member of a postgraduate writing group that this system doesn’t always work so well. Being friends with the people who are supposed to berate you for not meeting your goals can make it hard to get critical feedback on your progress. We have recently found a way around this problem, however: money.

We each put $20 into the pot at the start of semester. Then we commit to a group goal – we will each write at least 500 words a week every week. That includes weeks that we are testing, marking, and on holiday. If at the end of semester we have made the target number of words, we have a rocking party with pizza and beer. If we don’t make the target, we donate the money to something we all agree is heinous and should never be funded, like the Society for Drowning Kittens for Fun.

I’ll keep you guys updated on our progress. For now, think about starting your own writing group and get creative with ways to stay on track with your writing. Silvia’s philosophy is that it doesn’t matter what you write about, so long as you are writing every day. Try writing a blog entry for the UQ Psyc Blog. This one is 513 words – that’s my target met for the week!

Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog??Send Will an email to find out how:

1 comment:

  1. As a (mere) Honours student trying to write a thesis, I found it really hard to just start. Especially when you open Word and the cursor sits there blinking at you menacingly. But I have done what Katie has suggested and tried to lock myself away and write most days - even if it's only half an hour - and somehow, have managed to write a fair bit!